New England kicked off its new era with a nod to its past and a wink toward a pair of coaching decisions made by Real Salt Lake and D.C. United.
Jay Heaps followed in the footsteps of Jason Kreis and Ben Olsen when he assumed control of the Revolution on Tuesday.
Like his two former MLS foes did when they took charge, Heaps represents more than just a new coach taking charge in familiar surroundings. The player-turned-broadcaster-turned-coach signifies what the Revs once were and what club officials hope they will be in the future.
Buying into Heaps as a manager at this point requires a significant investment into Heaps as a person. New England executives have hired Heaps in the hope that his commitment, his drive, his energy and his intellect will ultimately outweigh his dearth of professional coaching experience or his limited familiarity with the foreign shores he will eventually have to trawl for talent.
Such a risky proposition rests on faith, not reason. New England spoke with approximately 12 candidates for this job, Revolution president Brian Bilello said last week. All of the other options likely possessed a more suitable résumé to manage any other MLS club at the present time. In the end, the credentials mattered far less to the Revolution than the candidate carrying them. None of the other possibilities, it seems, could match Heaps' persuasive vision about how the Revs should function as a club.
The decision to hire the inexperienced Heaps over other seasoned and suitable choices invites further scrutiny upon one of the most criticized organizations in the league. In fact, this move will likely inflame the current debates about the insularity of the club and its apparent preference for the status quo. It definitely won't subdue the growing unrest among supporters about the direction of the club and the people in charge of it.
All of those concerns cut into the latitude afforded to Heaps (and, correspondingly, to Bilello and general manager Michael Burns) as he takes control. They do not, however, determine whether he possesses the tools required to follow in Kreis' wildly successful footsteps or match Olsen's relatively promising first full campaign in charge of D.C. United.
Heaps will initially find himself judged upon his ability and his willingness to implement drastic and effective changes. Actions, not words, will measure his worth as a novice coach.
His monumental task starts with assembling the proper support staff (the arrival of a seasoned assistant coach appears compulsory at this point) and laying the foundation to address the pervasive roster concerns during the winter. Nothing short of a comprehensive overhaul will suffice. This job should come complete with a mandate to rip the side apart and build it back up again according to a detailed and specific plan. Method must exist behind the madness in order to ensure all of the impending turnover yields an effective unit capable of pushing the Revs up the table in 2012.
(Note: The recent changes at the executive level should aid Heaps as he attempts to take the Revolution in his own direction. Bilello and Burns have both harped upon the need to change the culture within the club and revise the way the Revs evaluate their players and provide infrastructural resources to them. The club's recent job posting to find an analyst to crunch statistical data underscores the likely shift in mindset to a more technical method of assessing player value. Heaps will likely embrace all of those new tools – he recently completed two years in Morgan Stanley's private wealth division in addition to his broadcasting duties – as he sorts through his roster.)
It will likely take a significant amount of time, energy and patience over the next couple of years to complete the rebuilding process, but Heaps and the Revolution brass need to produce signs of tangible progress next season to keep the skeptics at bay and validate the chosen course. Otherwise, the faith and the hope expressed within this appointment may dissipate far too quickly to continue with these extensive and necessary alterations.
Los Angeles' staggering TV deal produced by local tug-of-war for sports content
Los Angeles and Time Warner Cable have agreed to a local television contract that will pay the Galaxy $55 million over the next 10 years for its English and Spanish television rights, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday.
The new agreement dwarfs any local pact struck by a MLS team (the Galaxy made between $300,000 and $500,000 for its deal to show games on Fox Sports West, per the Times) and compares favorably with the national, English-language deals MLS struck with ESPN ($8.5 million/year through 2014) and NBC ($10-12 million/year through 2014).
MLS officials will no doubt herald the deal's impact (it is, after all, a massive step forward for the league in this department) and use it as a bargaining chip in future negotiations, but this partnership appears to have occurred primarily due to the unique competitive pressures in the southern California sports market at the present time.
Time Warner Cable joined forces with the Los Angeles Lakers to form English- and Spanish-language sports networks to compete with Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket in February. The increased competition created a more vibrant market for local sports television rights and pushed the overall value for the Galaxy's television rights significantly higher than expected. TWC is also expected to vie for the rights to show Los Angeles Dodgers games when they become available.
By blowing FS West's current deal out of the water, TWC acquires much needed content at a significant premium. The Galaxy has never drawn more than 16,000 viewers for a game and has never hit a .3 local rating, according to the Times. The modest viewership numbers and the unique circumstances in southern California will make it hard for MLS and other clubs to use this contract as a benchmark in other negotiations at the local and national levels.
The new deal, however, could inspire a tug-of-war between ESPN, NBC and TWC over how the Galaxy's games are distributed in 2012. Los Angeles remains a popular draw on national networks, but TWC will likely want to extract more than 19 games per season (the number of matches shown locally in 2011) in exchange for its hefty rights fee. Any significant alteration in the number of Galaxy games aired on ESPN and NBC could impact other teams – popular clubs like New York and Seattle could see even more games aired on national television, while others teams could see their local television production costs reduced with more national television appearances – and the open bidding process to award national television rights in a couple of years.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.