Good Friday morning Caps fans, hope you all are nearing the end of your workweeks and have some enjoyable plans to look forward to this weekend.
The beat goes on in the Caps’ offseason, as we wait for the conference finals to come on Sunday.
In the meantime, reports surfaced this week that show we may be waiting a lot longer to get to the conference finals in future years, if MLS winds up getting its way.
The Athletic and other news outlets reported Wednesday that the league is considering an expansion of the playoffs to coincide both with the expansion of the league to 29 teams, as well as the launching of the multi-billion-dollar Apple TV deal, starting next year.
The idea (and I’m having a hard time writing all this with a straight face) is that the current format does not give time for “narratives” to develop. The league would consider switching to a World Cup style model where a set number of teams, in this case eight per conference, are then divided into groups, with group stage matches taking place over a couple of weeks.
On one hand, this is the natural order of things. Almost every league in American professional sports has been attempting to expand their playoffs in recent years, including the NBA, whose playoffs almost seemingly could not become more inclusive.
The amount of money at stake, given the deal inked with Apple, is clearly significant and the league clearly wants to ensure its new buddy, as well as whatever linear partners remain, has enough content to help justify the price tag.
While this news as speculation, it comes as we know for sure MLS will be rolling out the new-and-improve Leagues Cup with Liga MX, which will eat up the midseason. The U.S. Open Cup, Voyageurs Cup and the smoldering hulk of the CONCACAF Champions League remain. And, oh yeah, you have to play a regular season in there somewhere too, right?
This expands the league’s offerings to the point of ridiculousness. It isn’t the eighth team making the playoffs that bothers me (it is only mildly dumb) but the need for group stage games.
This isn’t the UEFA Champions League. I don’t know how big the audience is out there clamoring for more MLS playoffs.
Casual sports fans presumably get the idea of the knockout format the league pivoted to a few years back; it mirrors what the NFL does, for instance. The move also means there is an opportunity for great, dramatic moments, like LAFC scoring at the death in El Traffico. If that is merely one game out of a group stage, the value is watered down considerably.
The regular season is when “narratives” form that can shape the post-season. MLS is effectively trying to compensate for the fact that they have never meaningfully been able to market regular season games on national TV to neutrals, a task that will get harder once the games migrate to Apple TV.
If the concern was MLS wanted to ensure the best teams advance by creating more games, that would be one thing (it would still be dumb, just in a more conventional, rational way). But this is so nakedly a cash-grab to pad the pocketbooks of the league and Apple TV and it would detract from the product in so many different ways, even as it increases the odds for a team like Vancouver to theoretically make the playoffs.
I am under no illusion any MLS front office people read this. But, if they did, I’d tell them this clown show is a misguided effort. Focus on reaching more people with the regular season and Leagues Cup. If you do that job, getting eyeballs on the playoffs will be no sweat and the value of those games will rise naturally, without the need for any gimmicks.
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