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MLS Schedule: Pros and Cons of MLS' Unusual Schedule

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MLS Schedule: Pros and Cons of MLS' Unusual Schedule
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The MLS schedule is always a topic of conversation upon its release. But forget Rivalry Week, adopting an international calendar seems to be the only matter worth discussion.

For some, MLS has been justifiably scrutinized from this particular perspective: A series of unique decisions have impeded the league's credibility internationally. There is no single table. A playoff system determines its champion, and all 19 teams must carefully operate under a salary cap.

These are the decisions the football elitists have scoffed at for 17 years.

The decision to operate from March to December—as opposed to August through May—is just the latest installment of tiresome vitriol aimed at MLS' direction. 

Now, the skeptics do provide rational consequences of a non-international calendar. Fox Soccer analyst Eric Wynalda shared his position on MLS' unique schedule at a National Soccer Coaches Association of America forum last year:

“They made a big spiel, man. They said, ‘This is a business. Major League Soccer is a business.' Okay, last summer, $2.2 billion dollars was spent in six weeks in the transfer market. Our inclusion in that was negative $11.4 [million], because our schedule doesn't fit in with the rest of the world.”

Of course, a non-international calendar has more than financial implications. 

FIFA President Sepp Blatter reverberated his concerns in an interview with Fox Soccer. The always-entertaining, unscrupulous president believes it is in MLS' "best interest" to align itself with Europe's schedule.

Naturally, in the same interview, Blatter highlighted how out of touch with reality he truly is. His apprehensive remarks about MLS' unique schedule is a bit outdated to say the least:

“(MLS teams) have to play in summer because they are using the stadia of American football. And when they have their own stadium, they can change the calendar- they have to change the calendar.”

But take no notice of the blathering from a corrupt president for a moment. Forget that there are already 13 soccer-specific stadiums in MLS and give credence to the drawbacks of a spring-to-fall season. 

According to MLS, by placing most of the matches on holidays or weekends, "none will overlap directly with World Cup qualifying matches." True, there are no matches taking place on March 22 when Costa Rica visits Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

But there are seven scheduled matches the following day. 

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That may prove to be inconsequential with a majority of the national team composed of American talent playing overseas. But there are 21 MLS players in Jürgen Klinsmann's January camp. According to Klinsmann, as many as eight of them can expect to make the trip to Honduras on Feb. 6.

Can MLS afford to coordinate meaningful matches with players away on international duty?

What about the Honduran, Jamaican and Costa Rican internationals in MLS that will be away at qualifiers as well?

These are the concerns facing MLS' future. These "constraints" will keep it from developing into a top-tier league. But what skeptics fail to realize is that MLS must make an indentation on a crowded American sports market first. That is the unique circumstance MLS faces.

That is what MLS' unique schedule will allow it to do.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
European leagues would struggle with ratings if they had to directly compete with Ray Lewis

Adopting the international calendar at this current time would pit MLS in direct competition with the entire NFL and NBA season. Other top-tier European leagues with broadcasting rights in America would be an additional stumbling block for MLS' viewership. 

This would create adverse effects on MLS' ability to grow. 

NFL television ratings fell 2.1 percent in 2012. But it still averaged 18.3 million viewers across all networks. The NBA saw a spike in television viewership in 2012. Coverage of the NBA on TNT drew a 21 percent increase from 2011. Coverage on ABC and ESPN saw a nine and six percent increase, respectively. 

MLS cannot yet afford to be in direct competition for the majority its season with two leagues already dominating the airwaves. It must limit the dominant competition for viewership and attendance to one—the NBA. MLS has already surpassed the NBA with average attendance. But the money in sports is in the television contract.

At this moment, MLS can only aspire to obtain the NBA's average viewership.

By starting in March, MLS' additional competition for viewership is beatable. 

The NHL just finished its third lockout in twenty years and is coming off its worst-rated Stanley Cup Final since 2007. The MLB regular season has seen a steady decline in average viewership across all broadcasting networks since 2003. The NHL and MLB are trending downward.

MLS is not.

MLS must first prove it can dominate in a less-crowded time frame. With the buzz that is created with the start of any season in American sports, it can carry that momentum into November.

But mother nature also has a say in the non-international calendar issue.

You try playing in this

A fall-to-spring season permits MLS to avoid playing in the months of December, January and February—the three-worst winter months in an American calendar year. Let us not forget the "winter wonderland" that was the Eastern Conference semifinal between the New York Red Bulls and DC United.

And that was only November. 

Many have argued that MLS could take a winter break like other European leagues to avoid wintry conditions. But can MLS afford to take as many as nine weeks off in the middle of a season?

Consider this: Americans don't understand the concept of vacation. 

Of all the industrial nations in the world, America averages the least amount of vacation days in a calendar year. In 2012, that average fell from 14 days to 12. Compare that to the 25 to 30 days most European nations average in a calendar year.

MLS does not yet boast the clout to disappear for a two month period and return to finish its schedule. 

It would be the only American league with a "break" in the middle of its season. And if the average American hardly takes any vacation time, don't expect them to consent to their athletes doing otherwise. 

Not in the middle of the season.

Respite from forcing MLS to adopt the European blueprint on American soil. Not every aspect of the beautiful game needs to mimicked across all territories.

Especially when the logistics don't generate a perfect equation.

 

Follow Eduardo on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics.

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