MLS Not Friends with Summer Friendlies?

There’s an interesting article over at Match Fit USA called “#trophiesnotfriendlies” that builds on an idea that was seemingly started by Dave Clark over at Sounder at Heart.   The idea is pretty simple (though I paraphrase somewhat roughly), MLS clubs should be focusing-on and promoting Cup competitions with “real value” and not “meaningless” friendly matches.

In theory, it’s hard to argue.  Some games matter, some games don’t.

But nothing is ever quite that simple…

One issue that Jason at Match Fit USA focuses on are that the friendly games are included in Season ticket packages, USOC and CONCACAF Champions League Games are not.

However, I feel as if I might not have all of the information about the business side of things here.  I wonder about there being a revenue-sharing arrangement with CONCACAF or US Soccer that would be muddied by the tickets to those competitions being “comp’ed” as part of a season ticket package?  Sounds like an accounting nightmare.

I think that could be a major, if not the major, issue that makes these games get a non-Season Ticket holder treatment.

But let’s presume that is not the issue… are there other considerations?

One might be that there is also a reality check here regarding non-Sounder interest in these games.   Luckily the Sounders can get people out to the stadium pretty easily.  (Something I plan to witness first hand on the July 25th when I visit Seattle.)

Let’s presume that most MLS teams are still looking to broaden their fan-base.  Given this, one would want to attract – and show a good time to – as many local supporters of a visiting club as possible.  I’m going on a limb here and thinking Michigan Bucks don’t drag many away followers, versus say, Scotland’s Celtic.

When the visiting supporters visit the stadium, you want to show them a good time.  Now, I’m a Revs fan, and I have been to rainy mid-week US Open Cup games that could have fit the crowd within a high-school stadium.  I have also been to recent midweek games with Benfica and Cruzeiro, neither of which had great “home-team” atmospheres, but at least they had AN atmosphere.

Getting as many fans as possible on both sides to these games (including them in Season Ticket packages or otherwise) in at least gives an MLS team a “fighting chance” at winning a few over by having the best possible atmosphere.

Two last thoughts on this Cup over Friendly argument…

First, I agree that these are reasonably silly games, where the primary intent is not to get injured.   But, I sure prefer “MLS Team vs. Visiting Famous Team” better than watching two visiting famous pro-clubs.  It might sound absurd, but whether it is a barometer of skill or just the fun of seeing a $40K rookie marking a $4M man, it can be fun.  Euro vs. Euro games they pawn off on us sure do attract fans, but anyone who says “I watched a Milan dery at Gillette Stadium” certainly hasn’t been to many games outside the USA.

Second, I think the real challenge here is this.  These games should be value-add for fans and players, but instead both teams and fans are pre-occupied with stretched resources.  What we really should be preoccupied with is how to expand MLS rosters and salary caps so that the MLS teams can play their stars for just a bit, throw in the reserves and treat this the same way our visitors do.

For fun.