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The case for switching seasons
by Paul Kennedy, November 24th, 2010 1:44PM

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TAGS:  mls, my view

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[MLS] Commissioner Don Garber's statement that MLS will examine the possibility of switching to summer-spring season has been lambasted as pandering to FIFA President Sepp Blatter in an effort to win his support for the USA's World Cup 2022 bid. But there are some very good reasons to adopt the move ...

THE CASE FOR ...

The most important reason to adopt a summer-spring calendar used in most of Europe, Mexico and Argentina is, simply put, to allow MLS teams to begin the season with all their horses. Imagine if NFL teams had to wait until November to make their marquee signings. That's the image problem MLS has now.

The switch to a summer start would put MLS on the same cycle for the signing of new players -- i.e., allow teams to sign players during the summer transfer window that opens on July 1, market these new signings before and at the start of the season and have them available for all or most of the season.

As things stand now, no other major league endures the mid-season turnover MLS does with all the negative repercussions of such moves.

Each year, more and more big-name players are signed during the summer as they become available or dispensable by their (mostly) European clubs.

All nine of the Designated Players signed in 2010 were signed during the summer transfer window -- Omar Bravo won't play for Kansas City until next season -- which meant that their clubs had no chance to incorporate them into preseason promotions and more important, integrate successfully them into the lineup.

The 2010 season was a wasted season for the New York Red Bulls' two big signings, Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez. Granted, both arrived in MLS after having played in the 2010 World Cup and that wouldn't change if the MLS season changed to a summer-spring calendar. But the Red Bulls could have promoted the signings of Henry and Marquez, moved them slowly into the lineup as they gained their fitness and had them both at 100 percent for the second half of the season. As it was, they had marginal impact on what was a successful campaign.

I'm sure Seattle fans would have liked to have seen Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez break into the Sounders' lineup in similar fashion.

With the possible exception of San Jose's Brazilian signing, Geovanni, none of the nine DPs was a factor in their team's season, meaning owners wasted their money -- for one season -- in their most valuable investments.

The preseason should be when teams promote their new signings and prepare for the long haul, but now all they have available are scraps -- players without teams or players whose contracts expire at the end of the calendar year by virtue of playing in one of the few leagues that play spring-fall seasons.

As it stands now, the activity during MLS's January-April transfer window is a largely wasted exercise. (Joel Lindpere -- available because the Norwegian season ends in the fall -- or Alvaro Saborio -- released by his Swiss club, FC Sion, in February -- were this season's notable exceptions.)

For a moment, just pity poor scribes like us trying to "preview" an MLS season in March before the vast majority of the maneuvering takes place, beginning on July 1 when players under contract in most leagues abroad are free to sign with new teams. The hot-stove season -- air-conditioner season? -- is lost if it takes place midseason.

And just pity MLS trying to hype its new season with such big offseason signings as Danny Allsopp and Collins John.

The summer-spring season also works the other way: a switch to a summer-spring season means MLS will be able to sell players on the summer transfer market -- after the MLS season ends -- when demand is the highest. Few European clubs have interest in signing players during the January window when MLS players are currently available.

Secondary benefits of switching seasons:

-- Teams won't have to play league games in the middle of summer when the weather is the hottest. The only other major league that forces teams to play through the hottest time of the year is Japan's J-League.

-- Teams still alive in the Concacaf Champions League will be entering the second half of their seasons when the knockout phase begins in the late winter -- not forced to jump back into Concacaf action during preseason.

-- Teams will be able to schedule many of their lucrative summer international friendlies during their preseason instead of congesting their schedules, as they do now, with friendlies in the middle of the season.

-- Teams will finish the season in the late spring instead of late fall. No more MLS Cups in late November with swathes of empty seats as the game moves into overtime.

--  The summer-spring season puts MLS in sync with the seasons of their academy teams, meaning academy signings -- the majority of which take place in the summer -- can go through preseason with the first team and develop more quickly.

THE CASE AGAINST ...

The biggest argument against switching is playing into the winter. For every week taken off during the summer means a week must be added to play during the winter. The summer break will need to be at least a month to, well, feel like a break in seasons. MLS will have to begin the second half of the season in the end of February if it doesn't want to play past Thanksgiving.

-- Such a short break won't be enough time for teams to prepare for the new season.

Counterpoint: Remember that only the MLS Cup finalists will have a month off. The teams that don't qualify for the playoffs will have up to two months to prepare.

-- Such a short break won't be enough time for teams sell season tickets for the next season.

Counterpoint: Nothing says they have to wait for the end of one season to begin selling another season.

-- Teams will draw better in the summer than the winter.

Counterpoint: The schedule can be adjusted so warm-weather teams re-open first at home in the spring. MLS games draw the best in the October so the league should move into full swing -- not wind down -- in the fall.

-- Such a switch would require MLS to play a short season -- in the spring -- before starting the new cycle.

Counterpoint: The 2014 season -- a World Cup year -- would be the perfect time to launch the new season.

MLS would crown a short-season champion (rewarded with a berth in the Concacaf Champions League) in mid-May, break for the World Cup in Brazil (let's hope the USA is indeed playing!) and launch the new format in mid-July.



0 comments
  1. Paul Lorinczi
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 7:38 a.m.
    You are forgetting MLS Cup in the spring will not have competition from the NFL for potential viewers. It would compete with NBA and NHL. MLS could get better TV ratings in the Spring.

  1. M. Nunez
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 8:52 a.m.
    Danny Allsopp (not Derek). A three month mid-season break would be too much. I'm thinking there could be MLS play into mid December. Also, this schedule would be a good reason to put the 20th MLS team down south (Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Tampa) and not in New York City. Then again, I don't know if I'm in favor of loading cold weather teams with a road schedule during cold weather months. This does not created a balanced schedule for the whole league. I'm talking about one week home, one week away.

  1. Albert Harris
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 9:24 a.m.
    December and February games in Toronto and New England? Well, we saw how great a TV image that made in the MLS cup. New York, Chicago and Philadelphia would have the same problem. If we switch seasons, there is no question that the Northern teams would have to play the winter period on the road, no getting around it. Just as an aside, while everybody is kissing Euro-butt and trying to align with them, why isn't there any demand for Norway to change their season? Maybe it's the weather! LoL

  1. M. Nunez
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 9:34 a.m.
    Then again, those games in December and February would not be MLS Cup. Garber (and the League) just made the regular season even more irrelevant by adding 2 more teams to the playoffs, so some poorly attended games in Dec and Jan would make no difference. I'm all in favor of the higher seeded team hosting MLS Cup. An MLS Cup game in May (or June) would be much better than a November one in several locations.

  1. M. Nunez
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 9:35 a.m.
    Edit: some poorly attended games in Dec and Feb would make no difference.

  1. Howard Collier
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 9:38 a.m.
    I have to agree with Paul. I believe the MLS would draw more TV viewers with the summer to spring format. It can effectively compete with the NHL and NBA but not with the NFL. The interest seems to wane in November when the NFL and college football heats up. The MLS needs as much TV exposure as possible to ensure its long term survival.

  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 9:43 a.m.
    There is no perfect system. Having un-balanced schedule in the winter months in regard to home vs away games, will be offset by the positives of going along with the rest of the world. Germany at one point had two months break in Winter. So, it can be done. I agree that MLS can go deep into December. College soccer does.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 9:51 a.m.
    Paul, you've convinced me. If the schedules are adjusted so that cold weather teams are on the road in warm weather venues during the winter months, and warm weather teams are in cooler climes when it gets hot, the negative impacts of the weather extremes we must endure in North America would be minimized. I say we go for it.

  1. Kerry Ogden
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 10:03 a.m.
    Along with cold weather brings about a greater chance of injury, doesn't the Commissioner realize this or not care about this. Indoor stadiums could be built at the cost of fans and teams but is it justifiable in the end!!!The season should stay as it is unless teams can justify possible losses towards the end of the season due to cold weather injuries. I know that there are injuries during good weather due to the physicallity of the game but why add to it. There has to be a better solution before pushing forward.

  1. Carl Walther
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 11:38 a.m.
    Albert Harris gave one of the best reasons--the weather. 'Slather Blather' has no clue what the weather is like here in the winter. If this goes through, watch game attendance drop even more. Just another way to destroy the league.

  1. Daniel Suter
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 1:09 p.m.
    Soccer is an outdoor sport for most of the world. Playing "The Beautiful Game" indoors makes it an artificial setting - and forcing players to play this sport on artificial turf is bad enough. MLS feels fierce competition from NFL (beginning in September), and the NBA and NHL (beginning in Oct-Nov). Many fans do not have money to purchase tickets for two spectator sports in the same week. The NFL, NBA, and NHL tickets have become prohibitively expensive so my interest in those sports has waned. I would not enjoy sitting outside for any February matches in Columbus, OH, unless the U.S. national team would play Mexico. Let's retain the spring-fall format for at least the next 3 years.

  1. Paul Bryant
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 6:10 p.m.
    Moving to a summer to spring season would probably necessitate a single-table league. Looking at the eastern conference, there are no temperate-winter teams. Toronto and New England can get snow in September. In the western conference, only Real Salt Lake and Colorado have the threat of early winter. Quite frankly, a single table already exsist since playoff eligible teams are chosen by won-loss record and not by their record in the conference.

  1. Margaret Manning
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 9:12 p.m.
    Please tell me this is a joke. None of the reasons seem to have anything to do the fans. Hmmm. Do you really think that the Sounders will produce 36,000 attendees on the proposed schedule? We drive 200 miles and take two ferry rides for our roundtrip to Qwest for games. We're pretty rabid fans, are STH and travel to playoff and some away games. That said, I don't see us renewing our season tickets for a European-style season.

  1. Margaret Manning
    commented on: November 25, 2010 at 9:14 p.m.
    P.S. Record lows in Seattle this week.

  1. Kenneth Cabral
    commented on: November 26, 2010 at 9:55 a.m.
    I dont't know about the "when players are signed" argument. What's most important is game attendance. As a fan I'd rather watch soccer when it's hot than when it's very cold. Why not start the season two weeks earlier than presently arranged with the first few games played in the warmer climates. That way the cup game will be played in late October or early November. Also, the argumant that it snows in New England in September only holds if you're talking about the Northern parts of Maine, New Hapshire or Vermont. There are no MLS teams in these regions and it is unlikely that there ever will be. September in Massachusetts is a great month for soccer. Not hot and not too cold.

  1. Douglas Chaves
    commented on: November 26, 2010 at 6:29 p.m.
    The brazilian league is basically on the same schedule as MLS.They're able to compete and do just fine.We just have to get better.Playing in decembrrrr.,january, not good idea.

  1. Nathanael Dewhurst
    commented on: November 27, 2010 at 4:43 p.m.
    Also keep in mind that the current schedule is more conducive to off-season loans, e.g. Donovan's stint at Everton last winter.


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