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Marking Their Territory

The American sports landscape is crowded. Soccer is slowly earning a larger and larger chunk of the conversation, and while it’s making immense strides, it still occupies a small fraction of the whole. And when we examine just the American soccer landscape, it’s pretty crowded itself. There are 3 professional leagues at play; three times the amount of professional leagues any other sport operates in this country. This is a blessing and a curse. For fans of the game, they’re is never a want for product. But for the leagues that are not Major League Soccer, the numbers and attention can sometimes be underwhelming.

Which brings me to USLPRO. I cover Phoenix for this site. I go to the games. I love the team. This is the league they play in. Orlando City is fun to watch. Charleston fields a quality side year after year. But overall, this league doesn’t stand up to the NASL from a viewing and interest level. I’m more prone to watch an NASL game over a USLPRO game on most weeks if the two are head to head. One could say this is an unfair comparison, as the NASL is the 2nd division and USLPRO is the 3rd. The quality of the NASL games should be better by default, and thus more exciting for the impartial. I’d venture to guess that to an American soccer fan who only has so much time to watch lower division games, the NASL looks infinitely more appealing to them.

I write an article for this site called The Weekend Primer in which I preview the games I’ll be watching over the weekend and why. It’s very rare that I’ll pick a USLPRO game over an NASL game. Seeing the schedules lined up one next to the other, week after week, one will notice just how much overlap the leagues have. It’s very hard to watch and follow all of them without subjecting oneself to very boring replays (Spoiler Alert: I never watch a taped game.) NASL does itself some favors in this regard though. They tend to stagger their games a little more. It’s rare that two ever play at the same exact same time. There is usually at the least an hour gap between games, and they utilize the game on Sunday here and there to spread out the games. Sure USLPRO is having to play twice as many games per week, but they tend to not really try to spread them out. 7:00PM Eastern on Saturday seems to be the default time and day. This just happens to be a popular time slot for both MLS and NASL games. And when you’re the least professional brand of the three, you’re bound to get overlooked more often than not. I do happen to notice a time slot that USLPRO always dominates though…

Friday Nights. MLS rarely runs games on Friday nights, and NASL is even rarer. USLPRO usually has a few games on Friday nights, and they stand alone. They have no American Soccer competition. Statistically speaking, Friday is the worst television rating night, but it can be successful if you have a niche audience. And in all reality, lower level American soccer fans are a niche audience. They’ll seek the product out if it’s available.

Friday nights should be USLPRO’s bread and butter. It’s been a long week and soccer fans can’t wait for the weekend’s offerings. So don’t make them wait. Give them the a slew of games on Friday night. It should be where the marquee matches take place. It should be a date and time where USLPRO pumps a lot of advertising and focus on capturing the spotlight. American soccer fans should equate ‘Friday Night’ with ‘USLPRO.’ If they could build off of that association, I think attention and stream viewings would increase. They have virtually no competition that night. USLPRO would be wise to avoid Saturdays in which they’re competing for eyeballs with two leagues that are above them. Make Friday nights a party. Showcase the league’s fans. Get people to go out of their way to watch multiple games at once. It’s a block of games that start late, and go late. It’s leading into the weekend, so who really cares if you start an east coast game at 8oclock? Or always run your west coast games on Friday’s so you can have USLPRO taking up a good 4-5 hour block on Friday nights that on most weeks would be virtually uncontested. Put all your resources into making USLPRO games the place to be on a Friday night in the cities that host teams. Friday Night is USLPRO night.

This isn’t even totally a money issue. My spending habits, and those of the fans wouldn’t change much if this were the case. We’d still go to games and support the clubs. Because theres little real competition with NASL or MLS teams in the same cities, I don’t think they run any risk of fans taking their money elsewhere. It just allows them to stand alone, and it allows fans to watch or stream more games from the other leagues as well. A tailgater on a Saturday who gets to the stadium 3 hours before the game starts will miss a lot of other soccer games. If they miss those games, they’re not likely to be talking about them on social media or with their soccer buddies. By making more soccer available and accessible to the average fan, it’ll only see the cumulative soccer interest and conversation grow.

USLPRO could even work on just not competing with itself. I recognize that the 7 oclock game is a popular start time, but it’s difficult to follow the league in depth when you can only really watch one of the games that week as it happens because they’re all playing at the same time. The teams, the names, the faces, would be much more prevalent and present in the league’s collective mind if fans were able to see more of them, and see them more regularly. If my team is on and it’s during the same time as the majority of the games that day, I’d be unlikely to watch the other games. Compound this week after week, and there is a lot of good soccer, and potential league stars being missed.

Trying to compete with NASL and MLS is fruitless. It’s nonsensical. They’re is really no reason to be competing with those leagues, when you could relegate the majority of your games to Fridays and Sundays, when the other leagues are typically lighter. This would be beneficial not just for USLPRO, but for the other leagues as well. Spreading out the games would only allow for each league to shine in it’s own time. The USLPRO fans would still be able to watch, or even attend MLS games on Saturday, as opposed to going to their games. They could follow NASL more by not having to make a decision of streaming one over the other. What’s good for one American soccer league is good for the others. They shouldn’t be competing. They should be cooperating.

You can have your cake and eat it too. I love that there are 3 professional levels of soccer in this country. I love following all 3. I love that all 3 are growing in a healthy way. I love that there is a league that operates on an East-West system, and a league that’s a single table. I love that there is a league that runs a split season. I love having it all. But on a week to week basis, push comes to shove and there are only so many hours and games you can watch on a Saturday. And unfortunately, USLPRO is more often than not the first thing I overlook. It seems silly to get overlooked when there are timeslots and days that are often unfilled or rather light. USLPRO would be wise to mark some territory, and pick a place and a time where it can’t be overlooked.

I’d like to follow all levels equally. They just make it very difficult to do so when they force a decision. It would be for American soccer as a whole, to take away these decisions.

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