MLS held the 14th edition of their Superdraft on Thursday January 17th. It was broadcast at times in the US on ESPN and on some outlets in Canada. The entire thing was streamed live on their YouTube channel and from the what we can tell peaked with around 10,400 concurrent views. That means that 10,400 people were watching at the same time. That’s pretty good.
In fact the entire thing was pretty great with a few exceptions. The first being Commissioner Don Garber’s speech at the start of the draft. While probably important to the MLS brass it was in all reality a waste of time. A short welcome is OK but a 5 to 10 minute thank you-fest is really unnecessary. Fans are watching. The ones who buy tickets, jersey’s and the MLS Direct Kick package. Gain more of them by starting the draft and the sponsors will be happy later. Thanking the sponsors and the NCAA for 10 minutes on a live broadcast is not a way keep the fans happy.
The second unfortunate thing about the draft is the unfimiliarity with the players. Contrast the SuperDraft with the NBA or NFL drafts where the average fan knows who some of the players are who are being drafted. The fact is that college soccer isn’t commanding major time slots on broadcast and cable television outlets. So when Toronto FC walks away with 2 first round picks and makes several trades in the process the average fan has no idea if this good or bad. It’s not MLS’s fault but it’s not the airlines fault either when your flight is delayed due to weather but they take the anyway.
The final thing that MLS must address in future SuperDrafts is the timing. While a Thursday afternoon in January usually seems like a great time to have the sports stage it’s still a Thursday afternoon in January. They’d have been better served to do the draft this upcoming Saturday when their only competition is college basketball and hockey (the opening day for the NHL this season but that only happens once every 10 years or so). If they did Saturday vs Thursday one could argue that the 10,400 concurrent views may have been 12-13 thousand.
You cannot control other sports and lord knows that the MLS had no control over the other sports stories grabbing headlines this week. From the Lance Armstrong doping admission to Oprah, to the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax to the NFL playoffs and various NFL head coaching positions being filled. They still do control the day and Thursday is not a good day.
The MLS wants to grow and by having a SuperDraft look and sound as good as it did today is another great step. The stream worked (which is always key) the commentary by Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman was top notch and the interactivity was second to none. If you were on twitter you noticed that the picks came in about 10-20 seconds before they were announced (that’s your encoding delay from satellite to the Internet). MLS is making this an event and you can only hope that in future drafts there is more hype and build up and with that comes more interest. With more fan interest comes more success for the MLS and in turn soccer in the professional sports landscape.