In 2011, the MLS schedule was released in February. MLS fans eager for league news got a surprising gift on Thursday when the league released the entire 2012 schedule more than one month earlier than last year. For business junkies, the most interesting part of the release is probably the announcement of nationally telecast games. New MLS partner NBC will televise 41 matches over the season, including three games on over-the-air television. All of the games on the NBC mothership will come at the end of the season and two of the three will feature New York fans. The late season games give the network to leverage its Sunday Night Football juggernaut to promote the matches. The first match on the NBC Sports Network will feature New York and Dallas.
ESPN’s package is reduced to 20 games but includes a number of games on ESPN rather than ESPN2.The Galaxy, Red Bulls, Union, Timbers and Sounders will make the most English language national television appearances, while Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Columbus and New England bring up the rear. For the first time, the league’s championship will be played in December. First Kick will be March 10. Interestingly, the usual July 4 bonanza won’t take place on nationally televised airwaves. Despite a full slate of July 4 matches, none of games will be televised.
Last year we linked to an excellent article by Kyle McCarthy at Goal.com that included his interview with Mark Abbott and Brad Pursel about the dynamics and challenges involved in creating a schedule for MLS. This is a fascinating and under-covered topic. From a business perspective, the most interesting aspect of the interview was Mr. Pursel’s discussion of the three biggest priorities in setting up a schedule: “maximizing attendance, creating a television schedule to maximize ratings and balancing the schedule from a competitive perspective.” It is telling that business factors are the primarily driver behind the schedule making.