By Jason Davis - WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 14, 2012) US Soccer Players -- My First Kick Saturday started with a trip to the kitchen, where I grabbed a beverage and a salty snack. After sitting down on my couch, I turned on my laptop and navigated to the website of Major League Soccer, where I clicked a link that led me to the League’s revamped streaming service called “MLS Live.” From the schedule there, I selected a game to be streamed on my computer.
Then I turned on my TV, which is connected to a streaming content box called a Roku, and selected the MLS channel I had previously linked to my MLS Live subscription. I then selected another game, happening concurrently, and streamed it through my television in crystal clear high definition.
What a country. More accurately, what a League.
While the product on the field remains a work in progress thanks to things like salary caps and scouting budgets, MLS has done right by their tech-savvy fans by making almost every one of their games available over the internet. If you’re committed enough to want to watch every game played, and you've got access to ESPN, NBC Sports Network, Galavision, and your local team's broadcasts if you're in an MLS market, you can. This is the golden era of soccer consumption for the American soccer fan. Never miss a minute of MLS action, unless you want to.
If I owned the right technology, I could even take games with me via a tablet device or iPhone. If it happened that there were three games on at once, I could add a third game to the array.
MLS Digital General Manager Chris Schlosser is in charge of the League’s online presence, and talked about why streaming games is important to MLS. “MLS has one of the youngest and most tech savvy fan bases of any of the major US sports, we want our fans to have access to the games on their computers, phones, tablets and other connected devices. This year one price will give you access on all supported devices,” Schlosser said.
Is this the way the game was meant to be watched? I don’t know and I don’t care. By streaming games through their website and making that service available through handheld gadgets, MLS is taking their product directly to their most ardent fans. This is one area in which MLS appears to be on par with, or ahead of, its American sports league peers. The NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball all offer their own online streaming package. Major League Soccer’s rivals all of them, and comes in at a comparable, or lower, price point.
MLS got into the online streaming game in 2010 with the first edition of their service, then called “Match Day Live.” The service used Microsoft’s Silverlight platform, and while functional, left something to be desired. Most of the quirks of the service, however, were offset by the small cost. It was good, but it wasn’t great.
In 2011, the service was a little better, and the price a little higher. If you were willing to deal with the kinks, it was still a solid value. As an alternative to the more expensive Direct Kick TV package, Match Day Live did the job.
MLS Live is the next step in the evolution of the League’s emphasis on streaming games. Gone is Silverlight, replaced by the more widely used Flash. Early returns show better quality and less hassle firing up the service. Those of using Linux devices finally have access.
“When MLS Digital was founded the League had limited streaming, no mobile access, very limited content creation and no social presence," Schlosser said. "Fast forward three years and our digital growth is exploding, fans have incredible access to games, highlights, stories and stats on multiple devices all updating in near real time. All of these products and new content is a reflection of an ownership group that saw the importance of digital media and decided to invest significant dollars against a growing business.”
The debut of MLS on NBC Sports Network last Sunday was met with almost universal praise and excitement, and rightfully so. As the League takes on a new television partner, much of the focus in the area of broadcasting is in on the popularity of MLS on television and the hope that TV will eventually represent a major revenue stream for the League. That said, it’s arguable that MLS Live is just as important to disseminating the League’s product. By giving out-of-town and general fans of the League the ability to watch games wherever they are, MLS is strengthening a connection.
NBC Sports and ESPN have the potential to reach new fans. MLS Live is about delivering games to those already committed and keeping them engaged. My personal First Kick finally ended sometime after midnight Eastern Time thanks to a West Coast tilt between LA and Real Salt Lake.
All told, I watched parts or all of five games, the entirety of the day’s schedule. I’d consumed several beverages and more than my share of salty snacks. I’d given up a beautiful Spring-like day in the second week of March to sit on my sofa and watch as much soccer as I wanted. All for $60 and the cost of my internet connection. I can’t wait to do it again.
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