Last week saw a bevy of fixtures postponed due to weather related causes, the English Premier League was once again forced to postpone a game this week. Two straight weeks of changes to the locations of Minnesota Vikings games because of snow led to the NFL becoming wary of snow-related problems concerning its games. Apparently the NFL is thinking of postponing today's Eagles - Vikings match up because of possible blizzard weather. All of these problems currently, or recently, occurring are causes of the winter season. It's cold, it snows, things freeze and it's tough to get around the weather in these situations. Taking the EPL, the NFL and winter itself into account, the MLS should forget about moving to the international scheduling format and stick to the March to November schedule it already employs.
Right now the MLS has good attendance not only because of the product it puts out but also because of the timing of the fixtures its teams play. A spring to late fall schedule means that the league only fully competes with baseball for ticket sales and viewership. Later on it competes with the NFL, NBA and NHL but only for a relatively short period of time. Spring, summer and fall weather is perfect for the game of soccer. Warm weather is what most athletes consider the most ample to play in and a nice spring or summer day is a fantastic time for a fan to enjoy his or her squad. All of that goes out of the window when it comes to playing during winter months. The fields harden, snow piles up, the conditions become a burden for those trying to make a trip into a place like Chester. The whole idea of playing during the winter is counterproductive to a sport that is associated with warm weather.
There are three major problems that the MLS would find comes with playing soccer in winter in the United States after the jump...
- Condition of the playing fields: The problems from long standing pitches in England mostly result from frozen playing fields. Unless a stadium is built with pitch warming technology then the cold, wintery weather is impossible to over come. Look at Blackpool versus Liverpool from today. The game was postponed due to a frozen pitch, which was the result of Blackpool having an older stadium without any warming technology. Because soccer-specific stadiums in the US were built for the current MLS schedule, and not one that takes place during the winter, one should expect plenty of frozen and unusable fields during a winter MLS schedule.
- Attendance numbers: Simply put, attendance numbers will dwindle during a winter fixture. Transportation is already tough for some trying to get to a Philadelphia Union game, imagine what would happen if snow or freezing rain had to be taken into account. Unlike in a city like London, England that has an underground rail line, above ground transportation is the only way to get to a place like Chester. Some teams would find their attendance numbers rattled by winter conditions affecting transportation. Others would find it tough to have fans come to games because of the weather itself. Winter and soccer do not go together in the United States, at least not when conjuring up a picture of a match.
- A fall to spring schedule would potentially be a financial disaster: Instead of the MLS competing with only the MLB for about 70 percent of the season, then the NFL, NBA and NHL for the remainder of it, it would have to fight the NFL, NBA and NHL and then the MLB. The worst thing possible for the MLS is to have its weekend games go up against the NFL throughout an entire season. As seen this year, when the MLS Cup final went up against the Philadelphia Eagles versus New York Giants game and the American Music Awards, drawing a low 0.5 national television rating, the MLS cannot survive when going against the NFL. Lowered viewership inevitably leads to lowered dollars when renegotiating a television contract. Everyone loses financially when it comes to the MLS and the winter. Think the MLS can command $20 million from Fox Soccer Channel right now? Probably not, although the MLS is asking for that much. There's almost no chance of the MLS increasing its financial benefits from television deals if it chooses to start to play winter games.