Business Thoughts on the MLS Home Openers

As part of its ongoing (and successful) effort to keep MLS on the minds of fans during the winter months, the league has announced the home openers for all of the teams.  We thought we would take a quick business look at some of the initial match-ups. For the first time, the league will open its slate with a stand alone match on a Tuesday.  The ESPN broadcast will feature Seattle and Los Angeles at Qwest Field before what promises to be a large and vocal crowd.  The game will feature a number of high profile Designated Players, including Donovan, Beckham, Angel and Montero.  The presence of these players will allow MLS and ESPN to aggressively promote the opening match.  On the downside, the broadcast is scheduled to start at 9:30 ET, which likely means a 10:00 ET kick.  As a result, the league will lost a large part of its Eastern audience.  In addition, the the Tuesday night game will not expose the “bar crowd” to the match.

MLS’ as yet unannounced Saturday night broadcast partner (see our tweet about negotiations with FSC), will likely get the battle of Canada, when Vancouver opens at home against TFC.  We are typically against using the opener for rivalry matches (why waste such a game on opening night), but this game could generate significant interest in Canada.  Canadian tv ratings have been tepid, but the addition of Vancouver could be the stimlus needed to pump those ratings.

The same TV partner may elect to go with Seattle/New York on that Saturday night, with Henry and Marquez as the lead stories.  While a tough start for Seattle, this will be a great chance for the Red Bulls to generate a big crowd for a game full of big names.

The Timbers and Sporting KC will both start on the road while their stadiums are finished.  Last year we spoke out against Philly’s decision to open in the cavernous Linc rather than wait for PPL Park.  Sporting is taking a different route, and their home opener won’t be until June 9.  That puts a tremendous burden on the team and on ticket sales for a crowded home slate in the second half.  Portland only has to wait until April 14 to open the new PGE Park.

The league has done a nice job mixing rivalry matches, good broadcast fodder and compelling story lines for the opening weeks of the season.  Once the TV relationships are secured, we should expect to see the rest of the schedule rolled out and national broadcast games assigned.  We will provide some business thoughts on those events when they happen.