Work in Sports
Shootout banned; TV lineup changed
Posted: Thursday November 18, 1999 07:11 PM
On a media teleconference call Wednesday, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber announced changes to MLS rules of competition and discussed details of the league's 2000 ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 contract, along with ESPN Vice President of Programming Steve Risser.
Garber's Opening Comments::
Even though we feel that we are doing okay, our expectations are much higher, our goals are much broader. We believe that there is a lot of interest out in this market that we have not been able to capture. We had many of those fans in 1996, we have not been able to keep those fans in the league, and that is something that we believe we need to do in order to get to the next level.
In travelling around the country, I have spent time with media and staff -- as well as fans -- and every city that I have visited over the past two and a half months have pleaded with us to align back with the international game, with FIFA rules... to bring the MLS game into accordance with how the game is played throughout the world.
We believe that one of our core strengths is that soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and that by not playing in accordance with international rules, we are not fully capitalizing on that core equity.
So, beginning with our season in 2000, the shootout will be dead. We will attempt to resolve all ties that occur in the regular season with two, five-minute golden-goal overtime periods. If no team scores in overtime, then the match will end in a tie. MLS will adopt the traditional point system used throughout the world, with three points for a win -- regardless of if that win is in regulation or in overtime -- one point for each team in a tie, and zero points for a loss.
We'll also adopt the international convention of the referee keeping the official game time. Our scoreboard clock will count up from zero to 45:00, and after halftime, from 45:00 to 90:00. Injury will be added at the referee's discretion at the end of the first half, and at the end of regulation time. As is the case worldwide, the approximate injury time added will be communicated to the in-stadium fans and television audience in accordance with the international convention.
MLS will also realign its conferences from the current Eastern and Western Conferences to a three-conference system consisting of a West, Central, and Eastern Division. Each Conference Champion will automatically qualify for the MLS Cup Playoff -- the new name which we will call our playoff system -- in addition to the five teams that have the best records throughout the regular season, regardless of conference. There will be eight teams in the playoffs: three conference champions and five wild-card teams. We believe that this new system will ensure that the best teams make it to the playoffs, as well as create more compelling races throughout the regular season.
The MLS season will be reduced by at least five weeks. The season will begin in mid-March and conclude MLS Cup in early- to mid-October. We're currently studying various alternatives for our regular season, as well as for our playoffs, the schedules, as well as the formats. We're hoping to announce our schedule, as well as the date for MLS Cup 2000 at the MLS Cup press conference, which will take place here in Boston on Friday.
Our next announcement regards television. We've strengthened our relationship and partnership with ABC and ESPN. We believe that these folks are the strongest supporters of soccer here in this country, as well as the biggest supporters of MLS. We are pleased to announce that we will begin the millennium with two new television programming directives.
ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 will combine to present live Saturday soccer coverage of the league, as well as a weekly, Monday night, 60-minute program on ESPN2. The three networks together will feature 36 regular season and playoff matches in 2000. Soccer Saturday will consist of a series of 28 league matches on national television over 19 consecutive Saturdays, providing our fans with destination viewing on English-speaking TV to complement the destination viewing we've had with Univision.
MLS and ESPN will kick off the Soccer Saturday schedule on March 25th, and the schedule of consecutive Saturday matches will conclude on August 19th.
Additionally, MLS will debut an exciting new weekly show -- a one-hour show that will air on Monday at 11:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2, and at 8:00 prime-time CT. Although the details will be finalized sometime later this year, the Monday show is expected to feature a condensed Game of the Week, as well as other exciting soccer-specific elements for our fans. The twelve weekly programs will begin on June 19th and run through September 4th.
We feel strongly that our new schedule provides the key elements and components that our fans have been demanding -- a single destination day of the weeks for games, and a weekly program that is going to provide elements that go beyond just having a game. Our new television schedule, we believe, is the most fan-friendly organized broadcast venture that we have had in our brief history.
Some highlights: 19 consecutive weeks of MLS regular season matches on Saturdays -- five on ABC, six on ESPN, and seven on ESPN2; twelve weekly, one-hour highlight shows on Monday at 11:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2; fourteen matches on ESPN2 will be at prime-time on Saturdays; nine of the nineteen Soccer Saturdays will feature two MLS matches, you can call them double-headers.
In addition, we are in final discussions with Univision, who has been a very important partner of Major League Soccer over the past number of years. We hope to announce our new Spanish-speaking package in the weeks to come. "
Risser Opening comments:
The league has recently announced the extension of several sponsorships, and we view that as a very positive development for the league.
We support all of the changes that Don has outlined, and especially the shortening of the season. This is a positive for the league, and it will get the league to conclude at an earlier time -- certainly before the later season NFL and college football games kick in. We're thrilled that the owner/operators and Don are moving in that direction.
As for branding a Saturday schedule with consistency, we're very excited about that. All of the ABC games, with the exception of MLS Cup, will be on Saturdays. For those of you who watch, you know that we cross-promote heavily, and we think that it will be a very big positive for the soccer fan to know that Saturday is soccer day in America.
We have [over the past years], with varying degrees, been on Thursdays on Saturdays. We really made a concerted effort this year to find the best night to market and to find the night with the most consistency, and Saturday happened to be the best day.
We really think that this [Monday night show] is an exciting venture and an excellent way to be fan-friendly. This is going to be an action-oriented show, but we are still working on some of the details. This is a great opportunity to expose new viewers to soccer in the United States with an action-oriented show featuring the best of the MLS. We applaud the league for coming to us with their creativity on this, and we hope to make this into something that everybody in the soccer community is going to embrace."
Don Garber on the Overtime Period:
What we're trying to do is make the games as exciting as we can, and having a short overtime period to work with should help. If, over time, we find that this is not helping us achieve what we want to achieve, then we will continue to evolve. We're making the change that we will not have a contrived feature to end our games. I think that this feature will work well for us."
Garber on the death of the shootout:
What we have found -- through research and through the fervor and furor that arose over this issue -- is that there are millions, if not tens of millions, of soccer fans in this country who have played the game without a shootout, whether they are five years old or have been playing through the amateur and professional ranks. These people watch soccer on TV and followed international soccer, either through us or through games that were coming over from overseas. This league had bypassed and underestimated this market, thinking that our future was based on the future fans here in America. Our strategy is, as I feel it should be, is to go back and shore up our relationship with the core soccer fan and build our fan base from these fans out, as opposed to trying to leap over the core fans and go after the fans that we don't know who they are or where they are.
The competition committee vote was unanimous, the board vote was unanimous, and it's something that we are very excited about."
Specifics on Realignment:
At this point, this was not construed to have any impact on the number of games, it was construed to try to create as much compelling interest in the regular season as we possibly can. The ability to have three conference races as opposed to two was the motivator there.
In addition, this would be able to support future expansion in a way that is logical. It also allows us a way to develop a wild-card system that would grant teams a spot in the playoffs based on their won-loss record as opposed to their conference standing."
Garber on Future Announcements:
Garber on the Potential Revamping the Playoff Format:
Garber on Broadcast Package:
What we were looking for was a consistent place for fans to view our games as a consistent destination point. It works very well for us, because it gives us the broadcast coverage on the same nights when we do have our best in-stadium attendance. We were able to work with Steve and his crew on Monday nights for our one-hour specials. We believe Monday night is the perfect night for that, and it will have lots of action. It's a time when we can sum up not only the game of the week, but also the other action that took place the previous week. It couldn't be a better scenario for us."
Garber on Fans Avoiding League because of Old Rules:
Realignment's Effect on Expansion:
Garber on the Structure of Overtime:
Garber on Shootouts in the Playoffs :
Risser on the Time of Saturday Broadcast:
Risser on the Format of the Monday Night Show:
Overtime and the Scheduling of Television:
Garber on the Overtime versus the Shootout:
Garber on the All-Star Broadcast:
National Team Call-Ups during the Regular Season:
Risser on the Competition of TV and Attendance:
Garber on the location of MLS Cup 2000:
Risser on the Flexibility of the Television Schedule:
Garber on Scheduling of the U.S. Open Cup:
Garber on the Flexibility in Choosing New Sites for MLS Cup:
Risser and SportsCenter highlights of Soccer Action:
I think we have made some strides, though. I think that we are better than where we were a couple of years ago, and I think that as the league grows and gets more attention, coverage will improve.... On ESPN, we are producing six hours of SportsCenter a day. A lot of times, I think it comes down to the editorial decisions of the guy that's putting the run-down together that day."
Garber on the Date for MLS Cup and the Olympics:
Garber on the Quality of Broadcasts:
Garber on Improving the Quality of the Game:
But we're not done. We're trying to help this league grow, and it's not going to be starting and stopping with the shootout. There's still a lot of work that we need to do. It's not just about rules. It's about what we need to do to bring this game down to the fans and to communities. It's about outreach and improving the quality of play. It's about having a player strategy, as we previously announced, of focusing on younger players and keeping those players in the League.
To be fair to us, this is just the beginning. Give us some time to roll out some of the things that we are working on in the months to come."
Risser on the Ratings of MLS Games:
When we entered the league in 1996, we focused we knew that it would be a growth property. We have not overly focused on the ratings. We're encouraged by the ESPN2 ratings, as they grew a little bit. ESPN is down a little bit, but that may because ESPN2 provided a more consistent schedule.
We're still in a growth pattern here, and the League is still young. We're not disappointed by the ratings because we didn't have unrealistic expectations. I feel very strongly that we knew going in that the ratings were not going to be very large, and it is our job to build them."
Risser on the NHL Ratings for ESPN2: