By Ridge Mahoney
The good points of mlssoccer.com are seldom mentioned in the blizzard of excoriating – and justified – criticism that has nearly smothered the site since it launched two months ago, but they do exist.
Hunting for stats and information and records is painfully exasperating, and in perusing the quality and quantity of articles one can only assume written into the mission statement are mantras along the lines of, “no content is bad content,” and “no snippet left behind.”
The technical catastrophe that has plagued the site has been well-documented and whether or not it was avoidable is now irrelevant, but in planning and design and strategizing of the site certainly is sub-par.
Perhaps the league believed that highlights and interviews and other video elements are far more important to fans than information and news and statistics. If so, that was a grave miscalculation, perhaps driven by a decision to follow somewhat the philosophy of goal.com, which packed its domestic coverage with tidbit and items and speculation, but precious little hard data.
Members of the media were “promised” there would be a media-only channel available a month or so after the start of the season. Its launch is not imminent. While fans have bombarded chat rooms and boards with tech complaints, they’ve also railed at the navigational pitfalls blocking access to timely information. All true, unfortunately.
What the site does very well is produce and post video of games. Much of the other video is as inane as what passes for articles and stories, but the speed of which highlights of games in progress are posted is impressive. Five or 10 minutes after a goal is scored or other notable incident occurs, up it pops on the site.
I’ve been at Buck Shaw Stadium several times this season to watch the Quakes, and if there other West Coast games in progress, a running list of linked items keeps me updated on what’s going on in the other games, which I can also view on my computer through the season package.
One of the site's best features is the “theater” strip that runs along the top of the page, which – theoretically at least – links the user to each game. Simply click on the frame and you are taken to that game, and while there are usually a few snafus afoot, in a relatively timely manner you can find out details of the game in progress, whatever highlights have been posted, etc.
I say “relatively,” because during the NHL playoffs I’ve been randomly going to the league site as well as those of various teams, and there’s just no comparison. And the NHL is the league that MLS believes it has matched or surpassed in terms of fan interest, marketing punch, demographic appeal, etc. In the cyberworld at least, MLS still has far to go.
The Toronto FC Web site has been producing a six-minute review of its games for the past few seasons, and Seattle’s startup last year was accompanied by a strong Internet presence. Sadly, despite the league’s beefed-up site, several of its teams are worse off than their USL/NASL counterparts when it comes to producing and posting Web content.
One of the reasons ironically, MLS committed millions of dollars to staff and produce its own site – previously, it relied on the same service that produces mlb.com – was to heavily publicize and promote its product to fans that use the Internet, rather than reaching for other potential audiences through advertising, sponsorships, etc. Instead, it has alienated those fans that crave such information, and tainted the league as a Mickey Mouse operation to everybody else who might click through.
Before its launch, Commissioner Don Garber lauded the elements that would be available, and made special mention that the site would be “packed with video.” It got that part right, more or less, but just about everything else needs work, and two months after it blew up on the launch pad, repairs are still lagging behind.