Friday, August 04, 2006

2006 MLS State of the League recap or Are You Ready for Some Thursday Night Soccer?

MLS Commissioner Don Garber (pictured) has delivered his yearly address and there were no huge surprises. Here is a quick recap.

- Thursday night will become soccer night on ESPN2* starting next year. For 26 straight weeks, ESPN2 will air a Thursday night game and will include shoulder broadcasting for a number of them. They will promote it on TV and their web site, in the form of analyzing the game, as well as discuss it on Sports Center. These Thursday night games will run through 2014.

ESPN will be producing the game and they are looking into new techniques for the broadcast. This might include sky cams, 18-yard offside cams, goal cams and mics on the field. ABC will still carry the opening, All-Star and final match.

No figures on the deal were given other then to say the cost was 'millions and millions.' ESPN stressed that this was not done as a favor to MLS, instead they are paying because the value of the league has increased and other networks were interested.

They stressed that this interest has increased due in large part to the increase in interest in the US national team.

- Fox Soccer Channel will carry a Saturday Night game of the week next year.

- The All Star Game is used, in part, to help bring US fans of international game into the MLS fold. Also, they want to see how MLS guys do against the best in the world.

- The World Cup was huge for soccer in the US as viewers, media coverage, advertising and US fans traveling to Germany increased greatly. The great ratings meant they over delivered viewers to advertisers by 100% (twice as many people watch as advertisers paid for). A total of 285 million viewers watched the WC in the US.

- Garber mentioned, almost as a side note, that they were working on a tournament with 'our friends from down under.' Normally that term means Australia, however, it was talking about it relation to the deal with Univision. Could this be a North & South American Champions League?

- With this new TV deal, the league needs to look at their player pool. Garber stressed that MLS is better then it used to be and said he thinks it is undervalued, but he did admit that they need to improve the quality.

He said something that could be a direct knockdown of the 'Beckham' rule by saying that 'the economics of getting someone like Zidane just doesn't make sense to us today.'

But it does look like teams will soon get first pick of players they developed through their own youth systems. He said we should expect an announcement in the next couple weeks concerning this 'vertical system' of player development.

- The league needs to continue 'smart and strategic' expansion. With the expansion into Toronto, 2007 we'll see an 'unbalanced' league, but 2008 should bring in a 14th team. Two more teams should be added by 2010 and then they will pause on expansion for a few years to allow the player pool to catch up.

There has been a great deal of Progress on bringing a team to Philadelphia, but he did not say if that would be the 2008 team (or if KC was moving their for 2007).

There are more cities interested in teams then expansion slots. Cities mentioned: San Jose (hope to be back in a couple years), Philadelphia, Cleveland, St. Louis, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Seattle, San Diego, Atlanta, and very recently, Miami!

- Need to build more stadiums. The new home of the Rapids looks to duplicate the success of FC Dallas's home. Toronto will have a stadium just a few minutes from downtown (can almost walk to downtown from the site). Red Bull Park should break ground soon and open in 2008. Revolution might move out of the stadium their owner owns.

He then addressed the politicians in Salt Lake City who don't know about investing in soccer. He said:

This league is entering it's second decade with brand new stadiums, 4 now, 6 by the end of next year. The last several have been funded by public-private partnerships. We just announced long-term television partners. In a short period of time we will have 4 all paying us rights fees. We have blue chip corporate partners that have been engaged with us in years past and many, many long-term deals. We have team sales that have been on going with escalating sale prices, with many more to be announced over the next couple years. If you add up the long-term television commitment, the stadium investment, the new owner and long-term corporate sponsor commintments that have been made to Major League Soccer in the last 18-months, more then $1 billion has been invested in this league.

We'll see if Garber's calling out of the politicians in the Salt Lake area leads to something.

- He then talked about how tough the All-Star game will be and how more and more of the best international teams (Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona) are coming to play MLS teams.

- He closed by stressing that five years ago, he first mentioned MLS's 'smart and strategic' plans. As of today, he feels this plan has gone 'pretty darn good.'

There is the state of the league. So how did I do with my preview? Of the seven items I mentioned as 'expected', six of them were mentioned (TV deals, new stadiums, foreign teams in the US, World Cup ratings, list of expansion cities and the New York stadium). The only one that did not happen was something about attendance numbers (all though he did say numbers were up in Dallas).

None of my five 'surprise' picks happen. Actually, one of them might have been talked about, but in the negative as it sounded like the Beckham rule is out for now.

Then there were my five 'shock' picks. Of those, one was mentioned when Garber said there had been talks to bring a team back to Miami. It was barely even mentioned, but I did not think Florida would come up this year.

* One first posting, I said ESPN instead of ESPN2.

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Blogger Pitch to Pub said...

Any mention of whether ESPN2 would be using their high def cameras for the Thursday night games? Soccer in High Def can't be topped.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Mike H said...

Hello pitch,

now word on HD, however ESPN stressed that they would be trying out new technologies for soccer broadcasts. Perhaps the clear image that is HD will be part of that.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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12:23 AM  

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