Monday, September 5, 2011

MLS Schedule Makers Mismanage Holiday Traffic

Holidays are not really holidays in Major League Soccer.  Or, holidays are truly treated as holidays in MLS.  Depends on one's outlook.  A sports fan might think the latter, but wishes it weren't true.

There is one match scheduled for Labor Day.  It's a good one, with Donovan and Beckham leading the charge against the upstart Sporting KC squad in its newest, state-of-the-art Soccer specific stadium. Why aren't there matches like this scheduled all over the country?

For Memorial Day back in May, there were no games scheduled.

Major League Baseball, though, has made holidays perennial days at the ballpark.  They have a full slate of games for both Memorial and Labor Days and Independence Day, too.  Even without any tight pennant or wildcard races, MLB can still expect to do well from Labor Day, just because of the traditions.

Sports fans are raised to learn sports watching habits.  In many ways, American holidays have become a partnership with sports.  Whether its the NFL at Thanksgiving, the NBA on Christmas Day or the NHL's newest version for New Year's Day, holidays can be counted on for sports entertainment value.

The United States Tennis Association always schedules the U.S. Open to play its first weekend of matches over Labor Day weekend.  The USTA recognizes the importance of connecting with the holiday for those who are attending and for those who may catch the matches at home on TV.  It has worked for them for many years and their sponsors must be pleased because there has never been any complaints.  It has become standard procedure on the sports calendar.

Americans have used sports as a catharsis during holidays.  Sports have become a framework to what holidays represent in the U.S.  There seems to be always some degree of watching movies, eating, resting, activity and sports.

MLB has found it easy to schedule games on holidays.  They know how critical each of the holiday weekends are for their bottom line and they have positioned themselves to be one of the 'things to do' over the weekend and on the Monday holiday.

How should MLS look at these holidays?  Currently, the league's outlook is to manage them as vacation days.  Are successful sports leagues supposed to be on vacation during holidays?  Is it good P/R knowing the league is still locked in a battle for a mainstream audience?

MLS would do itself well to begin to schedule more games on holidays, pushing their brand and a bunch of highlights into the minds of sports consumers who are usually not at work on those days. With the new NBC contract, MLS needs to coordinate some double or tripleheaders and begin to create a 'special' feeling with sports fans.

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