By Ridge Mahoney
Once again, the Galaxy will boast a lineup that will be the envy of most MLS counterparts.
When it comes to talent, not many teams can compare with Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and the others led by head coach Bruce Arena. And when it comes to broadcast arrangements, nobody comes close to the array of match coverage and auxiliary programming that fetch an annual rights fee in the neighborhood of $5.5 million.
In the past decade or so, many teams have strengthened their local television and radio presence. Yet the Galaxy enjoys unprecedented exposure beyond the game broadcasts carried by Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Time Warner Cable Deportes.
Specifics for the 2014 season were released Friday. There’s been a change in the broadcast team, with longtime radio play-by-play man Joe Tutino returning to the TV side to work alongside ex-Galaxy and U.S. midfielder Cobi Jones. All games not covered by national broadcasts will be carried by TWCS and TWCD, which is the case for most MLS teams, but the extensive auxiliary programming featuring the Galaxy is unmatched.
Every TWCS game is accompanied by a 30-minute pregame show and hour-long postgame telecast, “Access SportsNet: Galaxy,” emanating from the system’s studio. Time Warner Cable Deportes carries “Galaxy En Vivo” (pregame) and “Vamos Galaxy” (postgame) featuring former Galaxy and U.S. head coach Steve Sampson and other analysts. The postgame Spanish-language show also follows nationally televised games.
“Backstage: Galaxy” and “Galaxy Confidencial” are behind-the-scenes shows that are part and parcel for many North American professional sports teams but uncommon in MLS. They portray the players and coaches away from the field and give the Galaxy a regular dose of exposure separate from game action.
The team’s history is covered, too. Time Warner Cable SportsNet runs “Timeless Galaxy,” which are repeat telecasts of classic Galaxy games that include social media segments. Games are also re-packaged in Spanish on “Galaxy Compacto,” a re-airing of all 34 games either condensed to one hour or run in full depending on their importance.
There’s more but the details aren’t nearly as important as the effect. A critical offshoot of being a glamorous, successful team in the entertainment capital of the world has earned the Galaxy unprecedented popularity in its market as well as nationally and globally. It’s no rival to the Dodgers or Lakers but in the aftermath of David Beckham, it retains a high profile.
A crucial facet of the league’s growth in the next five to 10 years will be what broadcast presence MLS teams can attain in other major markets: Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, and of course New York. There’s good TV coverage of Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Sporting Kansas City and a few other representatives, and while all MLS teams face stiff competition for the entertainment dollar, exposure beyond that of games increases awareness and drives up the value of sponsorships and other marketing deals.
Teams that elevate their profile by signing star players are more attractive to businesses and companies, as well as the national TV audience. By acquiring Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, Gilberto and Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar (on loan), TFC is all of a sudden the team everyone wants to see. How that affects local and national TV ratings will be closely eyed by league officials, who were disappointed that the acquisition of Clint Dempsey last season didn’t much move the ratings.
Maurice Edu doesn’t match Bradley and Dempsey for star power, but the Philly coaching staff and fan base expect him to upgrade the Union. In a hardcore sports town, he’ll be well-known if the team does well.
MLS has taken heavy criticism for shelling out transfer money for Dempsey and Bradley, and fans of rivals can rightly complain that supplying certain teams a competitive advantage runs counter to precepts of parity and balance. Yet the league’s growth on many fronts hasn’t been accompanied by a marked uptick in TV ratings, and since its broadcast partners run very limited doses of auxiliary programming -- contrast MLS with the extensive Premier League offshoots that run regularly on NBCSN -- it has few options other than to pump up the star power.
Because of its location and market conditions and rich ownership, the Galaxy is unique. More time is needed to properly evaluate the impact of Time Warner’s investment, which began only last year.
MLS has a much bigger TV landscape to conquer, and it must do so locally as well as nationally. It has delved deeply into social media and Internet programming properties and those efforts should continue. Yet the massive importance of television isn’t likely to wane considerably for quite a while and if big names mean better numbers, that’s the way to go.