Categorized | Commentary

J’accuse! A rant against MLS media practices

Posted on 14 April 2010 by Nathaniel E. Baker

Fans of Major League Soccer are by now surely familiar with its new Web site, the ineptly-named MLSsoccer.com. The site is by all definitions a complete mess–so much so that MLS commissioner Don Garber himself saw the need to publicly apologize for it.

But that problem is well-documented at this point. Presumably, MLS is even doing something about it. The larger, less forgivable offense in my opinion is the site’s purpose. Specifically, MLSsoccer.com has taken to “break” news on its own. To wit:

MLSsoccer.com confirmed Tuesday that an MLS club is working on signing the Frenchman in a transaction that could take place during the summer transfer window.
MLSsoccer.com, April 13

A source close to New York Red Bulls management has confirmed to MLSsoccer.com that the club intends to purchase a third designated player slot, as allowed by the recently expanded DP rule.
MLSsoccer.com, April 14

Here is an organization (MLS) that for whatever reason has decided it needs to turn its official Web site into a news portal. That its area of coverage is identical to its end product (MLS) is in itself fine–after all, just about every organization’s Web site has a “news” page where it supplies updates on its activities. But MLS takes this a step further. Actually two steps. It cloaks its news updates as independent reports and has these compete directly with the myriad of actually independent news services (including this one) that already cover the space. Then, if that weren’t bad enough, it touts its own reports as “exclusive” stories and goes as far as to cite “sources”!

Can you say conflict of interest? USsoccerPlayers.com, itself no stranger to potential issues like this, has the following assessment:

What the League is actively doing is working on making themselves everybody’s direct competitor…Being able to scoop other outlets alongside providing media relations? That’s a tricky choice and one that could end up working against what was once upon a time the goal. The best possible coverage nationally and in the local markets. There’s a reason that normally means supporting the media rather than taking their place.

The sad thing here is that MLS never really gave supporting the media much of a try in the first place. The league seems to think it is dealing with issues of national security the way it safeguards information and generally stonewalls around media requests great and small. But MLS not only isn’t national security, it effectively has no competitors it needs to guard information against. It’s not like a rival U.S. soccer league is going to spring up out of the blue and compete with MLS for a player’s signature. Or that the Securities and Exchange Commission is going to launch an investigation into insider trading.

After 14 years, MLS has made scant inroads with the general U.S. public. Most people are barely aware the league exists at all. For sure, the sporting landscape is extremely crowded and competition for eyeballs is fierce. But interest in soccer is on the rise, as evidenced by the growing popularity of European leagues and U.S. national team matches. MLS as a league has to date failed to capitalize on this. Sure, it’s successful in select markets (Toronto and Seattle, basically) and deserves credit for that. However to sustain this success, and grow it to where it genuinely captures the imagination of the greater North American public, the media is going to have to play its part.

MLS has either failed to realize this or bungled the execution–badly. The greater mystery is why league brass thinks it is doing anybody a service with this latest attempt. Because as far as I’m concerned, doing nothing whatsoever would be a vast improvement at this point. A cheaper, less embarrassing one, too.

13 Comments For This Post

  1. f4denz Says:

    It is because they are trying to drive traffic to their site (sites mlsinsider). They know they have an issue and the previous format had them a week behind the press releases of the teams, and breaking news by the guys who cover soccer all day (soccer insider, soccer by ives), so they now are going to become their own breaking news to show they are on top of their league and the content.

    Shame is they still can't get the basic things that a league site should have done. I still can't find a link to a game guide, They can't get stats updated, rosters are wrong. Oh the issues are so many you could go for weeks.

    So to candy coat their real issues and make themselves still relevant online, they are resorting to the tactic of breaking their own news, leveraging the video that they own (they still have failed to make the embed codes work correctly-which is an easy but manual fix). Oh I know they used “the Don” to say they are working on it, but really 3 plus weeks and they don't even have the basics done.

    They should worry much more about getting the information and data that used to exist imported and updated, than focusing on trying to become the center of “breaking news”.

  2. George Says:

    I thought the old site was just fine, especially once they implemented the embeddable video player.

  3. Attacking 90 Says:

    You cannot create buzz and excitement about yourself. Oh sure you can do great things (climb Mt Everest, fight crocodiles with your bare hands, create a league of exciting top-class soccer) and let other people know about it. The BUZZ however comes from people talking about you, not you talking about yourself. Check out my cool new haircut everyone! Nope, doesn't work does it?

    They is very little buzz about the MLS, and what there is comes from a few vocal fans and independent media who are having a conversation about the sport they love. Their opinions, imperfect knowledge and conjecture are the basis of the conversation.

    Lets be honest, the quality of MLS soccer is highly variable. The system of management is highly unusual. The number of hard core soccer fans in the US who ignore the MLS is highly…. Err it is just really high!

    The MLS cause is done no good by the MLS scooping the media devoted to it, or by controlling the messaging around the league. It'd behoove them to assist the media in coming up with all sorts of divergent perspectives and information on the league – it's just more “stuff” out there to engage their intended market.

    If the MLS doesn't want people to get excited about their soccer league, they are doing the right thing, becoming the ultimate buzzkill.

  4. f4denz Says:

    Not so sure they are trying to create buzz, they just think they should be the outlet for news. MLS Quality is better every year, anyone who claims to be a hardcore soccer fan and fails to support the top division league where they live, well I would say they aren't anything close to hardcore.

    I do agree that MLS should be a place to go for stats, press releases, schedules and such, but when they try to become the news site, well I think they are in trouble.

  5. Attacking 90 Says:

    I'm with you f4denz on the quality getting better and better and supporting your local top division soccer. But they have some work to do as there are a lot of empty stadium seats

  6. andobobo Says:

    They do it because they have to. The national coverage of MLS is generally horrible. Major outlets ignore MLS: ESPN has 2-3 articles per week at most, Fox has less. One of the major sites that updates daily, http://www.mls-rumors.net, might be the worst site as a user experience on the internet. Heck, the front page of this site has 2 broken image links, and the last featured article is last week's Garber interview. Ives is anexception with a well run, well updated site, but he's not in the business of rumors. His site is different, it's analysis, that's fine. There may be a beat writer for each team (maybe, but not always), but that doesn't reach nationally.

    MLS wants to try and get into the news cycle every single day. They want to be tweeted and shared every day. They want links to stories about MLS emailed and read every day. It's a major way to expand the audience. And if nobody will do it for them, they have to do it themselves. With newspaper and news outlets cutting budgets rapidly, it's unlikely that coverage will get better anytime soon.

    For example, where exactly could MLS have leaked the new york getting 3rd DP rule? Who could write about that would get the story written about and commented on throughout the internet? The DailyNews or NYPost generally serve this purpose for other sports, and would get picked up by national outlets, but guess what, they don't cover the redbulls. The few stories they do have are all AP.

    MLSSoccer.com isn't competing with anyone, because nobody else has even tried. And that's just the state of MLS: it's small, and not worth it.

  7. ASN Editorial Says:

    First of all, what images are broken for you? I can't seem to duplicate that problem.

    I don't think your assessment of the Post or the Daily News is accurate. The Post has a dedicated soccer blog and the Daily News regularly has reporters covering the team. You've also got Ives (though his focus is much broader than even MLS these days), bigapplesoccer.com, Bondy at NorthJersey.com and others. Heck, leak it to the DailyHarrison paper and give them a bit of traffic.

    But more importantly, if you're not getting the coverage you need/want from regular outlets, how is this going to help? It's disingenuous at best and a conflict of interest at worst. Either way, it's not going to work. And as stated in the piece, it's not like MLS has really done much in terms of media outreach before (at least not in the five or so years I've been covering the league on a regular basis). They seem to have taken their cue from hedge funds or other so-called “shadow finance” operations, which is effectively to deny you exist until confronted with evidence to the contrary. Or if you prefer, Fight Club: “You do not talk about MLS.”

  8. Mark Says:

    Sounds like this is a jealous rant about how another news source has better news.

    Maybe this will force “soccer reporters” to go out and do their job. Uncover stories, interview players, look for the unseen. Don't just search the internet, repost already broken stories, and write commentary on how some other site is besting you.

  9. ASN Editorial Says:

    The only problem with this little bit of vitriol (besides the fact that it's not true) is that MLSsoccer.com isn't a news source. In fact, that's kind of the point of the whole argument.

  10. Ryan Knapp Says:

    MLS really couldn't care whether or not another website picks up on their information first. This is why they've kept all of the information in house so they can control it themselves.

    In the end, all the websites that cover MLS will continue to cover MLS, whether or not the league allows those sites or newspapers or whomever to break news stories.

    It's bad PR maybe, but what would happen if they gave out a story to a news source? You hope it would get printed, and then MLS would print on their website, they are just reversing the order, printing it there first, and having everyone find it, and redo it on their sites.

    Definitely ass-backwards.

  11. ASN Editorial Says:

    The only problem with this little bit of vitriol (besides the fact that it's not true) is that MLSsoccer.com isn't a news source. In fact, that's kind of the point of the whole argument.

  12. Ryan Knapp Says:

    MLS really couldn't care whether or not another website picks up on their information first. This is why they've kept all of the information in house so they can control it themselves.

    In the end, all the websites that cover MLS will continue to cover MLS, whether or not the league allows those sites or newspapers or whomever to break news stories.

    It's bad PR maybe, but what would happen if they gave out a story to a news source? You hope it would get printed, and then MLS would print on their website, they are just reversing the order, printing it there first, and having everyone find it, and redo it on their sites.

    Definitely ass-backwards.

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