An idea for the MLS

I play for the Boston Rugby Football Club (BRFC) in the ten-team U.S. Super League (our country’s highest level of rugby, but there’s not even a website worth linking for the league). We’re in the midst of preseason conditioning in a high school gym, and I’ll pay for all my own flights to our away matches. We’ve had a different “home field” in Boston for each of the last five seasons, yet we’ve reached the league semifinals two years running.

Meanwhile, in Foxborough, MA, the New England Revolution share Gillette Stadium with the Patriots, but only draw a few thousand fans to most games. Major League Soccer is entering its 17th season. Most teams are not profitable (though the league is making progress). The MLS lags far behind the big four U.S. professional sports in gate receipts, total revenue, and media coverage.

Somewhere between these two poles, lacrosse, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, and other sports struggle for attention. All these leagues are working towards similar goals but need a substantial boost to become viable commercial enterprises. Instead of waging the same fight alone, emerging sports could work together. What if they put on two-sport doubleheaders?

A rugby match or an ultimate Frisbee game would be a unique, zero-cost curtain raiser for the MLS or Major League Lacrosse. That’s right, you wouldn’t even have to pay us to get us into your arena; the publicity alone would be huge for our club. Fans of alternative leagues are attracted to these sports because they are different. A Saturday rugby-soccer twin bill would be more than a gimmick. It would build the MLS/MLL brand as an alternative to the four major sports while providing new and original entertainment.

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10 responses to “An idea for the MLS

  1. From what I recall, either the KC or St. Louis RSL team did do curtain raisers with the local MLS squad. But that was before my day. Another interesting option would be having the games played at multi-field facilities and having rugby, women’s soccer, ultimate, etc being played at the same time – say four different games on two fields over the course of the afternoon – and charging a flat fee for admission. Although finding such facilities may be hard.

  2. MLS and USA Rugby have an interesting relationship, I know a couple of times they’ve hosted Churchill Cup-type international fixtures at soccer stadiums in the US. Don’t know if a double-header has happened but I’d love to see one…I feel like there’s a decent amount of fan crossover too…

  3. I recall someone old (Ridge maybe?) telling stories about playing in Arrowhead. Not sure whether it was tied to the MLS games or not, or about St. Louis.

  4. The other good one I’ve seen success with is having a 7’s match at halftime during a college football game. They did that down at Delaware a little while ago with great success.

  5. I think we should play a rugby game as an opener for the Dropkick Murphys.

  6. I totally agree Charlie – I actually ran that up some back channels with the Patriots, but they don’t do halftime entertainment anymore (they want people buying concession and don’t need the gimmick for attendance). Maybe BC would be interested?

    Luke, that’s another excellent idea.

  7. First, my pedantic, annoying clarification that MLS is actually embarking on its 17th season. And the fact that MLS actually had higher average attendance for home games than did the NBA last season. One has to understand that the NBA had far more home games than MLS, but still, I think that your “lags far behind” statement can be tempered a bit.

    Ok.

    I think this is an interesting idea that warrants consideration. I think it would make a lot more sense in some markets than in others. Boston, in fact, might just be the ideal one, given how the Revs and the other non-big 4 teams are struggling for attendance. The location of Foxborough certainly doesn’t help their cause; the MLS teams located closer to the city centers are doing a lot better with attendance than those located on the fringes. In Seattle and Portland, for instance, the MLS clubs are already pretty “big deals” in their market, so they might be apprehensive about cross-promoting in the fashion you describe.

    The main issue seems to be the lines on the field, though. Unless you stop to paint between games, you’re going to have a “cluttered” field that will probably annoy the harder core fans of each of the featured sports.

    Adrian’s idea is interesting. A lot of MLS teams actually have facilities that might allow this– I’m thinking of Colorado and LA specifically. However, I don’t see those MLS clubs agreeing to have different events going on at the same time. Maybe if they were spread out over a whole afternoon– then that could be a pretty great multi-sport event.

  8. Thanks for the feedback Ecualung – you’re right on your pedantic points. However, I do still argue that the MLS lags behind the other leagues where it matters ($$$$) – you can look at my recent post on team salaries across all sports to get the idea (excluding the LA Galaxy, no MLS team was above $5 million, while every other team in every sport was above $25 million): https://causalsportsfan.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/head-to-head-mlb-vs-nba/

    I adjusted my wording a bit to reflect that (gate receipts instead of attendance). I think this idea could work in most markets for related reasons. Yes, the Sounders and Timbers have great attendance; I would say that puts them in a position to try this idea and charge a 10 – 20% premium on tickets for that game (not to mention more concessions). I’m not sure what the math is with stadium fees for a longer use time — this probably depends on each team’s relationship.

    The lines issue is one that I hadn’t thought about much, since we are used to playing on high school turf lined for American football, lacrosse, and soccer. However, from the soccer fan perspective, I can see how multiple lines could sully the product (the rugby fans will be thrilled just to be in a stadium). How far away is the technology to beam the lines up from underneath? We just use white duct tape to finish off some lines half the time, so our standards are pretty low.

  9. This is a great idea and one i would love to think someone with some real clout might get behind.

    I wonder if you would face the same problem as we would over here in the UK where people who take part in different sports seem to view each other as being from different planets!

    Once they worked out the problems with the pitch markings wouldn’t the real trick be to sell it the TV companies on the idea and let them broadcast the other sport on one of their minor channels. As the cameras would be there it would be a low cost win to raise the profile of some great sports (especially that of the greatest ball sport in the world Rugby Football).

  10. Thanks, Nick. Rugby has so little importance over here right now that I would be surprised if we get any butting of heads. Rugby on TV, that would be something.

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