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Innocence Lost: The dataization of MLS

MLS is wired. The ingratiation of data collection and management tools have the ability to change the game in ways we haven't even dreamed up yet. Could the dataization of MLS lead world soccer into a Brave New World?

It's not very often that we post something not Union related, but I personally found this immensely interesting on several different levels.

The first time I watched this I felt a bit like the Native American shedding a tear in that PSA about the trash from my youth and yes, I am that old. Now don't get me wrong, this is not the musings of a ancient Luddite railing against the infiltration of technology and the dehumanization that can be technology's side kick if not used responsibly. In fact, I am not opposed to technology at all, I use it daily both personally and professionally and I have seen first hand the wonders it can perform.

The tear was that of a parent watching their child tie their shoes for the first time or pushing away the helping hand for lack of need or want. This is MLS growing up and entering the wide world on its own. The partnerships with Opta and ADIDAS are like the boyfriends and BFF's that trample through your home. Often unwanted, never understood but tolerated for the sake of your affection.


I have often rankled against the league wide, single entity driven deal with ADIDAS (that's what old men do - rankle) because of the lack of originality and style with kits, but the miCoach benefits are undeniable and to have that data available to each team and the league overall is undeniably a wonderful thing. The potential to see injuries coming or managing players more efficiently on their return from injury is worth millions to the league and individual teams.

To see data on the effectiveness of training methods and have hard numbers on recovery times and the effects of travel or the like could be absolutely paradigm shifting stuff. The travel involved in a typical MLS season along with the radical variances in temperature and altitude would make what MLS learns in the next few years priceless information to teams in the UEFA and CONCACAF Champions Leagues and to every single National team that participates in international competitions regularly. The possibilities are absolutely endless and terribly exciting to imagine.

We all know that MLS is a league that likes "value" and that Garber can appear to be on the skint side occasionally. One can easily see how the prospect of being able to save the league and teams money while at the same time allowing teams to possibly get more from players they have instead of buying new ones would be welcomed by the league with open arms. So regardless of financial circumstances, I expect every MLS club being mandated to invest heavily in the infrastructure and management of data over the next few seasons.

Fantasy Fullfilment

The Opta data deal works on a slightly different level but does just as much to help MLS over the teenage awkwardness. It first and foremost provides the coaches and tacticians with real data to work with thus cutting the need for extensive and expensive first hand scouting of opponents. Those resources could be used more effectively scouting young players or for training staff and facilities in a teams academy. It also gives MLS some street credibility with the other cooler leagues. Anyone who is ANYONE has an OPTA deal.

According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association 42 million people participated in fantasy sports from the US and Canada alone. There are online leagues run by every major sports network and tens of thousands of armature leagues run from offices and bar rooms all over North America. Soccer isn't listed as a "major fantasy sport" but NASCAR, golf and MMA are, which is about as telling as it gets right there.

The fantasy league is the door man to total legitimacy in America. If your sport of choice can't do fantasy leagues, it's not worth watching in the minds of many. The second that you can use your knowledge of something to win either money or even bragging rights over your friends, it's game on. This creates an entirely different level of interaction with the sport. The ability of the average male aged 13-35 to intake and synthesize sports data is actually endless. I mean literally infinite, like Carl Sagan (sorry but Neil deGrasse is just never going to work for me, he simply not geeky enough) "billions and billions" infinite. So adding another one sport too many is simply not a valid argument here. It's finding a reason for them to CARE about the sport and to get invested in it on a personal level.

Guys like me have been babbling on about the style and beauty of the game for decades with only limited success. I am not saying that exposure to the game at the highest level doesn't regularly create converts, because it does, I have witnessed several such conversions first hand, and have never failed to weep at their beauty. Perhaps a personal anecdote will bring my point to light more quickly. I have a singular passions for this sport, which displaces the ability to be passionate about any other. This is rarely troublesome but does make Monday mornings at work pretty lonely. It affords me the opportunity to listen to the way that people relate to other sports. What I found was that most people only routinely watch their favorite teams but can regurgitate the statistics fed to them by the big sports networks and sports talk radio more readily than they could recall their child's middle name. The ones involved in fantasy leagues, however, have gone to an almost MATRIX level with it. They are the mobile device users that check every major site several times an hour and pay to subscribe to on-line services to allow you to view matches (ala MLS LIVE, have mercy on its soul). This is engagement of herculean proportions.

Why does that matter? One word - revenue. Internet traffic numbers determine how much a site can charge for advertising. Imagine 42 million people checking sports sites several times a day. The subscriptions and the multiple matches watched or recorded etc. = ratings, and good rating allow for good TV deals and good TV deals allows your league to create institutions like Monday Night Football that become part of the fabric of peoples lives.

Isn't the dream of every American soccer fan to be able to walk into work on Monday morning and talk about the weekends matches? If it ever becomes that way....hug a soccer geek.