Can therapy save this troubled relationship?Everybody knows a couple like Major League Soccer and Fox Soccer Channel. They’re stuck in a marriage that isn’t particularly healthy or fulfilling, but not quite destructive enough to require a full-on divorce.
Sure, each person knows there’s a better match out there, but they’re too busy with other things, not willing enough to work out their problems, and have you seen how expensive a divorce is these days?
And so, much like the meandering husband and wife, MLS and FSC are stuck together, at least for one more season.
Last week, MLS and FSC agreed on a one-year contract extension through the upcoming 2011 season. FSC paid the league $3 million last year for broadcasting rights, and MLS reportedly demanded an astounding $20 million for this year’s rights before the fee was negotiated down to a more plausible $6.25 million.
Throughout the process, rumors were flying that a host of networks, most notably Versus, were interested in entering the bidding, but in the end, nothing really materialized. For at least one more year, MLS will come home from work and greet FSC with utter indifference. They will eat dinner together, catatonically discussing the day’s events as their minds wander, both wishing they were anywhere but there.
It doesn’t have to be that way though!
I’m going to sit these two down for a counseling session, and hopefully we can get some of these issues straightened out.
SV: Thanks a lot for coming in today, you two. I know it’s been rough these last couple months, but I’m glad you decided to stick it out together. Now, it’s only natural for any relationship to have its problems, but this one seems particularly contentious. Let’s start by airing out some of our grievances and go from there.
MLS: Fox Soccer Channel, we’ve had a solid nine-year run together, but I’ve been feeling more and more jealous lately. I know you’ve got relationships with other leagues and I understand that, but I just can’t help but wonder why you don’t treat me like you treat your other leagues.
FSC: You’ve gotta be kidding me, MLS! I’ve given you a platform to show your terrible, substandard league for.....
SV: Now FSC, this is an insult-free zone.
FSC: Sorry. I meant I’ve given you a platform to show your steadily growing league for nine years. You’ve been able to reach a national audience of soccer fans and expose them to your product. What else do you want?
MLS: Well for starters, would it kill you to show games in HD on Comcast, FSC? Is that REALLY so much to ask?
FSC: Look, that’s not my fault, ok? Have YOU ever tried dealing with those Comcast guys? I would rather negotiate with Muammar Gaddafi.
SV: Comcast is kind of crap, MLS.
MLS: Ugh, I know. Well FSC, how about you actually show some MLS programming besides the games themselves. I mean, for the English Premier League, you…
FSC: Oh Christ, here we go with the EPL again.
SV: Now FSC, this is an interruption-free zone, too, ok?
MLS: Like I was saying, FSC, you have a whole mess of EPL programming outside of the games themselves. You have the Premier League Preview Show, the Premier League Review Show, Premier League World, and you even show old EPL matches. What about me?!
FSC: Right, but people actually want to watch that stuff.
MLS: Don’t you get it FSC? That’s how you generate interest in the actual matches! I swear, you’re like talking to a folding chair sometimes!
SV: MLS, what did I say about this being an insult-free zone?
MLS: Sorry. But FSC, those ancillary shows increase interest for the matches themselves. If you run a 30 minute MLS preview show and break down key players and matchups for upcoming games on your schedule, don’t you think more people would want to tune in to those games?
MLS: And what if you ran a 30 minute MLS magazine-style show, a la Premier League World, focusing on some human-interest-type stories from around the league, then cross-promote it with a game? For example, run a story on Santino Quaranta of D.C. United and his struggle overcoming drug addiction, and have it run the week you’re showing a D.C. United game. That would work, right?
FSC: Maybe. But I’ve got this awesome HeelTastic infomercial I need to run too. Where would I fit it?
MLS: You’re impossible.
SV: FSC, the key to any good relationship is communication. I know some things that MLS does hurt your feelings too. Why don’t you share those with us, please.
FSC: Well MLS, at first everything was great between us, but lately I feel like you don’t value me enough. Where would you be without me, MLS? Nowhere. Yet, now you’re flirting with other networks all the time, demanding almost seven times more money for your rights than I gave you last year, and basically treating me like an object. I am not an object for you to play around with; I AM A REAL TELEVISION STATION! And guess what? I’m not the only one who isn’t monogamous. What about ESPN, huh? And oh by the way, your ratings suck out loud, both with me and ESPN. So, maybe it’s not me, it’s YOU!
SV: Easy FSC, easy. Take a deep breath. Breathe in…..and out.
FSC: Ok MLS, I’m willing to admit, I could do more for you. The broadcast quality for your games isn’t the best. Player’s names are misspelled and mispronounced. The camera angles are a little abstract sometimes. There isn’t any additional MLS programming besides the matches. But guess what? That’s where your league is at right now. The quality on the field is improving, but how do you expect me to elevate your league over the other leagues that I broadcast?
MLS: (Sighs) I know FSC, and I do appreciate all you’ve done for me. But I need a little more from you now. Of course I’m not as marketable as some of the other leagues you have, but I wish you’d stop acting like I’m some kind of a burden. I am 16 years old now. I’m adding two teams this year, one next year, and another is coming sometime after that. I’m not going anywhere and it’s time you acted that way.
SV: This is beautiful. We’re making some great progress here.
FSC: Hello? Oh HI Sir Alex, how are you?!.....Good……Yeah I’m not busy, what’s up?
SV: I’ll see you two next week.
Seth Vertelney is an associate editor of Goal.com. Follow him via Twitter, Facebook or send him an Email