Major League Soccer: Algorithm and Blues

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been joining in with the “30 Day Music Challenge” (Shout out to Chris Withers for finding it and tweeting it out).

The basic concept is that there is a theme for each day; A Song from 1970’s, A Song That Makes You Happy, A Song about a Pig with the word ‘Kettle’ in the Title (I’m really struggling with that last one to be honest).

It’s partly great because it really challenges you to hone down almost impossibly long lists of songs to just one and it’s partly great because it’s a great way to hear other people’s recommendations that you yourself have never heard before.

And that latter aspect exposes a real problem in how we consume music right now.

If we listen to the radio at all then chances are we listen to a station that plays “our kind” of music and if we rely on streaming then the best hope we have of finding new stuff is via the digital opinion of a soulless algorithm.

“You like Fleetwood Mac? We suggest you try listening to “Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits”. Okay, it might not be quite that bad but you’re never going to be pushed out of your comfort zone in such a scenario.

And that got me thinking. Isn’t the way we consume music kind of analogous to how we also consume sport these days? And isn’t that having an impact on Major League Soccer?

The answer to both question is probably “No” and No” but for the purposes of this post it’s very definitely “Yes” and Yes”. So let me explain.

There are, I think, three kinds of people who don’t watch MLS.

The ones who don’t like soccer at all and they are the ones we can discount until they have their come to Gabriel Jesus moment. But it’s the other two groups who are most interesting.

One don’t watch MLS because they think it’s a terrible league and prefer to stick to the (Usually European) upper echelon league of choice and the others don’t watch MLS because they hate what it is and what it stands for and cling instead to either the hope of a rival league forming or to the friendly surroundings of lower level football.

The former are the musical equivalent of those people who always go to the biggest concerts in town, wear the T-Shirt of whatever supergroup is the flavour of the week and think Coldplay are a little bit too cutting edge.

The only way to get them on board with MLS is to keep making them watch it and the only way to keep making them watch it is to make football far more ubiquitous on our TV Screens.

TSN have recently announced that they will be covering the CONCACAF Champions League from next season, which is great for those of us who regard Facebook as a little bit too much like actually meeting and getting to know other people, but it will only be good for the game overall if TSN step up their coverage to cover more than just the first to the last whistle.

If there’s no sense of occasion to the TV broadcast then those Juventus and Manchester City fans aren’t going to be swayed by anything.

It may amount to being akin to forcing a Mumford and Sons fan to listen to a playlist built around The Dead Kennedy’s ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ but if that’s what it takes then that’s what it takes.

They won’t all climb aboard the bandwagon, but at least some will.

The group who genuinely love local soccer but genuinely hate MLS are a more interesting and trickier conundrum.

Let’s compare these people to early adopter REM fans who never quite forgave the band for going mainstream. Michael Stipe and his cohorts were the Platonic Ideal of a great indy band in their first incarnation; chiming guitars mixed with lyrics that were indecipherable to either the ears or the mind and possessing a front man with genuine charisma.

But, by the time they were being played in every Starbucks, the only people who were actually hurting were those poor saps who thought the band would be their personal secret for the rest of their lives.

So how does MLS get these people back? Well, short of a strict volte face in how the league is run these people aren’t coming back. But that might not be a bad thing in the long run.

How so? You say.

The oft mooted Canadian Premier League finally seems to be gaining some traction and is slated to start toward the end of 2018 and while there are definite signs of nervousness from MLS HQ about this development (Don Garber has recently been seen eating poutine to show how much the League loves their Northern cousins) more football teams can never really be a bad thing.

Not least because rivalry (And especially local rivalry) is the heartbeat of the game.

Imagine if Victoria, or Langley or one of those other places that purportedly exist outside of Metro Vancouver got a CPL team and then knocked the Whitecaps out of the Canadian Championship?

People would be working, going to school, or at least rubbing shoulders with rival fans (PSA: Please ask before you embark on any shoulder rubbing with either a colleague or a stranger). Imagine the banter! Imagine the joy and the sorrow!

If people are going to hate MLS then how much better for them to hate it because they support a rival team rather than because a mid-season rule change introduced yet another new strain of allocation money?

So from now on Don Garber should respond to every question about the CPL by saying “We welcome it because it will give our teams the chance to crush the pathetic minnows every time we play them” (Spoiler Alert: That won’t happen).

And while it’s great that the newly formed TSS FC likes to tweet support for the Whitecaps (And I get that this is a good marketing strategy at this stage of their development) it will be far more enjoyable once they get to the level of disparaging their local rivals (And vice versa).

“Embrace the Hate!” probably won’t fly as a marketing slogan but it’s not a bad unspoken USP.

Hmmm, this all got a bit rambling towards the end didn’t it?

But I have at least solved all of the problems facing MLS with the simple proposition that sometimes forcing people out of their comfort zone is a good way to convince them of the value of something they previously thought valueless.

So let’s end with a song that isn’t a part of my “30 Day Music Challenge” but is at least kind of relevant to this.