Wednesday marked the opening of the 2011 US Open Cup for MLS teams. Play-in games happened around the league for spots in the USSF run tournament.
The answer, per the Union’s Twitter account, was no. MLS, and the Union in effect, missed out on turning the USOC into something special, along the lines of how the FA Cup in England has had a long and lively history. A focus on trophies, rather than friendlies, is what the league should partake in, but as Sounder at Heart has long preached, that’s no what MLS or Don Garber wish to pursue.
It's a common theme in MLS related events. If the game isn't a regular season, playoff or big time friendly game, then it's more than likely that the game can't be found on any broadcast.
Suffice to say, it riles a sizable contingent of the fanbase of any franchise if a game is not available on TV, or in the very least through an online stream or radio broadcast. A Twitter "play-by-play" isn't how following a game is supposed to happen, but reading the Union's official tweets was an Union fan's only way to do it. One of those supporters commented on the choice of broadcast, "I guess this is how people in the 1920s experienced baseball."
What truly makes the status quo of the USOC so infuriating is that it is an automatic qualifier for a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. The other ways for a MLS team to make it into the CCL are to either win the Supporters Shield (end the season with the most points of any MLS team) or to win MLS Cup. Conceivably, winning the USOC is the easiest way to get into CCL.
The main problem is that no one in MLS seems to take the competition seriously enough. Even when teams like the Union choose to field almost full strength squads midweek for a game, it doesn't give the Cup any credence when most games are neither televised (including online streaming) nor on the radio.
Games should be consumed by fans through the eyes (TV, at the games themselves) or the ears (radio), not via a team's so-called play-by-play over Twitter. It's a wonderful thing Twitter, but it's not, and never should be, the way that a game should be experienced.
It's not as though the games themselves lack live support from the fans. Over 2700 showed up to watch the game at a small location outside of Baltimore, including around 70 Sons Of Ben members who trekked down to cheer on the Union. All those numbers on $25 tickets and a midweek game (something that won't be looked at in this article, but should be noted). Not too shabby.
An excuse by DC United and the Union was that Maryland SoccerPlex, where the game was played, didn't have enough bandwith to support even an online stream of the event.
Fact is that if the teams had two cameras and a laptop with internet access to log onto UStream, then it wouldn't have mattered how little the bandwith was at the stadium. Perhaps Verizon, a recent sponsor of the Union, could provide the team with one of its new 4G Wireless HotSpot devices to aid in the mobile accessibility of future Union non-regular season or playoff game broadcasts.
Costs may have prohibited the teams from broadcasting the game, but considering it only costs $189.50 per hour to rent out the field with lights, there's no reason why the $67500 ($25 per ticket x 2700 fans) plus raised by ticket sales couldn't cover all costs. Surely $67100 could pay for everything needed to broadcast a game…
Without proper support from MLS and its teams, through broadcasting the games (TV, online or radio) and playing fuller strength squads, then the USOC is doomed to a life of purgetory: a competition with an important prize – a spot in CCL – that has naught, but recreational level support from its most important members.
In the end, the average fan is the one who loses in the scenario, no matter how it is looked at.