Big dreams: The future of MLS
College Contributor Network
Before the 2014 EPL season started in August, American soccer fans didn't know how great they'd have it this year. In the past, we've had to rely on the odd match on odd channels -- like FSC and GolTv -- that were not included in many of our American cable packages. But this year is different.
NBC Sports has changed the game..er, the match. We can now watch the best matches on television and every single Premier League match online. It's like the advent of the Internet for popular culture, when air travel went commercial, and the discovery of iron during the Bronze Age. All in one. It's just a great time to be alive.
There is a minor cog in this beautiful transition, in the form of a debate instigated by certain passionate U.S. soccer fans over whether or not the increased coverage of the English EPL -- arguably the best soccer league in the world -- is a good thing for American soccer. Next year, NBC Sports is reneging on their current television deal with MLS in favor of ramping up their live coverage of overseas matches. When us Yanks go to NBC Sports Live Extra, we'll be able to watch more and more of the best foreign matches from overseas.
The site also allows us to begin watching a match late and start it over, or just jump back to watch the goals before cutting to live action. We don't have anything like it for the NBA, NFL, or MLB. NBC Sports is onto something, and their apparent competence may draw more American soccer fans to the EPL and away from MLS.
Some people, the diehard MLS fans in particular, aren't amused. My friend Chris, an avid soccer player and fan, chooses not to watch the Premier League almost on principle:
"Oh, you guys are watching the North London Derby right now? Wish I could join, but I'm checking out the extended highlights of the Revolution-Sporting KC match from last night. Did you see Jermaine Jones' goal? It was unreal."
But surprisingly, MLS fans like Chris can take heart in the fact that the Premier League, apparently, isn't even the biggest competition for MLS at the moment. According to an MLS insider, as the league looks to expand and proselytize the stubbornly skeptical American populace, they will likely attract more people away from the NFL -- with all of its concussions, injuries, early deaths, and physical abuse issues -- than from the Premier League. Thus, it is not blasphemous to love the EPL -- this is not a zero sum match.
And it's not like MLS won't be on TV anymore. This year, the league and U.S. soccer signed eight-year deals with ESPN and Fox Sports (and Univision Deportes too!) that will last through 2022 and include an exclusive MLS Match of the Week every week.
The early fall Saturday night college football game ended up being a blowout? No problem! Scroll two channels up and watch the Sounders and Galaxy fighting for one of the ten spots in MLS Cup Playoffs. A "Cup" is kind of like a "Bowl" anyway, right?
On Sundays, MLS will put its internal research to the test and compete directly with afternoon and evening NFL games with live coverage of matches at 5 PM and 7 PM EST. In total, ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and Univision Deportes will broadcast over 125 MLS matches over the course of the 2015 season. Increased TV viewership would be a huge boost to the grand goals of MLS, which are nothing short of becoming a top-tier soccer league in the next twenty years.
Fans can help by watching matches and kindling the hype: Talk about MLS at work. Take your kid to your local club's matches. Buy a Clint Dempsey Seattle Sounders jersey if you like Toy-Story-Alien green or a Bradley Wright-Phillips New York shirt if you drink a lot of Red Bull. But seriously, the hype is slowly growing, faster in cities with fewer sports teams like Kansas City, Seattle, Portland, and Toronto. And you know what else? MLS is becoming cool.
Yeah I said it, MLS is becoming cool, and before too long it might even be uncool to not know anything about MLS like that guy in line at Starbucks who asks his friend, "Wait, I thought LeBron James always played for Cleveland?"
U.S. soccer fans have to be excited that MLS is making moves and expanding, in more ways than one, at a time when the U.S. national team, led by our German mastermind Jürgen Klinsmann, is also on the rise (probably). There may never be a more exhilarating time to be a soccer fan in the U.S. than the next ten or so years. It's time to turn on ESPN's Match of the Week, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.
Jake Montgomery is a senior at Harvard University majoring in English. Raised in Philadelphia and a lover of the beautiful game since '06, he is a huge fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Georgetown and Harvard basketball, Chelsea FC, Neymar, Steph Curry, Shabazz Napier, and Kanye West. Follow him on Twitter: @TheFloorGeneral