Rumored MLS Schedule Raises Questions

League would allegedly switch to a 28-game schedule
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

NBC Sports reported yesterday that MLS is allegedly in discussion to switch to a 28-game schedule, reducing the MLS season by 6 games annually.

But not all is cut and dry with this rumored schedule. Questions about the longevity of this move and its effects on the league surround this potential switch. And if this alleged idea comes to fruition, it may not be as well-organized as it appears.

What are the long-term effects?

The change to a 28-game schedule works perfectly, but only for a short while.

With 20 teams in the league, teams would play each of their conference opponents twice (home and away) and one from the other conference once. It’s all neat and tidy.

But all that changes as more teams join the league. MLS has made it clear it wants to expand the league to 24 teams by 2020. But until then, as teams slowly come into the league, the schedule will continue to shift and reorder. That’s why, if this scheduling change happens, I couldn’t see it going past the point when MLS has 21 teams.

When the league has finished this next phase of expansion, the 28-game schedule would make sense again. It’ll make sense next season, too, as 2014 will be considerably different with the World Cup, and MLS will surely look to avoid scheduling conflicts for national team players, especially now that some of the marquee names also compete for their home country.

The switch could also eliminate mid-week matches, which are good for soccer fans but less optimal for casuals and healthy attendance figures. It might also make MLS teams more fit for CONCACAF Champions League games, as fewer games in the regular season will allow for in-form teams to show themselves properly in the regional competition.

Is expansion a factor?

As MLS gears up to bring in more teams from across the country, it’s surely looking to fix its schedule and make it more appealing to both franchise owners and fans.

More games for more teams – like if 24 teams were to each play 34 games – can lead to congestion within the league. Schedules would be stacked high with matches, and only a handful would be marquee matchups.

Expansion means MLS will be taking more of a risk on markets, which could force the league to become more fiscally conservative for a few years. This 28-game schedule brings MLS back to its early days where a limited schedule so the league could watch its finances.

By making a shorter season but adding more teams, MLS takes a risk by moving into other markets, but it remains incredibly calculated as the league would protecting itself from the added expenses brought on by a longer season.

Will this fix the games-in-hand problem?

This is the biggest question with the potential switch. From the 2013 season’s beginning to now, certain teams have had stretches with games in hand. For a while it was the Montreal Impact – at one point they led the Eastern Conference and had 4 games in hand – and now it’s the Seattle Sounders, who sit comfortably at 3rd in the Western Conference with 4 games in hand.

Leagues across the world struggle with this issue, and usually teams have 1 or 2 game differences. But MLS clubs, even though they are sprinting to the finish line and battling for playoff contention, are still facing uneven schedules, making the fight for the postseason an even more difficult process.

While it’s more dramatic because you can’t accurately predict the playoff teams, having games in hand also hinders teams and fans from knowing how many points their club needs out of each game to get to the playoffs. It’s almost impossible to see how high the stakes are for every contest.

Part of the fun for predicting the playoffs is knowing that Team A needs to win here, win here and can afford a draw here. But in the current standings, all the teams are standing by watching to see how Seattle does with its 4 extra games.

With an even number of games and a picture-perfect schedule such as the rumored 28-game one, hopefully this will eliminate the amount of game differential within MLS.

How much of this is due to a TV deal?

MLS is waiting (and hoping) to renew big TV deals after the 2014 season, which means the next deal will begin in 2015 when New York City FC joins the league and when this proposed 28-game schedule would be at its best.

It's possible this rumored schedule has to do with the league trying to negotiate a new television deal. Maybe broadcasters aren’t willing to go all-in on 34 games, and that a 28-game season is more appealing to different networks. This is purely speculation, but MLS is likely making its considering its next TV deal when deciding the next schedule change.

But MLS has a lot to consider when changing its schedule. Surely a shift would temporarily help the league, but, as the above questions point out, there’s a lot at stake with whatever move the league decides to make.


UMass Amherst
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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.