MLS on the International Schedule and Owning a Holiday

On The Fire’s Stephen Mangat is back once again with some thoughts on MLS scheduling and what it might be like if American professional soccer adopted a holiday to showcase itself to the nation.

MLSsoccer.com’s columnist Simon Borg nominated five “American” holidays that MLS should try to own. Borg wrote his column in light of the EPL’s Boxing Day schedule and observed, “The English Premier League has Boxing Day. The NFL owns Thanksgiving. The NBA has taken over Christmas Day.” Moreover, Borg could’ve added the NHL’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Day and MLB Spring Training and Opening Day (unofficial end of winter) to his list.

Borg’s column proposes five holidays on which the MLS could host matches so that the holiday would be associated with the MLS, thus “[s]ports fans would never ever have to look at a calendar again to know when the single, marquee soccer event in all the land is held.” However you feel about Borg (I think he’s a bit sensationalist and tends to take strong, un-nuanced opinions for the sake of getting reaction and attention – all of which I find annoying), his idea is a really good one.

How can the MLS find a specific time of year to make the league and soccer a part of the national consciousness?

Borg offers Black Friday, Cinco de Mayo, Halloween, Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day as the potential MLS holidays, but I think that he’s not looking at the big picture. Before adopting a holiday, MLS needs to make some serious alterations to its calendar.

At some point in the next decade or two, MLS needs to change the time it plays in order to get in sync with the international schedule. Without getting too deep in the explanatory muck, essentially, MLS must change when it plays because: (a) the international transfer window doesn’t fit with MLS, (b) international competitions interfere with MLS and (c) the summer heat of many MLS cities kills players – and the heat will only get worse.

Simply put, MLS should cease league play in the summer. But the wide variance of North American climates makes this a complicated prospect. So with that in mind, here’s an idea of how to get MLS on the international schedule, along with some holidays that MLS could make its own.

  1. Take a Winter Break. Season begins in August and ends in early June (at the latest). The final game of the first half of the season should be late November and the first game of the second half should be early February.
  2. Schedule February and November games in warm climates, and May and August games in cooler ones.
  3. Keep MLS in the national conversation while the league is on break. Thankfully, the transfer window solves much of this concern because the inevitable January wheeling and dealing will create talk. Also, teams will decamp to the South and Southwest to train. This will provide the chance for a Spring Break/Spring Training type excursion for fans. Supporters groups should be wined and dined by the club and encouraged to hold group meetings at the mid-season camps. Clubs should also court bloggers, tweeters, and traditional media members to report on the first half of the season like they do for the MLB All-Star Break.

So with this new season calendar established, which holidays could the MLS make its own? Here’s my list and thoughts:

  • Groundhog Day (Feb. 2): Great opportunity for jokes about repeat happenings, and could be the kickoff to the second half of the season.
  • Presidents’ Day (3rd Monday in Feb.): I like this one because it’s a national holiday. Postal workers will watch more soccer.
  • Tax Day (Apr. 15): Don’t really want to be associated with a negative “holiday,” but some creative marketing/branding could make this work. Plus, MLS could snag taxslayer.com and have Dale Jr. do burnouts in the Home Depot Center parking lot.

“You boys want to go to Mey-hee-coh?!”

  • Cinco de Mayo (May 5): Borg’s idea (“What if this was the day to invite our soccer brethren from South of the Border for a one-day extravaganza of MLS vs. Liga MX?”) is a good one. At the same time, it’s kinda weird since Mexicans don’t really celebrate the holiday to the extent that Americans do. Plus, the French are pussies.
  • Memorial Day (last Monday of May): Too late in the season, though I’m willing to hear arguments for this one.
  • Labor Day (1st Monday in Sept.): Too much competition with NFL.
  • Oktoberfest (Oct.): Though a German holiday, there’s potential with anything that has “fest” in its name. Exception? Lobsterfest.
  • Columbus Day (2nd Monday in Oct.): Not a major holiday. Also, people are increasingly re-thinking Columbus’s role as a holiday-worthy figure. Lefties think he’s the harbinger of genocide, while others associate his memory with discounted appliances.

Love the map in the background.

  • Halloween (Oct. 31): Not always on a weekend, plus conflict with kids going trick-or-treating are negatives. Though it would be awesome to see fans in costume, and marketing departments could put together something great for kids.
  • Veterans Day (Nov. 11): A bit too low-profile of a holiday (shame on us).
  • Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving): Could be a great end-of-first-half party. While it’s a big conflict with shopping, pretty soon hardly anyone will be shopping at stores since it’ll all be done online. Not sure why the NFL hasn’t grabbed this low-hanging fruit.

So what do you think? We’d love your ideas and thoughts in the comments.

Mesmerizing.

Mesmerizing.

6 thoughts on “MLS on the International Schedule and Owning a Holiday

  1. I’ve always wanted MLS to go on the international calendar with a winter break, but I think the hurdles are too big. You’re asking to compete with the NFL even more directly, though that’s less of an issue once every team gets out of NFL stadiums and can play on Friday or Saturday nights. The climate is another problem. Even games in late November and February and March would be brutal.

    The other problem to do that is to actually adopt a single-table system, and we know MLS will never do that. Because if you still have a playoff, when does that happen? April and May? So you’re second half of the season for some is just February and March? Do you do two seasons like in South America? That would be so foreign for an American audience, I don’t know that it would fly.

    • Fair points for sure. Competing with the NFL isn’t that much of a problem (in my mind) for a few reasons that are a bit long for the comments. I agree about the climate issues, but scheduling appropriately (with global warming) could alleviate much of these issues. There’d be a few super hot or super cold games a season, but that’s life. I don’t know if single table is necessary (though I would like it) and the playoffs would be done in late April (last week) and all May (and probably some of June too). It’s tricky, but I think it’s the right move for the long-term.

  2. I think the weather is becoming less of a problem. Even here in Chicago, the weather in November and December has been pretty reasonable, and I cant think of any day this past winter where I would not want to be standing outside.

    Given that this planet will likely continue to be getting warmer year over year, I don’t think November being ‘too cold’ is an issue, especially if you intend to place home games in more southern locations during that time.

    • My thoughts exactly. It’d be a risk, but I bet November and February games could be done in New York, New England, Chicago and Vancouver. It’d be a risk, but it’d be doable. Better not to schedule games there (or in Toronto and Montreal) and just be smart with the scheduling like you suggested.

  3. I like the ideal of the winter break. I think you’re on to something. Pitch it to the MLS and maybe it will keep Sepp quiet for awhile.

  4. Caught this really late…for some reason…

    I am sure taking the summer off and playing with a “winter break” looks appealing this year. At least, in the summer you can play night games where it’s a little cooler. What are you going to do in November/December with games in the northern cities? What about incidents like we’re seeing now where any part of the country is not off limits to wintery conditions (and bad ones)?

    Keep the schedule. Nothing wrong with it.

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