The Los Angeles Times soccer staff writer laid out the situation on latimes.com Sunday:
After the longest season in MLS history, the league has returned this fall to the three-game first-round playoff schedule it rightly rejected after the 2002 season. And the (very) early results suggest the fans aren’t buying it, with several thousand empty seats watching both LAFC and the Philadelphia Union roll to convincing wins in the first games of their postseason series.
The answer offered is basically: “The general consensus says it was done to create content, and hence revenue, for broadcast partner Apple…” But the analysis is more about pointing out the problems with the format and why it doesn’t make sense.
The piece got me thinking about the MLS Cup Playoffs format and what I’d like to see.
If the league wants more “content,” I’d love to see each round of the playoffs proper between the wildcard games and the MLS Cup Final consist of two-legged ties. That would actually be one more game, six instead of five, for both the MLS Cup finalists—and would mean better, more meaningful soccer as “content” for Apple TV.
My ideal would also be to keep any round from getting interrupted by FIFA international windows. I also think it’s really important to be done before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, preferably even earlier.
I think the single-game MLS Cup Final hosted by the higher seed works just fine—and it’s an easier entry to the league for the casual or just curious fan. Although for it to work as a point of entry it would ideally be offered free-to-air on a broadcast network where it could be stumbled up serendipitously. It would probably be in Apple’s interest to work on that as it would help create more fan-consumers for future regular seasons and playoffs.