Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Baseball Night In America: The Worst Idea Ever

There are bad ideas. There are horrible ideas. And then there's Baseball Night in America.

As I was doing some research for my column yesterday on the MLB All-Star Game, I went over the history of televised baseball to jog my memory about how the game was broadcast in 1996. It led me to the ill-fated Baseball Network that was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public in 1994. To this day, I considered it the single worst idea in the history of sports broadcasting. Of course, no one really mentions it because it was overshadowed by the single worst idea in the history of sports – canceling the 1994 World Series.

From 1990 to 1993, Major League Baseball was televised by CBS. That deal was marked by the tremendous amount of money CBS lost, just giving it away hand over fist, as they paid more than $1 billion for four years of baseball. That time frame ended up being one of the worst financial recessions of post-war America and included not one, but two World Series featuring a Canadian team – also, the only two. The CBS coverage was marked by a decided lack of coverage, as the network would go weeks during the regular season without showing a game.

So when MLB announced that it was forming The Baseball Network with NBC and ABC, the early response was mostly positive. I remember being excited that there would be more baseball on nationally. The concept of Baseball Night in America – funny how much better Football Night in America has worked for NBC – seemed new and different. I think everyone was willing to give the premise a chance.

I only wish that people that don't remember The Baseball Network could go back in time and suffer through the indignity of our national pastime being drug through the mud.

The concept was, much like communism, solid in theory. If NBC or ABC – the networks switched up coverage – had the ability to show every game, they would get huge ratings. Much like how Fox and NBC at the time were dividing up NFL games on Sunday. If people wanted to watch baseball on, say, a Monday night it would have to be during Baseball Night in America. They'd have to watch the network. Brilliant! Right?

Except the concept was beyond flawed from the start. Unlike the NFL, which had Monday Night Football, Sunday Night Football and usually three different games on Sunday afternoons, Baseball Night in America provided just one. That's it. There could be 14 baseball games going on. And you got to watch one.

Now if you lived in St. Louis and the Cardinals were in a pennant race, Baseball Night in America simply provided you with what you wanted to watch anyway. And that was the absolute only scenario in which the format worked.

In others, it failed about as miserably as something could fail. There were East Coast games that started at 8 p.m. and West Coast games that started at 11 p.m. But you only got one game and that game had to fall within your primetime window of 8 to 11, to maximize ratings of course. So that meant if you lived in Atlanta and the Braves were playing on the road in San Francisco, you couldn't watch that game. Yes, it was possible for Baseball Night in America to block out the hometown team's game even if that game was being played 3,000 miles away.

I guess if anything, the venture was a boon to radio stations.

In Chicago, the local NBC or ABC affiliate could only air one game, meaning having to decide between the Cubs and White Sox each and every time. Boy, that must've been fun for the local station, eh?

It was even worse where I lived in Connecticut as the local affiliate had to choose between three teams – the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox. Now the Mets weren't great in 1994 or 1995 but it was still a bummer to not even have the option to watch your favorite team.

For me, the tipping point was July 17, 1995. Jason Isringhausen was making his MLB debut against the Chicago Cubs. The game was not televised in New York or Connecticut. Or anywhere outside of Chicago. To this day, I can't remember the lack of coverage for a sporting event making me more angry. If Izzy, who was at the time the Mets' prized minor league possession, had debuted the day before, the day after, or any other day of the week, I would've been able to watch it. Instead, The Baseball Network promised “frequent updates” and it only made it worse. Isringhausen went seven innings, gave up just two hits and led the Mets to victory even if he didn't pick up the W. It was heart-breaking I missed that game.

Of course, Baseball Night in America didn't limit its damage to the regular season. In 1995, MLB finally had its division series in place. They scheduled all four division series games to start at the same time. I wish I was making this up. In Connecticut, the local affiliate had to choose between the Red Sox series and the Yankees series. The Red Sox won out so I didn't see the beginning of the classic 1995 Mariners/Yankees series because I was unable to.

To make matters worse – if that was even possible – they also scheduled both NLCS and ALCS games to start at the same time. For one horrific October, the country was deprived of seeing postseason baseball. It's unfathomable to think of that happening today. What's scary is that baseball, along with the NFL, had always televised each playoff game nationally. They were actually taking the product away from fans in the hope of pushing its ratings up a tick. Needless to say, it didn't work.

Baseball Night in America was gone after the 1995 as Fox swooped in to swipe the MLB rights that it carries on to this day. ESPN was brought on in 1996, as was NBC, to allow all postseason games to be shown nationwide. Baseball currently enjoys one of the best nationally televised packages, with games on nationally almost every night of the week, a dedicated broadcast partner in Fox and two cable partners in TBS and ESPN that have shown a tremendous amount of baseball in the past several years.

For me, Baseball Night in America carries on as a special memory of mine. You remember the great things in life. And you remember the horrible things. From the very first second of The Baseball Network, when I realized that instead of possibly watching three local teams play I was limited to one, I knew that the venture was going to be a failure of epic proportions. An epic fail before that term had its own website.

There have been plenty of failures and mistakes when it comes to sports broadcasting, whether its Fox's glowing puck when it televised hockey or Dennis Miller in the Monday Night Football booth. But most mistakes could be attributed to trying something, for failing during the attempt to achieve greatness. I didn't like the glowing puck, no one did, but I completely and totally understood what Fox was thinking. It was a risk at greatness that failed.

That was in play with the Baseball Network. It was an ill-conceived, poorly thought out way to try to make more money off of a sport by blatantly spitting in the eyes of its fans. It boggles the mind even now to wrap your brain about just what Major League Baseball was thinking.

To this day, I have so many questions. Okay, so I really just have one. Why?

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Time To End The MLB All-Star Game

Fifteen years ago, Mother Nature interrupted my favorite night of the summer. It was July 9, 1996, and my 14 year old self was getting ready to watch the MLB All-Star Game. Until, that is, a wicked thunderstorm ran through my neighborhood and knocked the power out for the evening. I was forced to listen to the All-Star Game on a radio. Part of me enjoyed the throwback nature of the evening. But a larger part of me really, really disliked not being able to see my favorite players in action.

Fast forward to today and it boggles my mind that I ever cared about the All-Star Game, in much the same way I can't believe I'd sometimes have to wait two days to figure out a score from the West Coast or that Sega Genesis was considered the greatest video game system in history. Things change – I find out scores instantly and video games can be breathtaking – yet we foolishly hold on to relics from the past for no other reason than tradition. There are few examples better than baseball's All-Star Game.

It is amazing how much the world can change in 15 years. In 1996, there was no doubt the All-Star Game still mattered. There was no need to artificially pump it up by adding the ridiculous “winning league gets home field for the World Series” gimmick. Even the Home Run Derby was an afterthought, a competition held Monday afternoon that ESPN ran Monday evening in tape delayed form. The event was in its infancy and it was cute, enjoyable yet still just a preamble to the game itself.

And the game itself, no doubt, meant a lot, especially to a 14 year old in Connecticut whose two favorite players, non-Mets division – Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr. -- played on the other side of the country. In 1996, there were few games outside of your local coverage available. ESPN had Wednesday night doubleheaders and Sunday night baseball. Fox had a Saturday game like it has now, and it was just the usual Yankees or Red Sox game I'd be able to see anyway, like it has now. The stars of other teams in other divisions were still almost legend. I liked Piazza but only got to see him play live a handful of times a year, ditto for Griffey. Even interleague play was still in its infancy and free agency had yet to really destroy the division between the American and National League.

In 1996, it was still a big deal to see stars from the different leagues on the same field. It still meant something to the fans. More importantly, it still meant something to the players.

For this year's game, at least 15 players voted or selected to the game will not play. Of those, only four are actually on the disabled list. Some are resting nagging injures. Some are starting pitchers who started on Sunday – teams' latest way to get around having its pitchers pitch during the game. In all, more than 60 players will get the designation of being an All-Star and, frankly, none of them really care. If they don't care, why should I bother watching?

If you go back to the 1996 All-Star Game, you will see that only four players missed the game and each was voted by the fans – Ken Griffey Jr., Matt Williams, Tony Gwynn and Frank Thomas. And after doing a bit of research, I found that all four were either on the DL or, in the case of Frank Thomas, had just suffered an injury that week that would place him on the DL in the week following the All-Star Game. Nobody was resting. Nobody chose family time. Everybody wanted to be in Philadelphia. They wanted the national exposure that players take for granted in 2011. They wanted the pride of winning the game that players don't care about in 2011.

Although I'm comparing 2011 to 1996, we all know the All-Star Game died in 2002. It had been on a descent following the last glorious affair in 1999, when Pedro Martinez put on a show, Mark McGwire hit a bunch of homers in the Home Run Derby that made the event the real star attraction of the festivities and Ted Williams made his last profound baseball appearance. Since that moment – a night when the stars wanted to play to show off for Teddy Ballgame – the game floated into irrelevance.

I've thought about the 2002 MLB All-Star Game more often than I should. I was going to college in Washington, D.C. at the time and, surrounded by Yankees fans, the 2001 World Series had a very significant impact as we tried to comprehend and move past 9/11. I know that's not exactly unique but in my memories, there was 9/11, two hazy months and then the 2001 World Series. It helped us move on. Even though I was rooting for the Diamondbacks*.

*One of my roommates was an irrational Diamondbacks fans from Phoenix. I always hated the Yankees. I knew I probably shouldn't root against them but my buddy Fish gave me a reason. It just felt like he deserved a win. Phoenix, by the way, is an underrated city for sports trauma. The Cardinals have always been terrible, then lost its one Super Bowl in heartbreaking fashion. Arizona State football is usually awful, then Jake Plummer comes along and they lose a national title and the Rose Bowl in heartbreaking fashion. And the Suns? Heartbreak after heartbreak. Fish needed that one. And even in defeat, the Yankees still got to make the “Tales of Triumph: The 2001 World Series” documentary for the YES Network. Everyone wins.

So in July 2002, my friends and I had come back to baseball in a big way. Then the tie happened. Why did it happen? Because no one cared about the game. The starters didn't want to be there and most were on their own private jets by the fifth inning. Each pitcher got shuffled in the game to get his name in the box score like it was a Little League game. The powers at be were telling fans, well before Bud's decision, that the game meant nothing. The tie was just the salt in the wound, the nail in the coffin, the whatever metaphor you'd like to use – the MLB All-Star Game was now like all the rest.

And that doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing. It just doesn't work for baseball. No one has every considered the All-Star games in other sports to mean something. It's not like people actually care if the NFC will take down the AFC in the Pro Bowl – I defy you to find any football fan who can name me the last five winners of the Pro Bowl. Or the NBA All-Star Game. Or the NHL All-Star Game. Some smaller leagues have noticed this and done something about it, like MLS, which collects its best stars and plays against Manchester United or another top-flight European club in an exhibition. It's fun. It's exciting. And it's an exhibition.

For baseball, its All-Star Game simultaneously is an exhibition yet can't be an exhibition. It's an impossible spot to be in and it's one that Major League Baseball has failed to navigate. Putting the World Series homefield advantage on the line has only made the situation worse, as players don't play and the farce is revealed in full. The league has even managed to destroy the Home Run Derby, by making it too long with too many rounds and the event now drags on for three-plus hours as fans are subjected to the torture of Chris Berman. Mark Teixeira proved how little that event means when he decided on three days with his family rather than spend it trying to hit home runs Monday night.

It's time for Bud Selig to stand up and make the boldest decision of his career – and cancel the All-Star Game. With every passing year, the MLB All-Star game fades further into irrelevance. You can still pick the All-Star teams but don't bother with the game. All today's players want, and maybe deserve based on the insanely long season with tremendous travel demands, are three days off in the middle of the season. Reward the players with the time off.

It does baseball more harm than good to trot out two All-Star teams – you know, minus 15 of the best – and treat it like it's the same event that took place in 1941 or 1971. It's not. Times change. We don't read newspapers anymore. We don't play Sega Genesis anymore. And we don't circle the second Tuesday in July anymore. It's over. Let's move on.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It's Not Cool To Quote Bill Brasky Anymore

I spent last Friday night's happy hour at The Elbow Room in West Hartford. It's not the best bar in the world – in fact, it's probably the 8th best bar in West Hartford Center – but it has a rooftop and it was a glorious summer afternoon. So why not enjoy a Sam Summer Ale outdoors? The girlfriend and I were having a fun time, as there weren't too many people and the people there were fine. It was shaping up to be one of those picturesque Friday afternoons that sum up the summer perfectly.

Then the kids strolled in. Five students, lucky to be drinking age or with good fake IDs , showed up in the form of three dorky, odd-looking fellas trying to impress two girls who laughed too hard and smiled too much. Normally, I wouldn't care who they were or what they were doing but they ended up taking a position right behind me. So I got to listen, against my will, to their droll stories about how hard it is to live at home. When you're 29, hearing college students bitch about their summer vacation is one of the worst things you could possibly hear. Yet it got worst.

The youngest looking of the group – he got carded every time he ordered the beer – was regaling his group with a re-enactment of a Saturday Night Live skit. Which skit may you ask? Bill Brasky. Yep, he was reciting lines from a skit that first aired when he was about six years old. And on cue, the other four in the lame party laughed as if nothing had ever been as funny. It was a brutal sight. The girlfriend and I finished our beers and departed for greener pastures. Okay, so we went down the road to Chipotle. Still, the evening left an impression on me and I haven't been able to shake the feeling since.

Is Saturday Night Live relevant anymore?

Here was a group of kids in their early 20s, the group that should be considered the absolute target audience for SNL. Yet when it came time for the young guy to impress ladies, what did he go with? A skit that is 15 years old. As I thought about what skits I would've gone with, I kept thinking of skits from another time. Whether it was a Belushi bit, a Murphy bit, a Carvey bit or a Ferrell bit. Those were the ones popping in my head. I tried to think of a recent SNL skit that I could bust out and people would be entertained by.

I couldn't think of one.

It's amazing, really, that Saturday Night Live has existed for so long since its niche is now no longer a niche. The absurd comedy that is SNL can be found everywhere. Hell, there is an entire network (Comedy Central) devoted to such antics and cable networks (like FX) seekngi out the type of far-out comedy that was rarely seen as few as five years ago. I remember watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and being blown away. Now, it seems like there's a show like that popping up on my cable every hour.

But as I thought about SNL's relevancy, two things dawned on me. First, the show is being crippled by its past. Think about Fred Armisen and his brutal Barack Obama – and yes, we all know Jay Pharoh should be doing Obama. It's not so much that Armisen is doing a poor job, it's that we've seen so many incredible Presidential impersonations in the past. Do you think Armisen will be taking his Obama to Broadway for a one-man show in 2017?

The second thing that came crashing through my mind is how formulaic and stale SNL has become. This was a show that loves to pat itself on the back for being live, spontaneous and fostering an atmosphere of 'you never know what could happen.' However, I know exactly what's going to happen week after week. The cold open is a political sketch or a topical one. Then the monologue happens. Then there's a fake commercial. Then there's the first sketch, which they think is their best. Then there's a digital short. There's another sketch. There's Weekend Update. There's music. There's filler. There's more music. There's the credits. Lather, rinse, repeat, week after week and call it a season.

What happened to the spontaneity? What happened to the surprises? What happened to thinking outside of the box? When did SNL become the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where guests are selected based on what movie or television show they want to promote? What happened to having comedians like Andy Kaufman show up just because they were funny? Or having John Goodman or George Wendt seemingly on standby because it made a bit funnier?

Even as I'm writing this, I know I sound like an angry, bitter old man and, well, I am. I'm angry and bitter that one of my favorite shows, a show that provided the world with so much comedic talent, has been reduced to rubble. When college students can't think of a skit to quote that happened in the past decade, something is wrong. When the show hasn't created anything memorable and quotable, other than a few Andy Samberg digital shorts, in the past five years, it's time to blow it up.

And that, my friends, is the root of my pain. I want Saturday Night Live to return to its past glory. But there's only one way to do that – blow up the formula. Maybe every guest host doesn't need to do a monologue. Maybe there doesn't need to be a cold open. Maybe “Live from New York....” doesn't need to start every episode. Maybe a show can start with music. Maybe a comedian can just do some standup. Something, anything, everything has to change.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the sad state of affairs that is Weekend Update. I don't need to rehash the complaints – that the segment is a poor man's Daily Show or that Steven Colbert does the bit better every weeknight. I don't need to state that Seth Meyers is a genuinely funny guy stuck in a bit that has long outlived its usefulness. The point is that everyone knows this....and Weekend Update remains. Sure, Weekend Update can be funny. But so can a lot of things. The characters presented on Weekend Update can be used elsewhere.

Weekend Update is a relic. Unfortunately, Saturday Night Live has turned into one too.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Five Ways To Improve Major League Soccer

I remember getting a FIFA video game in the late 1990's. I had played soccer as a kid and enjoyed it, to a degree, but it wasn't the sport for me. My friends all played on the soccer team in high school so I stayed close to the game. The 1994 World Cup energized me and I watched with interest as Major League Soccer made its debut. I always thought it was odd soccer never caught on in the States. And besides, our top 11 could play with Brazil's top 11 (er, 10) in 1994, why couldn't our league be good? I came home that day, fired up my Sega Genesis and selected DC United as my team. The opponent would be Manchester United.

Yes, I learned how far American soccer had to go from a video game.

I quickly realized that while the very top of American soccer could match up to almost any team in the world, the player depth simply wasn't there. There weren't enough good players to fill up a league. There weren't enough foreign stars – okay, there were none – that were willing to play in a second-rate league to make far less than what they were making in Europe, regardless of the supposed riches America could bring.

While the quality of the MLS and American soccer remain stagnant, the soccer boom in this country was finally taking hold. All the kids that started playing soccer in the 80s and 90s had grown up to become adults with money to spend. And they still liked soccer. More than that, they liked watching soccer. There is more soccer televised now that at any point in history. ESPN2 is regularly showing English Premier League and Spanish La Liga games. Maybe it's just my imagination but Univision is showing a ton of soccer even for them, with live HD coverage of this year's Gold Cup and Copa America. Fox Soccer has upped its coverage, to the point that the Champions League semifinals were on FX and the finals were on broadcast television on Fox.

Unfortunately, this has only done one thing to American soccer – point out its ineptitude. In particular, MLS remains a sleeping giant. I know the talent level has improved. I know the 'designated player' rule has allowed older stars like David Beckham and Thierry Henry an opportunity to become stars here. I know there have been expansion teams. I know that attendance is up.

But I also know that the ratings barely register more than a test signal. I know that for the U.S. National Team to succeed, our best players must go to Europe to test themselves. I know that few, if any, people reading this can name the team that won the last U.S. Open Cup, the last MLS Cup and which MLS team almost won the CONCACAF Champions League. Most importantly, I know that when I'm watching an MLS game....it's not as good as watching the Premier League, or La Liga, or (insert European league here). It doesn't have to be that way. MLS can succeed. Here's how:

Power Teams

The designated player rule and the strict salary cap in MLS are both holdovers from other American sports where parity is cherished. Frankly, parity sucks. Why do you think college football has been on a nearly two-decade ascent in every measurable of fan interest? Because there are power teams. You know when Texas or Ohio State or Alabama is playing, that team is usually the best team on the field. It's why fans of Northwestern or Baylor root every year for the one chance at glory to knock off the big dog in the conference. It's why baseball became our national pastime when the Yankees won every year. It's why the NBA was most popular when Michael Jordan was winning every year and was as popular this year as ever thanks to the Heat's trio and perceived greatness. Sports need great teams to succeed. Leagues needing to gain traction really, really need great teams to succeed.

It's most true to soccer. When you say English soccer, Manchester United and Arsenal spring to mind. Say “La Liga” to a soccer fan and they will immediately retort, Real Madrid and Barcelona. That's how soccer works. The MLS doesn't work like that. Who is the defining MLS team? The closest they have right now is the L.A. Galaxy due to Beckham and Landon Donovan. It could be New York with Henry and a new stadium. Or it could be the Seattle Sounders with its passionate fan base. But the MLS has leveled the playing field. And it's stupid. If you're trying to grow the league, let owners throw their money around. For the quality of play in MLS to improve, the talent level needs to rise. How is that going to happen? By paying for it. Ditch the designated player rule, let owners spend freely and see what happens.

Better Television

When is the MLS on nationally? That's a great question – I have no idea. Sometimes it's Thursday nights. Sometimes it's Sunday night. Sometimes it's Monday night. It's not a good way to build an audience. Think about Major League Baseball, which is on Wednesday nights on ESPN, Saturday afternoons on Fox, Sunday afternoons on TBS and Sunday nights on ESPN. Every week. I know when it's on. Hell, I know when I can catch English Premier League soccer during the season – Saturday morning at 8:55 on ESPN2, 11am Sunday on Fox Soccer – better than I can the soccer league that takes place in this country. Which brings me to a second point – MLS needs to ditch ESPN.

There is a misconception among smaller sports leagues that being on ESPN is the end-all, be-all. When in fact, the opposite is true. If the sport is a ratings Goliath like football or basketball, then ESPN is where you need to be. If the sport isn't, then ESPN will swallow you up whole and forget about you. The NHL left ESPN for basically its own network in Versus and the league just had its most watched game, Game 7 between the Bruins and Canucks, in nearly four decades. The Indy Racing League was on the verge on collapse after years of being banished to the nether regions of ESPN2. A move to Versus and, volia, the league is showing signs of life again.

Sports on television is a valuable commodity going up by the second in this DVR world. The MLS needs to take advantage of this. Leave ESPN and being shuffled around the schedule. Go with Versus and get a permanent, nationwide slot twice a week. Or go with Fox Soccer and get the same on FX. If the sport is going to be taken seriously, it needs to rise above its current WNBA-like spot on the national television radar. Likewise, a deal with Versus or Fox Soccer could get the MLS Cup and other important games on broadcast television, either NBC or Fox.

Blow Up The Format

The MLS regular season format and playoff structure is easily – I mean, it's not even close – the worst in American professional sports. There are 18 teams and 10 (!!!) make the playoffs. That's more than 50%. That would be like the NCAA Tournament being expanded to 156 teams. Imagine if major league baseball suddenly expanded to 20 teams in the playoffs. The world would end. But since no one pays attention to MLS, only soccer fans get annoyed and MLS executives have the nerve to say that expanding the playoffs 'enhances' the regular season as if anyone could possibly believe that.

Soccer is a sport, much like baseball, where the regular season is the thing. Again, look at the college football, which has 120 FBS teams and essentially a two-team playoff for a title – things seem to be going well for them. Of course, MLS is always compared to the English Premier League, which has no playoffs. There can be a compromise between the European way of doing things and the American thing, where we have a seemingly unquenched thirst for playoffs. It's really not that hard.

Step 1: Eliminate the conference. Put the teams in one table like the Euros do. 18 teams (soon 20) that go home and home with every other team. Very simple. Very manageable. Very traditional.
Step 2: Top 4 make the playoffs. Semifinals are home and home legs, a la the Champions League semifinals, and you do the big MLS Cup to crown a champion.

It solves everything. You get the playoffs, you get the MLS Cup, you get a true champion, you get a meaningful regular season, you get it all. Why haven't they done that yet? My only guess is that the MLS executives get paid to keep the league a second-rate outfit.


Soccer needs relegation. It's just the way it is. It's what makes soccer more interesting than other sports. It's what sets it apart. Teams have to be good consistently, or at least not terrible. Look at the Detroit Lions. Or the Pittsburgh Pirates. Do its owners deserve to keep raking in millions per year while the team finish last year after year after year? No, no they don't.

I fully understand the MLS doesn't want to allow lower-level teams into the league. That makes perfect sense. But I know there are owners who want to get into the game. In 2007, while working for the Hartford Business Journal, I wrote on a group that wanted to bring a team to Hartford – Rentschler Field holds 40,000 and hosted the U.S. National Team's send off game to the World Cup in 2010 – but was denied by Robert Kraft. Kraft claimed Hartford was part of the New England Revolution's “territory” – a phrase used by owners in established leagues like the NFL to prevent competition. The Revolution, mind you, are lucky to fill about a fourth of Gillette Stadium and no one from Connecticut goes to its games. The MLS could've used the opportunity to create a new rivalry and spark some local interest in a new market. Instead, they acquiesced to Kraft and Hartford, a potentially wonderful soccer market on par with Seattle, goes dormant with a perfectly suitable soccer stadium that lays vacant all summer.

Imagine, though, if there was an MLS First Division (or whatever fancy name you want to give it) within between 8 to 12 teams. Give potential owners the opportunity to create a major league franchise. The winner of the First Division each year makes its way to MLS. One team gets dropped from MLS. Think about what the month of October could look like for American soccer.

First Tuesday: MLS Semifinal #1, Leg #1
First Wednesday: MLS Semifinal #2, Leg #1

Second Tuesday: MLS Semifinal #1, Leg #2
Second Wednesday: MLS Semifinal #2, Leg #2

Third Tuesday: First Division championship game
Third Wednesday: MLS Relegation Battle (last two teams in MLS standings, at the home stadium of the second-worst team)

Fourth Wednesday: MLS Cup

Are you telling me you wouldn't be interested by that? I know I would. Besides, we have to do something for during those long two days during the week when there's no football on.


Can you name who played in the UEFA Champions League final? Can you name who won the FA Cup? Yep, I can too.

Can you tell me who played in the CONCACAF Champions League final? Can you tell me who won the last U.S. Open final? Exactly.

I caught Real Salt Lake try to win the CONCACAF Champions League by accident. I was flipping channels and I saw the game on Fox Soccer. I couldn't believe it was really happening. An MLS team? About to win the Champions League? I rushed to Google to confirm that, indeed, this was a really, really big deal. And judging by the crowd in Salt Lake City, they knew it was a big deal. Judging by the lack of coverage almost everywhere else – I'm not sure anyone else did.

I know that MLS is concerned with its own league but the success of the league is based on the success of the team and the sport as a whole. The U.S. Open Cup needs to be televised and needs to be promoted by MLS. Ditto for the Champions League. The MLS teams need to start collecting trophies the way that European teams do.

In the end, I doubt that MLS would ever take on any of these suggestions because, from the quotes I've read, they seem pretty full of themselves. And you would be too if your league existed 15 years after the whole country predicted you to fail. Still, there is so much potential. And it's simply not being met right now.

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