The match will take place at 9pm EST on Sunday November 20. Aside from the dubious decision to have the event on a Sunday evening, questions must surely be asked about the fact that the game could be going up against the Eagles-Giants football game at the New Meadowland at the same time. It seems as though MLS is hoping (and probably praying) that the NFL lockout continues, allowing their showpiece to take the airwaves unopposed by any other sport. However, if the lockout ends and the 2011 NFL season goes ahead as planned, the fear must be that MLS will look amateurish once again.
It is possible that the decision to head for sunny California is a reaction to the weather seen in Toronto last year. That match – again held on a Sunday evening – took place in a frigid wind, and there were reports of many of the ‘neutrals’ leaving before the game had finished. In that respect, move the game to warmer climes makes sense; but given that TV ratings fell 44% last year it would appear that at this stage, MLS cannot compete with a high-profile NFL at the same time. (Last year also saw MLS Cup against a Philadelphia/New York matchup)
Assuming that ESPN has input in the scheduling of the final, it stands to reason that the network would encourage MLS to have the game on the Sunday night; ESPN usually has college football live all day on Saturdays (including in the evening) so there would most likely be a scheduling conflict. Sunday afternoon would not be ideal either; rather than going up against one evening NFL game, you would find yourself up against at least four, regardless of whether you went for a 1pm or a 4pm kickoff.
The sports landscape in the US is still dominated by football and baseball. As long as MLS is courting the affections of ESPN, those sports will always take precedence, despite whatever growth and improvement the league shows. Allowing a big network like ESPN to dictate when matches are played ultimately harms the league, as it will always be like the red-headed stepchild and shunted around the schedules to make way for its bigger and more popular rivals.
Is it the time for Major League Soccer to take a risk and look to move away from ESPN?