By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 10, 2012) US Soccer Players – It's reader response time, and this Friday we have one very long email from Jeff in Seattle sent in after reading our newsletter. Fortunately, he raises several points worth discussing. So here we go.
Jeff writes: I find it completely baffling and frustrating how US Soccer can, one week prior to the final, decide to award the TV contract for the US Open Cup to Gol TV. As a Seattle season ticket holder since the team’s inception, I really looked forward to seeing our boys play for the title in Seattle. When that was switched to KC I thought OK at least it will be on TV. Fox always does a great job on the broadcasts. Now we find out that the ONLY coverage will be on GolTV. In order to watch the game I need to order that channel. OK, I can do that. But you have to wait on hold for 45 minutes while trying to get help adding that to your lineup of programming. OK, I can do that. Then, after the long wait on hold, you find out that it takes a week to add the damn channel to the lineup. Does US Soccer really care about the Open Cup ? I think not. Seattle just put 61908 fans in the stadium for a Sunday nite game on Seafair weekend and after the Hydroplane races on the one day in Seattle when the temperature reaches over 90 degrees. And that was for a league game. Are you kidding me? Sure, LA is a big draw, but the Open Cup final is much bigger for the fans. Does US Soccer think that we won’t fill it up for a historic game like that? Now, not only is the game moved to a much smaller venue, but it is going to be broadcast on GolTV. Sounds like money is the issue here, not the fans. Filling a stadium with a “football stadium sized crowd” isn’t abnormal in Seattle. We do it all the time. This was a terrible decision and a real penalty for the best and smartest fans in all of MLS.
Jeff wasn't the only one letting us know that getting access to a network they don't already have for a Wednesday night game was somewhat of a problem. However, it's tough to use that and come to a blanket conclusion about availability. In some markets, Fox Soccer is available on a standard cable tier. In others, it's part of the same sports tier as GolTV. If getting the game on television was the point, the US Soccer Federation accomplished that.
The bigger question might be why the Open Cup final wasn't included with the package MLS and US Soccer agreed to with NBC Sports. There's only one other game with a real trophy on the line that features MLS teams, so there should be some respect for the Open Cup.
As it stands, if GolTV was the option for getting the game on television that's a better choice than an alternative coverage model or no coverage at all. It's got to be easier approaching sponsors with a televised final than one streamed over the internet, even if that would've made it easier on segments of the potential viewing audience.
Moving onto the choice of venue, it's well established that US Soccer allows the teams to bid. Kansas City won that bid process this year, Seattle the previous two years. Though one would assume ticket revenue plays a part, it's also a fair assumption that it's part of an overall bid that favored what Kansas City put together. With every club involved in the competition knowing that's what it takes to host the final, fair enough. Arguing drawing power and size of stadium as more important is no better than making it about money because it will always favor the bigger club. At least in a bid, a team with a smaller stadium can host.
US Soccer deserves credit for taking steps to improve the tournament in 2012. It's easy enough to argue that the steps were small, but we no longer have the convoluted MLS play-in system and it's much harder for teams to insure they don't have to travel. For next season, they should consider a couple of tweaks to what they've already put in place.
First, no team can buy out hosting rights from another. When that loophole appeared, you could hear the groaning from fans who knew which teams were the likeliest to take advantage. It's unfair to give that option to lower division teams who shouldn't have to weigh revenue against the upside of hosting an MLS team. Remove it from the conversation. More to the point, lower division clubs should automatically host games against MLS teams in the round MLS enters.
That brings us to my second suggestion. US Soccer should stop stacking the field so it becomes almost a given that two MLS teams will end up in the final. That means changing the Third Round when MLS teams enter. As it stands, the Second Round winners play an MLS team. Instead, it should be a draw like we see in other domestic cup competitions. We can talk about doing the same thing for all rounds of the tournament. but at this point just doing an unseeded draw for the Third Round would improve the competition. Well, maybe not from an MLS perspective, but in theory and hopefully in practice the Open Cup isn't just about what MLS wants.
Terry writes: What do you think happens should the NBA create a World Cup for pro basketball? Would that be the end of basketball in the Olympics? Would it be like what FIFA does with the men's tournament? I watch the Olympic basketball and see how badly they get it wrong. Meanwhile, the soccer tournament is much closer to what I expect. Maybe the Olympic basketball competition will be better off with a separate World Cup.
This has an easy answer. What the current Men's Olympic basketball tournament lacks is the involvement of the National Basketball Association. Though FIBA runs international basketball, it's the NBA steering the ship. They're the closest analogy to FIFA, who runs both of the Olympic soccer tournaments. I doubt the International Olympic Committee will be thrilled with the idea of another glorified Under-23 tournament, ala the Men's soccer setup, so 'better' is a bit of a stretch. 'Different' is probably the more appropriate word, and a successful NBA-led basketball World Cup would certainly change things for international basketball.
For soccer fans, this should be interesting to watch. We can see what the basketball World Cup takes from the soccer version, what they choose to avoid, and maybe get some perspective on what the soccer World Cup does well and what needs work. At the same time, we can watch from the sidelines as another sport's governing body and a powerful league try to figure out who gets the most say.
Before we call it a letters column, our former editor Ian Plenderleith has a new book out.Once again, he's working in the overlooked field of soccer fiction aimed at the adult reader. The Chairman's Daughter is available on Amazon.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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