Major League Soccer has done a lot of things right since it revamped its on field product and began expanding again in 2004. One thing it has continually struggled at, however, is television. For whatever reason, and I'm sure there are many, MLS's TV contracts have remained low because viewership has remained low. The unfortunate reality of today is that leagues live and die by their TV contracts. So, if MLS can't right the TV ship in the next decade or so, things might take a turn for the worst.
Which is why MLS's new hire yesterday might actually turn out to be the biggest piece of news for the year, even though nobody was really talking about it very much. We saw earlier this week where MLS revealed their intentions to create and distribute their own television (and digital) content. Now they've brought on somebody who can seemingly make it so the various media companies actually care. That man is Gary Stevenson, the new President of MLS Business Ventures.
If Gary's name doesn't sound familiar you're probably not alone. I had certainly never heard of him before now. What I have heard of, however, is the various projects he's helmed over the years, namely the Pac-12 Network. Now, I'm not a college sports guy. I don't care about the Oregon Ducks or OSU Beavers. I don't even have cable television. However, I've certainly heard of and even seen a bit of the Pac-12 Network. Completely anecdotal, but I think that speaks to the power of the network, especially considering that it's not that old.
Obviously soccer is a different beast than college football (or sports in general), but I think it speaks to his experience that he was able to helm such a large television project. Here's what Commissioner Garber had to say about his most recent hire:
"Gary's vast experience in the sports and entertainment world, along with his deep understanding of the media landscape, will play a pivotal role in growing key areas of our business and forming new partnerships. I've known Gary for more than two decades and am thrilled to have him join us during an exciting time of growth for our League. He brings a fresh perspective and entrepreneurial spirit that will drive value for Major League Soccer and our key partners at Soccer United Marketing, including U.S. Soccer, the Mexican Football Federation and CONCACAF."
That last sentence is probably most key to winning the television battle. There's so much soccer being played right here in North America, but all the efforts to market them are seemingly scattered. You have US Soccer marketing USMNT and USWNT games. MLS marketing MLS games. CONCACAF rolling around in a pile of hay somewhere. And the other respective national entities do their own thing as well. We won't even bother talking about the U.S. Open Cup right now because it's pretty far removed from the equation at this point.
If somebody, hopefully Gary, can get everybody on the same page and marketing their products as one cohesive experience then we might actually start seeing some penetration for our domestic league. You can't just focus on MLS, or US Soccer, or the CONCACAF Champions League, or the Gold Cup. It all has to be seen as the same team. Otherwise, MLS will continue toiling under the yoke low paying television contracts while European leagues reap the benefit of a huge market.
What do you think of MLS hiring Gary Stevenson?