The last time we watched an MLS match, Italy was still presumed to be on its way to Russia 2018. Let that sink in.
It has been 15 days since we last saw Major League Soccer on TV. 19 days if you count the last time the Seattle Sounders stepped on a pitch.
Today, the first leg of the MLS conference finals will kick off but much of the excitement for the playoffs has died down.
That’s simple. As anyone will tell you, news cycles are one week long, at best.
Following the second leg of the conference semifinals, everyone was talking about the beef between Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls, how Columbus continues to ride a wave of unexpected momentum, and what happened to the playoff favorite Portland Timbers. Yet instead of capitalizing on all the buzz and fan attention by playing the next round of games right away, the league had to wait until the conclusion of the FIFA International Break to resume playoffs.
So why is this so harmful to Major League Soccer? 15 days isn’t that long, right?
The most important topic to consider when growing a league is fan engagement, no matter whether we’re talking Major League Soccer or the National Football League. Fans drive interest, interest drives broadcast coverage and coverage in turn creates more fans.
The success cycle breaks down when fan engagement is an afterthought or secondary focus.
At a time when support for soccer in the U.S. is at an all-time high, Major League Soccer officials shouldn’t be so cavalier about nuanced details like playoff scheduling. Surely, they have to recognize the problem here.
Fans will pay more attention and buy more tickets if there’s a tighter window of games during the playoffs.
Here’s an idea: Whether before or after the FIFA International Break, home and away matches should be played within closer proximity, such as on a Wednesday and then a Saturday or Sunday. This gives the higher-seeded teams an advantage by playing their home matches on a weekend, while also creating the perfect 3-4 day window to ramp up fan excitement.
Major League Soccer has a responsibility to bring a better playoff product to its fans. We expect the format and postseason structure to improve in the coming years as more players, analysts and fans call for change.