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“Sports In Perspective” For $100, Alex

Sports is/are this big, goofy, fun contrivance that (from the non-participant’s standpoint) exist(s) solely for our entertainment. It’s not a referendum on us as a people or a culture or a species if the fourth- and fifth-place teams play for the championship of something. We’re not going to get blown to bits by aliens or al-Qaida if a non-first-place team wins the playoffs, or even if there are playoffs at all. Paul Gardner can watch the freaking games and enjoy them for what they are – 22 guys kicking a frigging ball, sometimes entertainingly – or he can ascribe huge cosmic significance to the identities of the participants and the process used to determine them. He’s chosen the latter course. He has that right, just like I have the right to tell him – and the other fanboys who can’t handle it emotionally when their team doesn’t get to call themselves right and true and just champions – to get the hell over it.

34 Responses to “Sports In Perspective” For $100, Alex

  1. Agreed. This is such a tired argument. MLS will always have playoffs, even if the format seems to change yearly.

    I remember having the playoffs vs regular season discussion with friends when living in London, and we agreed that our preference came down to what we were familiar with.

  2. MLS playoffs are great, I love it! I love seeing a under dog win a series over a favorite. This is America, every pro league in this country has a playoff system. Now I wish the MLS would go best to the best of three for the semi and conference finals. Leg system is so stupid. A tie in the playoffs is so dumb!

    • Best of three? They had best of three. It sucked. When you have to have a winner in each game, you run into the same “how do we break ties” stuff that the sport has to deal with every time a major championship is decided in penalties.

      Ties in the playoffs aren’t dumb in this sport, in which draws are much more a part of the landscape. With a best-of-three, you don’t know if or when that third game is going to be played and it’s going to be played on short notice, probably on a Wednesday, and without much time to sell tickets to it. The two-legged system gives both teams date and fixture certainty and the ability to better market the games.

  3. Well put. I love the playoffs; I’ve even finally come around to the two-game series (as opposed to a one-game, winner take all – I never did like best of three or first to five). And I don’t care what stats may, or may not, tell us; I like the higher seed hosting the second leg – it’s more about the fans getting to celebrate a series win (assuming you don’t get your butt kicked in the first game; but then, who’s fault is that?)

    I’m still not sold on the ‘play-in game’ between the four and five seeds (but then, I’m not from Houston….). I think that uses up a date that could be used later for rest during one of the series.

    Regardless, my goodness hasn’t MLS come a long way…

  4. Playoffs aren’t going away. Anybody who’s not on board there can go watch the NASL and enjoy.

    My thought (and I haven’t researched it) is that the entire POINT of the two-legged aggregate construct was to minimize or eliminate home field advantage. Think about it – one of the likely first uses in soccer was in competitions between teams from different leagues or different countries. It’s not like today, where we can seed teams in other sports based on their regular-season performance within the same league (a 12-4 team in the NFL gets home field over a 9-7 team based on its body of work within the same basic framework).

    So you take the home field advantage out of it, and it’s 180 minutes with 90 in each venue.

    Supposedly this 2007 study of European two-legged ties showed a slight advantage to the team hosting the second leg, which is borne out in MLS competition over time, despite this year’s results.

    And I’m not keen on the play-in game, either. I just think it’s shoehorned in there on a Wednesday/Thursday and played between teams on the fringe of the playoffs. Of course, as you point out, Houston’s fine with it, as they were one of the teams in that game and they’re in MLS Cup now.

    I just tire of the debate about playoff formats. Playoff formats don’t determine finalists, playoff teams do. I guess because people can’t kvetch about attendance or stadiums or American announcers anymore, they have to kvetch about something.

  5. (BTW, by my math, in 42 all-time MLS two-legged ties, the team hosting the second leg has advanced 22 times to 20 for the first-leggers. Very slight advantage over time.)

  6. KT, I mentioned Houston because without the play-in game, LA and Chicago would have automatically been in the Conference semis. LA beat Vancouver anyway, but Houston won AT Chicago; therefore, they truly benefitted from the play-in game. Still, as you put so well, “Playoff formats don’t determine finalists, playoff teams do.”

  7. I’d be curious to see the numbers in Mexico or England’s lower leagues where higher seeds always host the second leg yet there isn’t a loud whining if a lower seed actually wins…

  8. In Mexico, doesn’t a draw send the higher seed through? Different dynamic.

    And what two-legged ties are in England’s lower leagues (besides the promotion playoff semifinals)?

  9. The playoffs are here to stay. Jeff, you are right ties in the playoffs are dumb. A best of three is the only way to do a serise right. If it is tie after 90 mins. then you go into sudden death overtime. This leg playoff system needs to go!

    • Got news for you, JS: not only are the playoffs here to stay, “this leg playoff system” isn’t going away, either.

      You do get that “sudden death overtime” (which isn’t the world standard anymore) doesn’t mean anybody will score, right? And that you can’t just play all day until someone scores or dies, right?

  10. MLS needs instant replay for fouls in the box resulting in PK.

    That’s the only way playoffs will be fair.

  11. That would be a FIFA thing. They’d have to go past goal line technology and extend it to replays for fouls in the box.

    And, no, that’s not “the only way playoffs will be fair.”

  12. Please elaborate, if their is a blown call in MLS especially playoffs it’s over, look at Seattle vs LA and the handball call.

    If a call is blown in NBA,NFL,MLB and a team scores it doesn’t matter since those league are all high-scoring games.

  13. Because those are not the only potential referee decisions that can decide games.

    Having replay is no guarantee there wouldn’t be controversy. It’s not the “only way playoffs are fair.” That’s an idiotic oversimplification.

    And while it is true that each goal in soccer is relatively more important than in most sports (in general), it is absolutely incorrect to say that blown calls in other sports “don’t matter.” That’s a ridiculous statement.

    Soccer teams have recovered from controversial penalties before and will continue to do so. That’s the nature of the sport, as you should know if you pay attention.

    What about red cards? Should they review those, too? That could make a playoff game unfair. How about “was that a goal incorrectly given?” You think THAT might make things slightly unfair?

    YOU said the only way playoffs would be fair would be replay for fouls in the box. That’s simply not true. Then YOU said it “doesn’t matter” if a blown call leads to a score in other sports. That’s also simply not true, unless you think the 1965 Colts, 1985 Cardinals and 1999 Sabres just think, “Oh, that’s okay. That didn’t matter.”

    That’s simply an untrue, irrational and stupid point of view.

  14. Did Seattle lose the first leg of that series 3-0? THAT’s when it was (basically) over, genius.

  15. So, by your logic (tee hee), the Champions League is unfair, because it’s a tournament that doesn’t have replay for fouls in the box. And the World Cup is unfair, because it’s a tournament that doesn’t have replay for fouls in the box. And the FA Cup is unfair, because it’s a tournament that doesn’t have replay for fouls in the box. And the US Open Cup is unfair because it’s a tournament that doesn’t have replay for fouls in the box.

    So, basically, every competition everywhere is unfair, including any league competition won by two or fewer points if there was ever a penalty given to a team that helped them win. Okay, got it.

  16. That’s good comparing “tournaments” to a 9 month league.

  17. Learn to read, idiot. A league “won by two or fewer points.” You know, like one game? A 9-month league championship decided by one game?

  18. And, once again, way to seize on one tiny thing and ignore all the other stuff you got wrong.

  19. admin, come on seriously your comments are ridiculous! Playing a 30 min. or two 15 min. overtime will not kill anybody! Yes sometimes you are right they will not score in overtime so after a 30 min. OT you go to PKs! It’s more fair to play for a win then to tie or just got one more goal and still lose the game but win on goals overall in the Leg series!

    • What are you even TALKING about?

      I’m fine with 30 minutes of overtime and then penalties. It has to end sometime. But what does that have to do with ANYTHING?

      “It’s more fair to play for a win than to tie.” What does that even frigging MEAN? How is it “more fair” to “play for a win?”

      And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in this sport, you can “play for a win” and NOT WIN if the other team decides to not play.

      The rest of your comments are so linguistically unfathomable that I have no idea what you even mean anymore.

  20. How does playoffs actually make teams better as opposed to single-table whoever is on top is champion?

  21. “How does playoffs actually make teams better as opposed to single-table whoever is on top is champion?”

    Why have you shifted the discussion? Would you go back and address the stuff you got wrong from before? I’m not even TALKING about how “playoffs actually make teams better.”

    Where the HELL did that come from? Where did I say playoffs “make teams better?”

  22. lol-love it

  23. At some point, MLS has to decide just how similar it wants to be to the other major soccer leagues in the world, like Serie A and EPL. They started out with flashy, American-style unis and a countdown clock; now the kits are more in line with what you see with other clubs and the clock counts up (injury time, anyone?), just like the rest of the world. Then they started giving clubs names like “FC” and “Sporting”, apparently to appeal to Eurosnobs. Um, OK.

    That’s probably as far as MLS is willing to go. You’ll NEVER see single-table, promotion/relegation or *shudder* playing through the winter. (Well, maybe in 50 years or something when the American game finally matures. But don’t bet on it.) In the meantime, we have playoffs. This is America, and American leagues — in every sport — have playoffs.

    Maybe by 2030 or so, they’ll be 64 teams in 8 regional leagues, the champions of which meet in a March Madness-type tournament…ah, well. Maybe someday.

  24. No, they actually DON’T have to decide that. In fact, they actually already HAVE decided how similar they want to be. They are, at this moment, just about as similar as they’re going to be.

    EVERY LEAGUE has its own personalized things that make it what it is. Mexico has its system (which works for Mexico), Brazil has its state leagues and then a national competition, Australia just recently changed its playoff format…but, hey, all anybody REALLY cares about is that MLS looks like the EPL, Serie A, La Liga and/or the Bundesliga.

    But MLS isn’t those leagues. It doesn’t have to be those leagues. This is America. We’re not adopting the Euro as our currency, we’re not all taking August off, and we can’t build bullet trains across the country.

    It’s just tiresome when people insist that MLS HAS to look like one of their favorite leagues from overseas just because.

    Playoffs ARE. NOT. GOING. AWAY.

  25. What does MLS see as its mandate: a soccer league based in America, or an American league that plays soccer? Maybe a bit of both.

    In the meantime, I think it’s doing just fine. It’s probably never going to be as big as the NFL/NBA/MLB troika, nor will ever be on par with the big Euro leagues. (It possibly *could*, someday, given enough time and money.) But, as you say, it doesn’t have to. It’s soccer, and pretty good soccer at that.

  26. I’ve always said MLS is an average league full of average players coached to play average soccer by average coaches playing in front of average crowds in some pretty nice stadiums. Now the crowds have improved quite a bit.

    But as long as there’s no financial imperative for them to be “Just like (insert league here)” because their business is on the upswing despite their American-ness, it’s unlikely to happen. Despite the ravings of the vocal, Europosing minority.

  27. I don’t know why the playoffs wouldn’t go away. Does the league make money off of the playoffs? Perhaps the better question is whether the league would have made more money in 2012 playing a balanced schedule of 38 games rather than playing 34 games with a month of playoffs.

    MLS playoff TV ratings fare no better than the season’s ratings–they are equally atrocious, including the dire 0.0 rating for the 11/11 DC v. Houston match and seven 0.1 ratings this year. In a country where around 600k people–more than watched the HIGHEST rated MLS broadcast of the year–watched H8R for the 3 episodes it aired before the CW network mercifully dropped it, this is abysmal. Thus, I see no $TV behind playoffs.

    Having said that, I’m certain (meaning utterly guessing) that the current TV deal includes playoff broadcasting rights, and so MLS probably couldn’t immediately drop playoffs all together even if it wanted to. Modify, probably. Drop, no.

    What about gate receipts? Attendance figures–and readers of this site are all too familiar with the complexity of these figures–seem ambivalent towards playoffs. Chicago had ~6k fewer fans for its playoff match v. Houston than Chicago’s 2012 season average. LA had 10k fewer than average for its playoff match v. Vancouver, but it was +4k for the other 2 matches it hosted (in sum, a wash). Seattle was -9k v. RSL and +1k v. LA. DC was +11k total for its pair of playoff matches. Houston’s was +1k for one playoff match and -1k for the other. SJ was -3k and SKC was +1k.

    Sure playoff tickets cost more, but without doing the serious calculus it looks like on balance playoffs aren’t much of a revenue source. Eleven teams hosted 0 playoff games where, if the league had played a 38-game schedule, they could have hosted 2 additional regular season games in November; and the teams that hosted playoff matches likely didn’t make so much money off of them that doing away with the system is unthinkable.

    I’m not convinced that the non financial explanations justify keeping playoffs. Buzz? American tradition? Showcase event? Really? The playoffs are just another parity-inducing measure that, when fused with MLS’s many other parity-inducing measures, reduces quality and excellence.

    If Mr. Gardner is nothing else, he is a proponent of attractive soccer. If the MLS playoffs produced attractive, quality soccer, he’d embrace. But he’s spot on that the playoff have given us pitifully few memorable finals.

  28. The playoffs won’t go away. They just won’t. This league will not remove itself from the American mainstream by not having playoffs. They will not potentially have a champion crowned at midnight eastern time on some random Wednesday in late October or early November, “world standard” be damned.

    This year’s MLS Cup playoffs will be the highest-attended in the league’s history, in both total and average. I can’t believe you don’t see that as a “revenue source.”

    They have moved in the direction of MORE playoffs, not fewer. And adding two more regular season games would, for many teams, mean adding MEANINGLESS regular season games.

    The TV deals are up after 2014. I do not envision a scenario where:

    1 – MLS is not on television
    2 – That television partner (or partners) does not want playoff games

    This is not YOUR decision. It’s not MY decision. This is OWNERSHIP’s decision. These people WILL NOT GET RID OF PLAYOFFS. Period. Full stop.

    I’ll bet you – right here, right now, $1,000 cash there are MLS playoffs in the year 2022.

  29. He who lives by the ipse dixit, dies by the ipse dixit. (That refers to your “they just won’t” assertion).

    MLS can’t remove itself from something that it is not a part of (i.e. the American mainstream).

    MLS can do a better job pleasing its customers. I’ve conceded that many MLS’s customers like playoffs, but many don’t, and all seem displeased with every format the MLS has tried. To its credit, MLS has shown willingness to experiment; I’m just saying why not experiment with something a significant number of its customers want–no playoffs. I mean, if you can experiment with break away shoot outs, the 1996 Galaxy kits, teams named the New York New Jersey Metrostars and the Wiz, then surely experimenting with playoff elimination isn’t beyond the pale.

    Of course the playoffs are a revenue source, but as I said, holding playoffs means foregoing other, potentially more profitable revenue sources. Playoffs take a month. In a 20 team league that gets you 4 additional games per team and 40 total games played. In the current 19 team league you easily could have played a balanced schedule by giving each team 2 more games, that’s 19 additional games played. Compare that revenue to the revenue from 15 playoff games and, without balance sheets in front of me, I suspect that profit is not the motive behind playoffs.

    Any game with decent gate receipts will not be “meaningless” to the host franchise. Really, all games are meaningless. Even the playoffs. Games are entertainment, exhibition, relief, pastime. How can anyone watch the 2010 MLS Cup final and tell me with a straight face that that game was meaningful. Ugh. There will be no more nor fewer meaningless games if playoffs are abolished. There will only be entertainment (or lack thereof).

    You make one valid point: I agree that the TV partners will likely favor playoffs, but only for the same unconvincing reason you’ve expressed–acceptance of the dogma that American sports must have playoffs. But tell me, if ESPN gets no better ratings for playoffs than for non playoffs, why would an advertiser care if its spot runs during a playoff or non playoff contest? Advertisers care about eyeballs (especially spendthrifts’ eyeballs).

    The MLS ownership group has slowly, painfully, adopted its product to meet its customers’ demands, which tend to favor more alignment with international norms. I don’t see what is so sacrosanct about playoffs. Profits are sacrosanct, so if I’m wrong and playoffs really are that much more profitable than giving every team an extra home game or two and playing a balanced schedule, then I’ll concede they’re going nowhere. But I’m arguing that I suspect playoffs are no more profitable than the alternative, and continued alignment with the world game will only help the MLS’s popularity.

    I suspect the MLS ownership group is diverse and not monolithic in its opinion regarding playoffs. It has a lot more information than we do, which probably makes its discussions more interesting than ours.

    Finally, I took your bet challenge as a joke, but I will say that a willingness to put money where one’s mouth is does nothing to bolster an argument. Still, there is no way I would bet on the MLS to do something that I consider sensible.

  30. And you’ve given your argument far more words than it needs. Because the bottom line is that, yes, despite what YOU assert, MLS actually is in the American mainstream, and it’s unlikely to “experiment” and say “Hey, what if we just….oh, did away with playoffs?” You know, just for shits and giggles? It’ll be a hoot. Serious leagues don’t just try shit to try it.

    Oh, the 2010 MLS Cup Final was not entertaining? Okay. The 2012 World Series, that was a freaking artistic success. Most Super Bowls prior to free agency were crap, too.

    Playoff final soccer is quite often less-than-entertaining because of tight sphincters. Because – and this isn’t likely to change – the fear of losing far, far outweighs the intent to win in our sport. It’s just the way our sport is, it’s just the mentality.

    Only in soccer would a film called “Victory” be about a draw.

    And yes, if playoffs are abolished, there WILL be more meaningless games. How many meaningless playoff games are there? That would be….zero, by definition, right? Yet how many late-season games between teams that can’t win the championship (and can’t get promoted or relegated) will there be? Again, by definition, at least several.

    I do think it’s clever that you could couch not wagering on your assertion to be because MLS (and not “the MLS,” don’t get me started on that semantic nightmare) wouldn’t “do something that I consider sensible.” How convenient.

    YOU consider it sensible. A loud minority of people on the internet – most of whom, again, only want American soccer to look like English soccer – draw some attention, but they are not the majority of MLS’ customers. They simply aren’t. There aren’t six million (or four million or two million) potential MLS ticket buyers (and other stakeholders) who are hell-bent on eliminating playoffs (or interested in “just trying it out.”). That’s silly. It’s probably slightly more than the number of zealots insisting on pro/rel from their perches on the lunatic fringe.

  31. I’ve presented a logical argument for playoff elimination–another option is potentially more profitable and secondarily could increase customer satisfaction. I’ve admitted that I don’t have access to the P&L sheets, but if I’m correct about profitability, playoff elimination is objectively sensible and reasonable. I’ve pointed out evidence–TV ratings and attendance figures–that indicate a real ambivalence among even MLS supporters toward playoffs. Please point me to contrary evidence that supports playoff retention. I understand your opinions, the arguments for and against, the long tradition of throwing around the phrase eurosnob, and the inclination to call people who disagree with dogma “the fringe.” Don’t rehash all that. I’m interested in evidence.

    I’d even accept this as evidence: Ask 10 random people at your workplace to name some big sporting events happening this weekend. When they don’t name the MLS Cup, ask them if they knew that it was being played. When they say no, ask them what teams are participating. When they can’t, tell them who’s competing and ask them to name a player from each team. I think you might get a “Beckham” to that one. I say it sarcastically, but do it for real. I’d be interested in the outcome, and it might inform our discussion about whether MLS playoffs are valuable.

    You’ve pointed out one thing interesting–2012 will be the most attended playoffs yet. I haven’t verified that, but I suspect you’re correct with the 2 extra games and Seattle having one more home game this year than last. But my contention remains: in either 2012 and 2011 did the playoffs make the league more money than it would have made by giving each franchise one or two more home games? And, secondarily, is it providing the intangibles that boost the leagues popularity and increase customer satisfaction? I’m skeptical of both.

    Which leads me to . . . how, pray tell, is MLS mainstream? 29 of 105 its broadcasted games this year received 0.0 TV ratings (ratings were only available from ESPN, ESPN2, NBC Sports, and Galavision, and I suspect the ratings not made available-all from Spanish language TV–were all either 0.0 or 0.1). 67% of the games got a 0.1 rating or lower. Add up all viewers for all 105 broadcasts–every one!–and the total is about 12 million (not all unique viewers, mind you). That is fewer than watched the 2012 Kentucky Derby (all unique viewers). 4 MLS games were shown on network television. 0 newspapers outside of MLS markets cover MLS with any frequency, and many newspapers inside MLS markets give scant coverage to the league. I’m interested in what you consider “mainstream” and what evidence you have that MLS in mainstream. Not “growing,” I understand that it is growing, but mainstream.

    Finally, I’m not wagering on “my” assertion because I never made one. It was your assertion that playoffs would be here in 2022, and I never that I believed otherwise. Two rules on wagering: don’t bet on an outcome that you don’t believe will ever happen, and don’t bet against a person that you don’t believe will ever pay.


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