Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More Soccer Stuff: I’ve written about soccer already this week, but it seems to be the big attraction to the blog – actually, I can’t tell what people have looked at, but the biggest crowds here seem to correspond to my soccer posts.

Speaking of crowds, and soccer fans: I thought I’d take a moment to thank The BardGuy for his input. Directing me to the kenn.com site proved very interesting. I’ve previously discussed the possibility of adapting the MLS schedule to line up with, or more like, the schedule used around the world. There’s some interesting info about MLS attendance, and kenn has done some worthwhile analysis. One curiosity is that July has highest average attendance of any month with a full slate of games (March and October have higher average attendance, but do not have many games). Historically, the worst month is August, and June the next worst month. Kenn notes that the July numbers are wickedly skewed by huge crowds that turn out on Independence Day at the larger stadiums. As teams are moving into smaller parks, the July numbers are starting to look like the other months (I would be especially interested to see a breakdown of the averages for July, without including the crowds on the 4th, but kenn.com hasn’t done that yet).

This suggests that the MLS could do without August and July schedules – perhaps the season could take a break after the 4th of July (that might boost the crowds on the 4th, if fans know the league is taking a two-month hiatus). I’m reluctant to suggest the league go with the European schedule exactly, because the winter months are harsher here than in Western Europe. There is a curiosity in the attendance numbers – and that’s the fall-off for crowds in June. Perhaps those crowds would be larger if there were no games scheduled for mid-summer.

Interestingly, crowds in Los Angeles are fairly consistent – they are actually quite large in L.A. and Colorado during July, but that is probably the 4th of July effect. When the summer heat breaks, during September, the crowds really turn out in DC and New England (even Kansas City sees a big jump in average attendance for September). The MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) have not had good crowds in September, but that might be in part due to the poor teams they have put on the field. If the Red Bulls could put a serious title contender on the field to play meaningful games in September, crowds might pick up.

Weekday crowds are noticeably thinner, except in Colorado, Dallas and Columbus. Perhaps this could give the schedule planners some ideas for jiggering the schedule to maximize attendance. One really curious statistic is the playoff attendance. When you factor out the MLS Cup, the average attendance at playoff games is below the league average attendance (the only exception being 1998 – I have no idea why there was more interest in playoff games that year).

I don’t know – maybe the MLS might consider trying a League Cup tournament, and a championship based on point totals. There could be still be conference groupings for the Cup-tournament, or the conferences could be maintained to produce two season conference winners (best records) with a MLS-Cup showdown. And lose the earlier playoff rounds that aren’t getting the fans excited. Perhaps, if the weekday games were part of a Cup-style elimination tournament, there might be more interest…or not. Clearly, if the MLS wants to continue to use the playoff format familiar to Americans, the league needs to do a better job of generating interest in the games.

Update on Liverpool-Chelsea: One further note about the English season kick-off game. Andriy Shevchenko’s goal that tied the game at 1-1, late in the first half, was an example of the quality we won’t see in the MLS for a many years to come. It’s no wonder he became the highest paid player in the EPL. With vision, creativity and an incredibly deft touch, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard lifted a brilliant ball over the Liverpool defense. Shevchenko ran onto the ball from his level position. The Ukranian superstar looked back at the ball and twisted slightly, so he could play the ball with his chest. To my eye, he seemed to break stride barely, if at all, as he took the ball on his chest and played it down to his feet, and then he set up the Liverpool keeper with the greatest of ease. Sheva took one step with his left foot to take aim, and then slotted the ball inside the right post with his right foot, beyond the reach of the oncoming goalkeeper. The whole thing happened at the blistering pace that sets the EPL apart from all other leagues. The ball skills shown by Lampard and Shevchenko were breathtaking, at any speed – but truly remarkable at EPL speed. Chelsea showed a very porous defense, but the team has so much offensive firepower.

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