MLS Interest From a British Perspective (Part 2): Daily Telegraph Sports Copy Editor Bob WilliamsA series of interviews with British football writers and media professionals discussing their views on Major League Soccer
by Nick Chavez | Friday, April 03, 2015
In the second installment of my series, MLS Interest from a British Perspective, I will be interviewing British football writers and media professionals getting their take on Sky Sports carrying MLS games, about their views on MLS, their opinions on how the average British fan perceives North America’s top-flight domestic league, and what they think about MLS’s future.
Today I talk to Daily Telegraph Sports Desk Copy Editor Bob Williams, who writes about MLS and US Soccer for the British newspaper's website telegraph.co.uk. He is London-based and married to a New Yorker.
How do you feel about MLS games being set to be broadcasted on Sky Sports? How do you think the average British football fan feels about it?
Personally, I am delighted as it means I will have far greater access to a sport that I cover. It means I will be able to watch regular matches, highlights and interviews but I think the average British football fan said 'meh' when the news was announced.
This was for a number of reasons:
1) MLS was already on British TV, on Sky's digital rivals BT Sport and ESPN.
2) MLS is still seen as a minor attraction, even when David Beckham played for LA Galaxy.
3) The timings of live matches are very late.
4) There is a glut of global football on British TV, a very crowded marketplace. British football fans, with the right digital packages, can watch La Liga, Serie A, Eredivisie, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, the Brazilian and Australian leagues and now MLS. And don't forget only a minority of fans have Sky so for large numbers of people it makes no difference if Sky have the rights or not.
Why do you think Sky Sports decided to pick up MLS matches? What do you think the channel hopes and expects to gain from carrying MLS matches?
Sky is mainly looking for an edge over its main digital rival BT Sport. When the news broke, Associated Press reporter Rob Harris tweeted: "After Sky announces MLS deal, BT announces extended deal with Serie A. Both channel fillers rather than attracting many subscribers."
Describing the acquisition of the MLS as a "channel filler" is pretty damning, but not entirely accurate as the big sell is Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard: "They may be leaving the Premier League but you can still watch them on our channels" [My quote]. Sky's publicity shot has Frank Lampard flanked by Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, which is telling.
I doubt Sky paid too much, by its standards, for the MLS rights so I imagine they are hoping Lampard and Gerrard take the league by storm - and thereby pick up new subscribers - and if not, it won't be a huge loss to them.
What do you think about the future potential of MLS to be an elite football league by the global standard (especially as spending/salary cap is allowed to increase as it expected to be in the future?)? How do you think the average British football fan feels about this potential?
The potential is certainly there. I don't think Lampard and Gerrard would have considered joining a few years ago. David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane have shown the draw of playing in the MLS: weather, lifestyle, salary, relative anonymity, etc.
In saying that, the MLS is now where the Premier League was 20 years ago, where the high-profile foreigners joining are generally past their primes. Now the Premier League has the world's elite in their primes. The MLS will, accordingly, be seen as an elite league when these superstars join in their twenties/early thirties and are still starters for their national sides. I would say that is some way off as elite players do not want to jeopardise their international careers by going to the US. Also, this is only discussing a handful of designated players, the quality of the average MLS squad player needs to improve, too, as do average salaries.
But opinions of US football have changed massively, few people in Britain would disagree that the US played a far better brand of football at the recent World Cup than England. This was a line from Telegraph football writer Mark Ogden after the heartbreaking defeat to Belgium: “Make no mistake. The Americans are going home, but they have certainly arrived.” As [President] Obama put it afterwards: “We’ll win it sooner than the world thinks.”
What time slots will MLS games generally be shown in the UK?
Due to the time difference, late night and early morning - kick-offs ranging between 9pm and 3am. But highlights will be shown during the day on the popular Sky Sports News channel and skysports.com. One imagines New York City FC and LA Galaxy matches and highlights will be shown the most.
I would sign off by saying that British interest and awareness in MLS is probably as high as it's ever been - and that has been massively helped by the Lampard controversy. No such thing as bad publicity etc. MLS is still seen as a minor league but gradually, its stock is rising.
I’d like to thank The Telegraph’s Bob Williams for taking the time to answer my questions about Major League Soccer and the view across the pond. You can peruse some of Bob’s quality coverage of US Soccer and Major League Soccer news from his column in the Telegraph. You can also follow him at @WilliamsBob75.