Every Winter, Major League Soccer releases its schedule for the upcoming season. Two weeks ago, the league announced the home openers and the full schedule is soon to follow. In addition to setting out the slate of games, the initial release sets out the national television schedule, establishes breaks for FIFA dates and gives fans an opportunity to plan their Summer of soccer. We thought it would be worthwhile to talk to Brad Pursel, Major League Soccer’s Vice President of Club Services about the process of putting together the league schedule. Mr. Pursel has overseen the league’s calendar since 2002 and has been with the league since 1998.
Footiebusiness.com: When does the process of creating the MLS season schedule begin? What are the first steps?
Brad Pursel: It’s a yearlong process, and the first steps are determining what the competition format is — how many games each team will play, the conference breakdown, when the season starts and ends, how do we play around FIFA dates and other competitions. That’s the starting point, and there are various committee meetings at the league-level and club level throughout the year to discuss the schedule.
The actual schedule development begins in earnest in September and October, and then it all comes together in December.
FB: When do the league’s national television partners become involved in the process? How much input do they have in formatting the schedule? Has working with NBC been a significant change?
BP: Our broadcast partners are involved in the process from the start. We work very closely with them throughout the year in the planning process to determine their broadcast windows — the number of windows, times, days of the week, etc.
Working with NBC has not been significantly different because essentially they replaced FOX and the process for scheduling games has not changed. NBC has been great to work with and they are going to be a great partner.
FB: Last year the league included at least 5 nationally televised matches as part of the July 4th holiday. This year, no nationally televised games are scheduled for Independence Day. What is the cause of this significant change? Were ratings over July 4th disappointing?
BP: We generally have very strong crowds on or around the 4th of July and the atmosphere was there; however, looking at the ratings from last year, we decided not to do as many games around the 4th this year. Last year the 4th of July was part of a long weekend and this year it’s midweek, so that also factored into the thought process.
FB: How do potential attendance concerns factor into the scheduling process?
BP: Attendance is always a factor, especially for our big national TV games. We want games that are going to be well attended but also are compelling rivalries and present great atmosphere for TV. We try to maximize attendance by scheduling games on weekends, especially on Saturdays. We are always looking at data to help drive our decisions.
FB: How has the increase in soccer specific stadiums impacted the scheduling process? Is venue availability a significant concern?
BP: Having our own soccer specific stadiums where we control the dates has been tremendously helpful in the scheduling process over the years. We still have some challenges in buildings where we’re not the primary tenant or where we’re not controlling the dates, and that has a domino effect to everybody else. But the growth of soccer-specific stadiums has had a very positive impact on the scheduling process.
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