Is MLS Moving To A European Calendar?

Is MLS Moving To A European Calendar?

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On October 14, 2013
  • Features

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Wow. This news sounds very, very interesting. The New York Daily News is reporting that various league sources are telling them that Major League Soccer is inching closer to adopting a European-style calendar.

The plan, which has the full support of FIFA, the sport’s governing body, would have the MLS season begin play in either late July or early August and include a six- to eight-week winter break. The championship would either be played in late May or early June. The MLS season currently begins in March and runs until the championship match in the first week of December.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has been considering adopting the calendar used in Europe for several years but talks have intensified in recent weeks, according to a league source. The move would also placate FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who has been an outspoken — and often unfair — critic of the country’s fastest growing professional league.

Most European domestic leagues begin in late August and end in early May. A winter break is necessary for the MLS since it has franchises in several cites — including Chicago and Toronto — where playing matches in December and March is a risky proposition.

Risky indeed. I have never been a big fan of the idea of moving to such a calendar. Games in Colorado, Toronto, Montreal or Chicago in the winter months is a dangerous idea. I mean, look at the snow game between the Unites States and Costa Rica earlier this year in Colorado as proof. Very dangerous to move to that sort of calendar.

The biggest hit on this type of switch is attendance. You can’t expect fans to come out to games in the winter months like they would for the NFL. The support just isn’t there yet.

Update: MLS shot down the rumor. 2014 will be similar to the 2013 format.


  • Will

    I think it would work. I think most of the teams have built a large enough fan base that they would get decent turnouts for winter games. Plus the league could try to schedule the cold-weather are teams for only a few home games during the February months. Either way, I think this would have to be a few years away. I would think the league would slowly migrate to a new schedule where they push back the start of the season a month at a time.

    • Miami22

      It would absolutely work, they the league would schedule games away from the coldest regions in the coldest months. Expansion to the milder Southeast assist in this in a big way and games could still be played in Canada because every MLS Canadian team has access to domed stadiums. Games could be played in Seattle, Portland also in the winter months. So yes, I absolutely agree that this could work with scheduling being a big factor. The other reason for the possibility of a switch is that the league has discovered that their ratings have improved when their games follow EPL games on NBC sports networks, there is an opportunity here for the MLS to do some cross programming with EPL games through the full extent of a European calender which help the MLS improve their profile nationally with more American EPL viewers being introduced to our brand of soccer. For those who think that games will be played in the middle of the winter in a half empty stadium in the middle of Colorado, the context in switching the MLS schedule is more extensive than that image and scheduling will have to be the reality for it all to work.

  • Mike

    The most important thing is the economic viability of the league. The lack of any major overlap between MLS and the top sports in north America has contributed to the success of MLS.

  • clay

    if you didnt play in january or february and had a bunch of new teams in the south eastern US where you could schedule games in december and march it might be viable but what exactly does MLS gain by such a move other than the blessing of FIFA?

  • Adnan7631

    Good Bye MLS
    It was nice to have known you.
    What a shame that the men who were tasked to handle and safeguard you decided to give you to the wolves named NBA, NFL, NHL, College Basketball, and College Football.

    May your tattered remains rest in peace.

    • buckyball

      Yup, this is the problem. Going head to head with the established leagues and peaking the MLS competition as the NFL and NBA do the same seems like a recipe for being ignored by fans (and sports writers) – at least for the next few years.

      And- the idea of jiggering the schedules so that a northern MLS team is always an away team in Dec. and Mar. and a southern MLS team is mostly away as the playoffs arrive, introduces a scheduling bias that will favor some teams in the trophy hunt year after year. There’s no easy answer in the USA’s wildly varied climate conditions- a Houston or Orlando match in August is as awful in its own way as a Foxboro or Chicago match in February.

      • Miami22

        Isn’t the MLS already going head to head with these leagues and college sports? I believe your reaction is a over reaction to the realities of this possible change. This kind of talk remind me of how some folks over reacted when the corvette changed it’s design from the current, some traditionalist developed all these extravagant theories as to why the latest design will kill sales and hurt the car brand. You are a traditionalist who don’t want to see change and that’s fine, but to say the league will now die is a stretch. With growth comes change, and some folks just can’t handle change and that’s just the reality.

        • Adnan7631

          No, the league isn’t really going head to head at them right now.
          Currently, MLS’s regular season runs from around late March/April to October, with playoffs that run into December. This puts them into direct competition with baseball, but no other team shares the entirety of that schedule.

          Football (both pro and school) starts in September (at least I think school starts in September). Football ends in before MLS starts. So, September, October, and the playoff months are affected.

          The NBA runs from basically November, with the playoffs ending at the very start in June. March is the biggest and most significant time for College basketball, with a similar run for regular season. Hockey has a similar season.

          The highly televised English Premier League also goes from August until May. Same with the UEFA Champion’s League. These are direct competitors for soccer viewership in the US. The foreign leagues compete for American audiences just as much as MLS does, and actually greatly outdraws the domestic league in TV ratings, despite having suboptimal timing. The average viewer likely would suffer from soccer fatigue with 5 English matches on NBC/NBCSports alone every weekend, never mind MLS.

          Currently, MLS relies most heavily on filling their stadiums to break even. TV revenue still doesn’t give that much money (though a national contract is open for renegotiation, though it doesn’t attract that many eyeballs compared even to USMNT games and EPL games). Sponsorships are largely based on how much publicity (read, how many people go to the games) each club gets. Currently, weekday kickoffs cause a very significant drop off in revenue. If that is the case, imagine how much attendance would go down with
          1) cold weather
          2) the big NFL/College/Basketball game on
          3) much better soccer available to watch in the mornings

          MLS would get hammered in the TV schedule, which would hurt the league financially. Teams would lose a very very very large chunk of their audience. AND the league would be playing with very funky travel situations (long extremely stretches of home or away matches for almost every team, every year).

  • Dawleylad

    The world needs a strong MLS, and hopefully any change to winter games will not diminish the viability of the league.