The snobby European Football fan, which I confess I am one, struggles to understand why MLS has a playoff system and tries to compete with the top sports here rather than accepting the Euro model.
Major League Soccer’s executive vice president of communications, Dan Courtemanche, spoke exclusively to Fox News Latino about the new playoff system that MLS has implemented for the 2015 season, and why he believes it is sustainable.
Fox News Latino: Many say the MLS playoff system attempts to “Americanize” the system to appeal to U.S. fans. Does MLS feel the need to make decisions based on competition with other sports in the U.S. or are changes like #DecisionDay trying to attract the same excitement from Europe?
Dan Courtemanche: Major League Soccer plays the game by the same rules as all of the other professional soccer leagues throughout the world. In the early days of the league, there were attempts to make the game more appealing to the American sports fan. In 1999, MLS eliminated any changes to the game – shootout, clock counting down, etc. – that were not the same as the other leagues throughout the world.
FNL: What do you say to the detractors that complain about the MLS having a playoff system as opposed to other leagues all over the world?
DC: The Audi MLS Cup Playoffs provide drama and make our regular season more compelling than many leagues throughout the world ... Regarding playoffs and other North American sports leagues, those leagues are arguably the most competitive in the world. We believe playoffs create a competitive environment, and the current season certainly illustrates that point with 17 of 20 clubs still in the hunt for a playoff berth with only two weeks remaining.
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FNL: How do you feel the expansion to 12 teams will affect the playoffs? Is there a concern that having such a large percentage of teams in the playoffs dilutes the importance of the regular season?
DC: With two weeks remaining in the regular season, 85 percent of MLS clubs remain in the playoff race. Even at this late juncture in the season, every match matters for those clubs in playoff contention. Teams are either desperate to contend for a playoff spot or trying to secure a top seed and home-field advantage. Our playoffs are compelling and provide great entertainment for MLS fans. Also, we expanded the number of playoff teams to plan for the future as a minimum of four new expansion clubs will join MLS before the end of the decade.
FNL: For the first time ever all postseason matches will be shown live on national television across the league’s partner networks. This is a very exciting development. How important is this development for MLS?
DC: We are pleased to have all of our postseason matches televised nationally. In addition to playoff matches being televised on ESPN, FS1, Univision Deportes, TSN and RDS, our postseason games will reach more than 120 different countries via our international broadcast partners. We appreciate the passion and commitment by all of our broadcast partners, and the incremental exposure will help grow our fan base and increase the popularity of our clubs. Our goal is to become one of the top leagues in the world by 2022, and television is a significant component in helping us achieve that goal.
While it's all well and good to keep MLS fans and cities interested, a big part of the goal should be to bring new fans into the game. You want to entertain not just your current fan base, but regular sports fans as well. The new broadcast schedule should help attract viewers, but the numbers don’t seem to add up.
Soccer is growing massively in the U.S., so why isn't the MLS?
The big question is where are the soccer fans? Ninety-three thousand attended the U.S. versus Mexico game this weekend, millions more watched on TV. The national teams’ games – both men and women – are very well attended. When clubs and national teams from other countries visit the U.S., they fill large stadiums. Why aren't those fans flocking to MLS games in similar numbers?
The answer may be that by creating its own rules and system, the MLS divides soccer fans rather than unites us. Maybe American soccer should represent the melting pot of the global game, drop the playoffs and introduce a promotion-and-relegation system and then maybe the fans will have something to be more invested in.
Video of the Week
So refreshing. Watch new Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp introduce himself to the English media at a press conference. I can’t remember when the English were so happy to see a German in their midst.
From the Wires
Players in the Albanian national football team have come home to a heroes' welcome after qualifying for the 2016 European Championships — the first major tournament the country has ever reached.
Hundreds of jubilant fans gathered at Tirana's Mother Teresa Airport Monday as players returned a day after beating Armenia 3-0 for second place in Group I behind Portugal.
Prime Minister Edi Rama gave players a red carpet welcome at his office after traveling to the airport and hugging players as they came off the plane. President Bujar Nishani awarded the team the country's highest civilian award, the Honor of National Order.
Much of the capital Tirana remained draped in the national colors, red and black, after a night of street celebrations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.