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The Super MLS Cup?

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Image picked specifically to induce self-loathing and comment that Clint Dempsey calls Donovan five-head. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Image picked specifically to induce self-loathing and comment that Clint Dempsey calls Donovan five-head. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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For the first time since Norwood's wide-right, I did not watch the Super Bowl last night. To say that is a reflection of my support for the NFL, would be a complete falsehood. With the exception of college football and soccer, it is my third favorite sport and I read more about it and watch more of it than any healthy adult should. Therefore, I find it healthier to limit my teams down to the Chiefs, and barring the Chiefs making it, one team in the playoffs and then stop caring about the other 30 teams. From what I heard, it was another amazing comeback by the Giants and the Patriots still haven't crossed that threshold into greatness that only the 1970's Steelers and 1980's 49ers have.

However, I am by no means the average American, and the Super Bowl had an overnight rating of 47.8 or about 55 million households. That does not even mention the rest of the world and people watching from bars. Whether or not you like the NFL, one has to realize that it is the prime example of a sports league. The problems the NFL has are unique, because almost every one is the result of being too successful. Labor disputes come because more money is there than expected. Injuries come because the players are bigger, stronger, and faster and the game hasn't changed much in the Super Bowl era (save for much more passing). The athletes turn to steroids not to fight off age like baseball players, but rather just to get that one paycheck that comes in handy when your body has been beaten down and the doctors bills start rolling in. They want to play more games to make more money, thus enlarging all of the problems I just mentioned.

Major League Soccer has no such worries. They are a single-entity league with an unprecedented labor agreement that really ties the players hands, but also rewards those who perform, either with a ticket overseas or higher salaries here. Their injury debate is much less public, although not lacking in debate. As the players get faster, more skilled on the ball, and simply more talented, the old physical MLS is slowly making it's way out, but rough tackles on skilled players are going to continue to happen. The league is not starving for money, but is not the cash cow of the NFL. The Galaxy were worth $100 million midway through the Beckham experiment; the Dallas Cowboys are worth $1.85 Billion.

To say the two leagues have nothing in common except a few owners is a fair statement. However, they do share another trait in common, they have a championship game. Admittedly, I am a "euro-snob" at times when it comes to soccer. In my defense, anyone whose first televised European match was AC Milan-Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League Final would be as well. Nevertheless, I will argue forever that the MLS never adopt any of the policies that are suggested to bring them in line with Europe, most notably the calendar, relegation and promotion, and lastly the playoffs.

The reality is that in the current world and even more in the future, people do not watch television live. For this reason, many horrible things have happened to network television that I could list and make myself visibly angry, but sports leagues and universities (and ESPN) have benefited substantially from that. People still watch sports live and they don't even mess around with DVR as much. In this climate, there are three sporting events which have the most to gain from this. The first two are the aforementioned Super Bowl which is watched by almost everyone and the NCAA basketball tournament is watched by as many people but spread out over 67 games. All of the other major sports play long series, and interest waxes and wanes depending on the teams playing and the sport itself. The BCS Championship could be like the Super Bowl except it is on a Monday and has so many alienating factors that it will always rub someone wrong.

Then, there is the MLS Cup. The MLS Cup is an infant compared to any high-profile sporting event in the United States. While this carries the downside of anonymity, it allows the MLS to tweak its format constantly. This years iteration will be the first played in the home stadium of the team with the better record as opposed to a per-determined site. The idea for the MLS should be: how can we make our final like the Super Bowl? In reality, they can't. Soccer with it's lack of stoppages doesn't have commercial value of the same amount, and 55 million households wouldn't watch if the United States was in the World Cup Final. However, the idea of having the country view the MLS Cup as an event to be watched is the ultimate goal, and without it the MLS would have one less bargaining chip in the long game of relevancy that they have been fighting.

For this the MLS needs to realize two things, they can't go head to head with the NFL and they need to respect their clientele. The problem, even more so since NBC has the rights, is there will always be Sunday Night Football. Going up against college football, where the late November rivalry games are almost all played mid-day, and the late games are middling teams rather than the higher echelon, should be an idea. The downside is that MLS has finally realized that young people get more excited about soccer than families, and young people aren't easy to tear away from college sports and Saturday nights. However, that must be the way forward, because eventually these young people will be those old people sitting at home on the couch watching Sunday night football with their families, and by then you should have convinced the nation that the MLS Cup is more important than the 6-5 Chiefs battling the 5-6 Chargers for first place in the AFC West or Georgia-Georgia Tech.