Martin MacMahon: MLS should stick to summer soccer

Who wants to watch soccer in the rain and the snow? Major League Soccer has a good thing going with a summer schedule, writes Goal's Martin MacMahon.
Let me preface the following column by saying I come at this with a bias.

And a confession.

I like wearing shorts to work.

And with this in mind, a portion of MLS Commissioner Don Garber's State of the League address on Tuesday came as a bit of a jolt.

To listen to Garber discuss the possibility of a switch to a winter schedule so seriously was, well, chilling.

Given so many hardcore soccer fans come from the angle that the game is a winter sport, it's understandable that Garber would throw them the odd remark about it being something to consider down the line.

But the former NFL executive did more than that on Tuesday, discussing in some depth the possibility that indeed everyone at stadiums around the league could be bundling up to attend fixtures at some point down the line.

It's not an imminent plan, by any means, but it didn't sound that far off either.

“As a league, we have in the past, looked, and continue to look, at a potential calendar shift,” Garber said. “We went through a fairly comprehensive process this year, looking at whether or not we could manage a schedule requires us to move the schedule so it would start somewhere around February and then it could conceivably end sometime at the end of May.”

Under this proposal, Garber then said the league would then resume from July to December, and then have a break from December to late February or early March.

“From 10-12 weeks, that therein lies the problem,” Garber said. “It's not just about, are we going to play three more games in cold weather markets at an earlier time of the year. It's about, what do we do with an extended break?

“I don't care what market it is. We're not playing in February and in January in places like Toronto and Vancouver and places like that ... we haven't been able to figure out a way to solve the break and also figure out a way to justify moving games out of the very valuable May and June time period and into February and end of December.”

Garber went on to say that extensive discussions on this topic have taken place and will continue in the future, although no changes should be expected in the short term.

While almost anything is at least worth discussing, the move to a winter-centric schedule would appear on the surface to have very little upside, other than to appease the soccer traditionalists and Europhiles, who have generally already made an opinion on MLS one way or the other.

Yes, syncing up with the rest of the world would be nice, especially come a World Cup or the European Championships, and I grew up playing soccer in the wet and rainy Pacific Northwest and always thought of soccer as a winter sport, but from a spectator perspective, summer soccer just can't be beat.

And when it comes to professional sports, it's all about the spectator experience.

Why on Earth would you trade the chance to soak up some rays while sipping a cold one and watching the beautiful game for a cold, wet December day in the rain or snow?

Sure, dire conditions are fun to watch on TV and there's a certain badge of honour that comes with experiencing one of those games as a die hard braving the elements in the stands, but building the game on this continent isn't about the die hards.

To build this game it's important to convince those casual sporting fans that this is the game for them. Creating comfy conditions and providing affordable tickets to families will build a fanbase of the future.

There's a league doing this.

It's called Major League Soccer.

Let's hope it sticks with summer soccer, because I hate wearing pants.