Last month, the new MLSSoccer.com replaced the outgoing MLSsoccer.net with great fanfare, as MLS took its website in house and completely redesigned the format and content. At the start, an array of technical issues created an uproar among MLS fans unable to access stats, video and other features of the website. While the technical issues have significantly improved, many fans are still getting accustomed to the new types of articles and commentary available on the site. Presiding over the content side of the new site is Editor-in-Chief Greg Lalas. A former player in MLS, Mr. Lalas has also been a broadcaster for the New England Revolution and written for sites such as Goal.com. Mr. Lalas was kind enough to chat with footiebusiness.com about the new site, the technical issues and the content. Because of the length of the interview, we have broken it into two parts and we will present the rest of the interview later in the week. Thanks to Mr. Lalas.
Footiebusiness.com: The new website offers content from outside of MLS, including Americans abroad, European club soccer and more. What is behind the decision to expand the scope of content and how do you balance that expanded content with the fact that MLSSoccer.com is the official website of Major League Soccer?
Greg Lalas: I look at it like this. There is no reason to think that Major League Soccer is an island. There is a much larger world of soccer. MLS has not been connected with that world enough. Think about all of the American soccer fans and fans in Canada. They know that there is a larger soccer world… and we want to connect MLS with that world. For example Claudio Lopez is an Argentine World Cup veteran, the guy scored in the quarter finals of the World Cup. So, he has a great perspective on European soccer and on the World Cup. So we talk to him…will they win Claudio?
We are all fans of soccer too and so to kid anybody or ourselves that we are not sitting here on a Wednesday afternoon watching Barcelona v. Inter Milan is foolish, and I think a lot of MLS fans are watching that too. The idea is to present a place that a soccer fan, not just MLS fans, can come and get all kinds of content that is connecting MLS to the world and is engaging and interesting to them.
Right now, the balance is leaning very much towards MLS. There will always be MLS content. Balancing it is making sure that the big stories in MLS are getting the play they deserve, but also recognizing that there are other stories in the North American scene that don’t necessarily have anything to do with MLS that also deserve a little bit of love.
FB: There seems to be a trend on the site towards content that is more commentary, more rumors and less official material. What is the motivation in including that type of stuff and how free are the writers to express their opinions even if it is contrary to the MLS party line?
That is another balancing act. We are under the umbrella of MLS and we are affiliated with MLS. It is important to recognize that there are conversations going on in the soccer scene that are critical and it would be wrong to stick the party line all of the time. If there is a rumor out there…a Robert Pires is coming to MLS. Let’s discuss that rumor. Would he be a good fit for Philadelphia? Or is there someone else who belongs in there? We all watch the games. We all see what looks like a shady penalty called like with Seattle and was it really or was it not? Let’s discuss that. Let’s not shy away. Part of analysis to me includes criticism. I think you need to be willing to accept some of the bruises…don’t shy away from them.
FB: What level of input do individual teams have with respect to content on the main site? If they have a promotional opportunity or a team event they want to feature, do they have any say if it appears on the front page?
GL: They can call us up and ask. We are open to working with our clubs. Part of it is to recognize that we want the club sites to become local versions of that destination. What we want from MLSSoccer.com is to be a destination site for soccer fans in the United States and it goes out from there to the club sites…Chicagofire.com should be the go to place for Chicago area soccer fans. Torontofc.ca should be the go to place for Toronto area soccer fans. It is that phrase “glocal” or as Tip O’Neil said, “everything is local in the end.”
FB: The website got off to a rough site technically. How far along are efforts to get the site up to 100%?
GL: I think we are making progress. It is little fixes here and there. We have the stats flowing…not the way we want them to be flowing, but they are getting better every day. We have changed over our video player recently…if you go onto it now, it is just a whole load of video content there for anybody to check out. It is a long process but it is also a process that every little step makes a difference. I think we are getting there. I’ve been involved in three re-designs of websites and none of them have gone as we editorial people wished it would. You work through it and you get it do the things you want it to do.
FB: How did the technical problems impact what you wanted to do editorially?
GL: I think a lot had to do with the ability to promote certain content. At the beginning we didn’t have the ability to put a video anywhere but right in the front page. So we weren’t able to promote other videos. We didn’t have the space. We were and are producing a ton of content, it is a question of how do we promote that. You kind of feel if you put in the newspaper analogy, we only had one “A1″ page. There wasn’t enough space for all of things we wanted to put up there and as the tech has improved, it has made it easier to promote our stuff. The other side, is I am writer, I am an editor. I was frustrated by the stats problems too. I needed those stats to do my job. It was very frustrating from our standpoint, we are writing an article and saying “who is the leading game winning assist getter” and so we were getting frustrated and those things have started to ease and we are getting there.
FB: Was the criticism helpful or was it telling you what you already knew?
GL: It think it came in both ways. Some of it was actually helpful because there is always some little thing where you say “I didn’t know that, or I didn’t know an user was going to use it that way” I think all of the criticism was helpful, even the guy who just sends in the “you guys are morons!!!” That part we knew, but at the same time, I think it is good to appreciate how much people care about the site, how much people care about the league, so even that can be helpful….I think that all of the invective that was tossed our way over the last month or so has shown us that we have fans that really, really care. It shows that we let them down and we are doing everything we can to pick them back up. Hopefully they will stick with us.
Thanks to Greg Lalas. Part II will be in later in the week.