Category Archives: Soccer

Catching up on the sports television wars

I stopped doing my Sports TV Wars posts in an attempt to reserve all my blogging time for football posts, so let’s not wait any longer to catch up on the developments from the last two months.

The World Cup bidding ended in a double upset, making the Wars far more interesting: Fox stealing the World Cup from ESPN (and indirectly NBC) and Telemundo stealing the Spanish language rights from Univision. I had thought Fox’s lack of MLS coverage, the main motivating factor behind their bid, would ultimately kill it because of FIFA’s desire for the winner to go all out to promote the sport in the US. I also thought NBC still had more motivation to grow Versus and establish their soccer brand. Instead, Fox sent a strong message that they are not to be ignored. I would expect most non-broadcast World Cup games to air on FX; the main value for Fox Soccer Channel will be all the lesser tournaments they now hold the rights to, filling the spring and summer programming time MLS left behind. Time will tell if this presages an effort to steal the MLS contract out from under both ESPN and NBC in a few years.

I was also surprised Telemundo even went ahead with a bid without corporate sibling NBC picking up English language rights, but apparently it may have been the other way around. (Which shouldn’t be surprising, considering Telemundo paid $100 million more than Fox.)

Also:

  • The Tennis Channel extended their rights agreement with the WTA Tour through 2016. ESPN3 reached an agreement with the WTA in the same deal. I’m not sure whether to count that half-and-half between Tennis Channel and ESPN or all Tennis Channel, but I’m going to do the latter for now.
  • Nearly a year after announcing it was dropping the “College” from its name, CBS Sports Network has finally picked up a non-college contract! Sure, it’s with super-tiny Major League Lacrosse, but still!
  • We then had a slow period through the rest of November and into December until just the other day, when ESPN extended its agreement with the NCAA for its non-men’s basketball championships, swiping some lesser women’s championships from CBS Sports Network and making me pine even more wistfully for what might have been had ESPN trumped CBS and Turner for March Madness.

Yes, I know I’m ignoring a far greater prize that was just awarded. But despite being essentially a formality, it’s a deal that’s far too big not to deserve its own post, for reasons that have nothing to do with who won them. More on that later.

Sport-Specific Networks
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Why MLS may be making a huge mistake

The Seattle Sounders have become the envy of all of MLS, succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest dreams for an MLS team, with by far the best fanbase in the league. From the day it started, the Sounders have been a truly major-league franchise in Seattle, something pretty much every other MLS team can only dream of. It would seem logical that if the MLS wanted to become a major league, if it wanted to continue its trajectory of growth, that its strategy for growth would be to find out what the Sounders are doing right and replicate it for their other franchises.

But there is one aspect of the Sounders’ success that suggests one thing that MLS has been doing – something that has been the cornerstone of its strategy for the health and growth of the league – may ultimately hold it back.

One thing the Sounders have become known for perhaps above all else in league circles is the experience on game day, which is widely praised as something unlike any other team in the league. Sounders fans pack CenturyLink Field to numbers unheard of for virtually any other franchise and create an atmosphere even the Sounders themselves can have trouble dealing with. The experience of a Sounders home game has been compared to that of a Premier League game. Hearing this, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the Sounders have, by far, the largest attendance in the league, to the extent that the upper bowl of CenturyLink is covered up, not because the tickets there can’t be sold, but to keep the Sounders from having an even larger crowd advantage and create a more intimate atmosphere.

But that massive attendance hides a dirty little secret: there is only one other stadium in the entire league that could even hold as many people as the Sounders regularly fill CenturyLink with, DC United’s RFK Stadium. (Although the Houston Dynamo’s Robertson Stadium comes close at 32,000.)

Over the last decade, MLS has moved all but two of the remaining teams into “soccer-specific stadiums” with capacities around 20,000. The idea behind it seemed simple and innocuous enough: at the league’s founding, teams were struggling to fill cavernous NFL facilities that regularly topped 60,000. Soccer-specific stadiums would give teams a place of their own to call home, rather than piggybacking on the local NFL team, and NFL stadiums wouldn’t need to be contorted to fit a soccer pitch. And by reducing the capacity to something closer to, yet still greater than, what most if not all MLS teams were drawing at the time, it would create a more intimate environment that would draw fans closer to their teams.

But by setting the ideal size of a soccer-specific stadium at around 20,000, MLS was effectively accepting that the popularity of the league would never exceed that level – and that its fans would never reach the number, and the gameday experience would never achieve the quality, seen in Europe. 20,000 isn’t “normal” in the Premier League – that’s the size of its current smallest stadium, and there are only five MLS venues, one of them only barely, with larger capacities than that of Wigan’s home stadium, third-smallest in the EPL. The league’s top teams don’t seem to have a problem playing in stadiums with over 40,000 capacity. The Sounders’ success – at attendance levels that would be only mid-pack in the EPL – should have sent a message to the league that it didn’t have to accept 20,000 as its ceiling. Yet the league continues to build soccer-specific stadiums unabated; next year’s expansion Montreal Impact could never place higher than third or fourth in attendance this year, no matter what they did, thanks to the size of its stadium.

Besides the Sounders, four teams in the league are filling their stadiums to over 95% capacity: the Portland Timbers, the Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City, and the San Jose Earthquakes. Throw out the Earthquakes, who are still the lowest-attendance team in the league despite their stadium-filling prowess thanks to a whopping 10,000-seat stopgap stadium, and the other three teams all have stadiums below 19,000 capacity, yet all place in the top half of the league’s attendance figures. None of the three have any plans to move into new stadiums or renovate their current ones, and in fact all three just moved into new facilities within the last two years. The Timbers and Union are fairly new franchises, but they seem to have strangled their capabilities to become Sounders-caliber franchises in the crib – especially galling in the case of the big-market Union.

Another two teams – the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC – are filling their stadiums to over 90% capacity. Yet despite having the third- and fourth-highest attendances in the league respectively, behind the Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy, neither has any plans to move or renovate their stadiums either, though that’s not as outrageous as with the other teams. Toronto could conceivably expand BMO Field into the fourth-largest stadium in the league, but that’s nowhere near becoming a reality, and the Whitecaps are one of the three teams in the league that plays in a non-soccer-specific stadium but covers up seats, so expanding BC Place’s capacity, if warranted, would cost nothing.

More to the point, all these teams except Sporting Kansas City are fairly recent additions to the league, and their strategies reflect not only the lessons learned from what the Sounders did right, but what the early days of MLS did wrong. Most of the league’s early franchises still have not recovered from the catastrophic mistakes of MLS’ early days that alienated the existing soccer fanbase without attracting many casual fans. More recent franchises, founded in 2007 and later, have found more success, but will continue to be hamstrung by a stadium capacity limit set for the older, less successful franchises, during a less successful period for the league.

Of all the teams in the entire top half of the league in attendance, only three existed in their current markets prior to 2006: the Galaxy, Sporting KC, and the New York Red Bulls. Two of those teams renamed and, thus, rebranded their teams during that time, and two of those teams are in the top two markets in the country, making it relatively easy to attract a sizeable fanbase without being that major of a team.

Even more to the point, only three franchises founded in 2005 or later, all before 2007, aren’t filling their stadiums to 90% capacity: the Houston Dynamo, Chivas USA, and Real Salt Lake. I can’t stress this enough: every single expansion team since Toronto is filling their stadium to over 90% capacity. The Dynamo, as mentioned earlier, play in 32,000-seat Robertson Stadium, and are mid-pack in attendance (and will be moving to a soccer-specific stadium next year); Chivas plays in the fourth-largest stadium in the league, the Home Depot Center, where they play second-fiddle to the Galaxy; and Real Salt Lake is pretty close at 88%. The clincher? The four worst teams in the league in attendance not only existed prior to 2005, but were around for the league’s inaugural season in 1996.

Many of the league’s older franchises continue to struggle to fill their stadiums, even those in soccer-specific stadiums, but as Sporting KC is showing, that need not be the case forever, even though the Galaxy, despite their success on and off the pitch, are only filling 86% of the Home Depot Center. As the league continues to grow in popularity, their focus should be on continuing to grow all their franchises, including the established ones, to the levels of success the expansion franchises are seeing, to bring their entire league into the future. In this, their mantra should be: every team a Seattle. But if they continue pushing “soccer-specific stadiums”, it will only have the effect of keeping their new franchises in the past.

More dispatches from the Wars

No Thursday Night Football? No problem: just go after a different football. The three major contenders in the sports TV wars will square off this week to pick up the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. ESPN will be looking to defend its World Cup incumbency, arguably its biggest non-NFL, non-BCS event, from the assault of NBC and Fox, two entities looking to shore up their soccer presence in the wake of NBC’s pick-up of an MLS contract.

Apparently, Dick Ebersol had a deal in place for NBC to take over the World Cup starting last year in 2005, but lost it partly because it had no interest in broadcasting soccer the rest of the year. NBC is in a different situation now, and in fact would like to make MLS less of an outlier on NBC and its sports network; other than the Olympics, NBC Sports hasn’t shown basically any of the sport. For NBC, it’s relevant that this contract will also be for two Women’s World Cups and other FIFA programming, to further fill out NBCSN’s schedule and build its soccer credibility. As with the Olympics, though, I don’t think the World Cup is the killer app NBCSN is looking for; one month every four years will not get it done, even in conjunction with the Olympics. I think that fact will depress how much NBC is willing to bid.

If NBC is trying to shore up its MLS programming, Fox is trying to make up for the loss of it. Fox has built its brand as one of the premier homes of soccer through its Fox Soccer channel, which has resulted in some matches airing on FSN, FX, and even the Fox network; the World Cup would be the crowning achievement of this trend. Fox Soccer is in half as many homes as NBCSN, but I would expect most non-Fox matches to air on FX, at least for the main men’s World Cup. The other competitions would be valuable programming for Fox Soccer, especially during a part of the schedule that will be even more dead with MLS leaving.

My guess is that ESPN has better than even odds of retaining the contract, given their demonstrated commitment to the sport. If ESPN loses the contract, I would make NBC the favorite over Fox. The World Cup will not grow Versus that much and Fox has a more established soccer infrastructure, but NBC still needs the Cup more, and I think losing MLS will kill Fox’s bid as much as motivate it, given FIFA’s desire that the winner promote soccer in this country through airing US National Team and MLS matches. (Also, without MLS Fox is much more likely to simply pull commentary from the English feed, something that might be verboten, certainly with soccer fans.) For that same reason, I would expect this fight to be a harbinger of who will take the MLS contract in full in a few years; the winner of this fight could be the odds-on favorite.

There is one more development to speak of, and it’s a little surprising. Since it started airing French Open matches, Tennis Channel has actually been the lead rights-holder, with ESPN2 coming along for the ride. Now Tennis Channel has renewed its deal for the next decade, and it will be the lead rights-holder for real, with ESPN2 being relegated to early-morning and other backup coverage.

Sport-Specific Networks
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A modest proposal for college football

So earlier today I posted that college football needed to reconcile its desire to keep making money with its desire to maintain the notion of amateurism. College football could go all-in and become an explicitly for-profit enterprise, or it could take some drastic steps to reclaim the notion of amateurism, but it couldn’t continue to have it both ways.

One of my ideas for what college football could do to keep making money was to completely divorce itself from the NCAA, preventing an all-sports split by the big-name schools, allowing the NCAA to focus on lesser sports, and most relevantly to this discussion, allowing conference realignment to proceed without affecting the lesser sports. With that in mind, I propose this fairly radical idea for conference realignment in a post-NCAA college football universe.

This idea can be summed up in three words: Promotion and relegation.

Fans of European club soccer, whether newcomers or old standbys, inevitably become fascinated by and enamored of the promotion and relegation system. Newcomers wonder what would happen if it were applied to American sports; old standbys insist that America’s own soccer league, MLS, adopt it. In both cases, they wildly underestimate the deep philosophical differences between American and European sports that explain the existence of the promotion and relegation system.

Europe places more emphasis on the individual teams as the bedrock of the league, as opposed to American sports where the teams’ power ultimately derives from the league. By the same token, Europe isn’t as obsessed with parity as the United States, and the assumption of the promotion and relegation system is that the teams at the bottom are substantially worse than the teams at the top. You couldn’t have a player draft in a promotion and relegation system, nor would team owners be likely to accept the possibility of being moved up and down every year, with the millions of dollars at stake. If baseball adopted pro/rel, the Yankees and Red Sox would become even more powerful than everyone else.

But guess what one American sport the above doesn’t apply to? College football’s power, as has been proved time and again, derives from its individual teams, not from any central source, and ultimately could care less about parity. A promotion and relegation system would give the lesser teams a bigger slice of the college football pie, create better matchups throughout the season, and ultimately solve college football’s championship problem, while surprisingly keeping much that makes the sport great.

Here’s how I could see it playing out. The big schools start making noise about separating from the NCAA, while their 16-team superconference dreams start coming to fruition and they start making noise about a de facto playoff. The schools left threaten to, or actually do, sue the big schools for monopolizing the college football pie. The big schools reach an agreement with the small schools and the NCAA that theoretically allows any school in the country, even NAIA Podunk U, to some day compete with the big boys at the top level of the sport, but effectively ensconces the power of the big schools at the top of the sport, while creating a better experience for the fans. Everyone wins.

What would this system look like? At the top level, I see two 12-team conferences composed of the biggest-name, best programs in the country – call them the SEC and Big 10. These add up to 24 teams, very close to the “Top 25” we’re so used to. Unlike current 12-team conferences, every team plays every other team one time, with no divisional arrangement. Under the current schedule, that leaves one game for a team to schedule a cupcake or a cross-conference or interlevel rival, preserving most rivalries between teams of comparable power while creating a far more exciting season full of big matchups. The champions of the two 12-team conferences then meet in a single game at the end of the season to determine college football’s national champion, solving the championship problem while preserving the sanctity of the bowls (for example, second place in each league could play each other as well).

The top four levels are important in this plan, as those levels are the ones that can tell recruits that, at least theoretically, they can someday play at that top level. Thus, the next few levels are arranged so that the top four levels total 120, same as Division I-A today. I see another two 12-team conferences at the second level (the ACC and Pac-12), then three conferences each at the third (Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA) and fourth (WAC, MAC, Sun Belt) levels. (These names are just for show, and to indicate the general geographic area each conference would cover.) The fifth level, where I-AA would essentially start, would then consist of four conferences, and so on down the line.

The bottom one or two teams in each top-level conference are relegated, with the champions and possibly runners-up in each second-level conference promoted. Perhaps the 11th-place teams in each conference could hold a play-off to determine who gets relegated, while the second-place teams at the second level hold their own, similar game to determine who gets promoted. Similarly, the last-place teams in each second-level conference are relegated, with a play-off between the 11th-place teams, while the champions of the three third-level conferences promoted.

What would these conferences look like at the top level? Here’s one way they might be arranged, with reference to Stewart Mandel’s 2007 column on college football’s “kings” and recent on-the-field success:

The Southeastern Conference

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. Florida
  4. Florida State
  5. Georgia
  6. LSU
  7. Oklahoma
  8. South Carolina
  9. Texas
  10. TCU
  11. Virginia Tech
  12. West Virginia

The Northern and Western Conference (aka the “Big 12”)

  1. Boise State
  2. BYU
  3. Michigan
  4. Nebraska
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Ohio State
  7. Oregon
  8. Penn State
  9. Pittsburgh
  10. USC
  11. Utah
  12. Wisconsin

Look at all the rivalries that are preserved. Michigan/Ohio State, Oklahoma/Texas, Auburn/Alabama, Florida/Florida State, USC/Notre Dame, and so on down the line. There are even some new rivalries like Penn State/Pittsburgh, on top of all the other great games created with these top-notch programs. The extra game for inter-conference rivalries also allows us to preserve such games as Florida State/Miami (FL), Michigan/Michigan State, USC/UCLA, Oregon/Oregon State, Oklahoma/Oklahoma State, Texas/Texas A&M, South Carolina/Clemson, Georgia/Georgia Tech, and Virginia/Virginia Tech. The other thing to note is that, unlike in today’s conferences and even in European soccer, most if not all of these teams have large, devoted followings in their own right, large enough to merit their own per-school TV contracts with the networks and ESPN. There are no Longhorn Network controversies with this group. And some superb teams and programs will be relegated to the second tier at the end of the year.

What of the second tier? What do those conferences look like?

The Atlantic Conference

  1. Arizona State
  2. Arkansas
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Clemson
  5. Connecticut
  6. Georgia Tech
  7. Iowa
  8. Miami (FL)
  9. Michigan State
  10. Mississippi
  11. Texas A&M
  12. Texas Tech

The Pacific Conference

  1. Air Force
  2. Arizona
  3. Arizona State
  4. California
  5. Colorado
  6. Missouri
  7. Nevada
  8. Oklahoma State
  9. Oregon State
  10. Stanford
  11. UCLA
  12. Washington

Here are a bunch of lesser powers that could probably carry a pair of conference-wide contracts with ESPN2 and a considerable audience despite not being top-tier. That’s four conferences’ worth of great teams and great matchups on two tiers. For completeness’ sake, here’s what the third tier would look like:

Big East Conference

  1. Army
  2. Boston College
  3. Illinois
  4. Louisville
  5. Maryland
  6. Navy
  7. Northern Illinois
  8. Northwestern
  9. Ohio
  10. Purdue
  11. Rutgers
  12. Temple

Conference USA

  1. Central Florida
  2. East Carolina
  3. Kentucky
  4. Mississippi State
  5. North Carolina
  6. NC State
  7. South Florida
  8. Southern Miss
  9. Tennessee
  10. Troy
  11. Vanderbilt
  12. Virginia

Mountain West Conference

  1. Baylor
  2. Fresno State
  3. Hawaii
  4. Houston
  5. Idaho
  6. Kansas
  7. Kansas State
  8. Minnesota
  9. San Diego State
  10. SMU
  11. Tulsa
  12. UTEP

These conferences aren’t quite of the caliber of the previous tiers, with only a few teams able to carry their weight in TV contracts for the occasional ESPNU game, hence why there are three of them in more compact geographic areas. (Washington State, Iowa State, and Syracuse have some claim to being in this group. Most of the remaining I-A schools are on the fourth tier, with Appalachian State, Montana, and one or two more I-AA interlopers replacing some weak Sun Belt schools.)

A showcase for all the best teams in the country to play each other week after week, competing for national glory and to stay in that brutal competition. Opportunity for any team to rise to the top. No more cupcakes and a college football national championship everyone can agree on. Now, isn’t this a far better picture for college football than franken-conferences and the BCS?

First college football rankings should be coming later today.

The latest in the sports television wars

Two pieces of news broke Wednesday in the sports TV wars:

  • NBC picking up MLS doesn’t mean much for NBC/Comcast, given how low MLS is on the totem pole, but it is very good news for MLS. It wasn’t that long ago that no one would have ever said that about a move to Versus, but this move gives MLS a shot at more featured time slots, a place on a channel that now has double the distribution, a chance to take advantage of any other big pick-ups NBC adds down the line, and a return to broadcast television. The MLS Cup will remain on ESPN for the time being, but MLS’ choice is to stay on ESPN or leave primetime – though they may want to unify their English-language coverage under one banner in three years, and I have a feeling NBC/Comcast may wind up with a better shot at it then than ESPN. It’s also bad news for Fox Soccer, for whom MLS was their main summer attraction. This move had been rumored in the past, especially when MLS went past their schedule announcement without a deal with Fox Soccer this season and considered buying time on Versus.
  • On the other hand, ABC managed to renew their relationship with the IndyCar series, despite some thinking that the whole series might be unified under the NBC banner after Versus took the cable contract some years back. This means ABC will maintain its long association with the Indy 500 that will now extend for more than half a century.

I’m undecided over whether to count MLS on my scorecard – I didn’t count when Fox picked up rights to Conference USA. MLS gets more press, but miniscule ratings. Should I count neither, both, or just one or the other? (I really need to update my Sports TV Contracts list from the first year of Da Blog…)

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 11/22-23

All times PST.

Saturday
9-12:30 PM: College football, Yale @ Harvard (VS). You know how, when a week of college football is crap all around, “College Gameday” will sometimes go to a I-AA or lower matchup? In the early time slot, this is one of those weeks.

12:30-4 PM: College football, Michigan State @ #6 Penn State (ABC/ESPN). Oh wait, everyone hates the Big Ten.

5-8:30 PM: College football, defending Princeton-Yale titleholder #5 Texas Tech @ #4 Oklahoma (ABC). The latest Game of the Century just to come out of the Big 12. And the Title Game – which could have more impact on the BCS than any of the other Games – is still a couple weeks off.

Sunday
9:30-12 PM: NBA Basketball, Celtics @ Raptors (CBC). This will probably fill our NBA quota on weekends until college football season ends, and maybe after.

12:30-2:30 PM: MLS Soccer, MLS Cup (ABC). Sadly, the main reason I’ve been ignoring the MLS is because their weekend games have been on eminently-ignorable Fox Soccer Channel. My soccer-crazed dad has asked me to include this paragraph: “To borrow a theme from John McCain, David Beckham is one of the biggest celebrities in the world. He is not, however the best player in MLS. That honor will go to either the Columbus Crew’s brilliant Argentinian Guillermo Schelotto – who led Boca Jumiors to several Argentine Championships between 1997 and 2007 – and The New York Red Bulls Juan Pablo Angel – who comes to MLS from Columbia. So this might not be ABC’s “Marquee matchup,” of say, Beckham’s Galaxy against Cuahtemoc Blanco’s Chicago Fire. It is, though, an intriguing matchup of two hot teams with brilliant star players. I will be watching.”

5:15-8:30 PM: NFL Football, Colts @ Chargers (NBC). Because the MLS Cup knocks out both of the regular doubleheader spots. At least it’s a lineal title defense.

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 11/8-9

I think I need to take another break from the Watcher in a few weeks. All times PST.

Saturday
9-12:30 PM: College football, #20 Georgia Tech @ #16 North Carolina (Raycom Sports). Wait, why didn’t ABC pick this up for their ACC package? Clemson-Florida State? The Bowden Bowl is less than pointless this year!

12:30-4 PM: College football, #2 Penn State @ #19 Iowa (ABC/ESPN). There are no fewer than six games between two teams ranked in my Top 25 this week!

4-7:30 PM: College football, Kansas State @ #7 Missouri (FSN). The item below bumps out the latest Big 12 Battle of the Century.

7:30-9:30 PM: MLS Soccer, Real Salt Lake @ Chivas USA (Fox Soccer Channel). Didn’t we just do this last week? Who cares about a team with a name like Real Salt Lake?

Sunday
10-12:30 PM: NBA Basketball, Raptors @ Bobcats (CBC). Wait, the Raptors are on a national network that penetrates into parts of the United States???

12-4 PM: NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing, Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil (ABC). Judging by the ads, the Chase is actually getting interesting???

Honorable Mention: 1-3 PM: PBR Rodeo, Built Ford Tough World Finals (NBC). Thank God for NASCAR bumping this bleep off the Watcher.

5-8:30 PM: NFL Football, Giants @ Eagles (NBC). Flex Scheduling Watch is probably coming later tonight, folks.

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 11/1-2 (with a Halloween bonus!)

All times PDT, or PST, as applicable. I briefly forgot I had set this for the morning…

Friday
5-7:30 PM: NBA Basketball, Bulls @ Celtics (ESPN). Whatever.

7:30-10 PM: NBA Basketball, Spurs @ Trail Blazers (ESPN). Without Oden it’s just “Spurs @ a non-playoff team that doesn’t have its much-hyped superstar that’s proving to be Sam Bowie 2.0”.

Saturday
9-12:30 PM: College football, Miami (FL) @ Virginia (Raycom). Probably the only ACC game I’m going to spotlight all year.

12:30-4 PM: College football, defending 2008 BCS titleholder #2 Florida v. #11 Georgia (CBS). I’m going to be watching this but mostly writing my platform examinations. Speaking of which, due to rain any examinations I complete today won’t be posted until after 9 PM PT.

3-5 PM: MLS Soccer, Chivas USA @ Real Salt Lake (Fox Soccer Channel). The other two MLS playoff games today would have fit in perfectly well on one tripleheader, but only this game is on TV.

5-8:30 PM: College football, defending Princeton-Yale titleholder #1 Texas @ #6 Texas Tech (ABC). Watching this while writing examinations as well.

Sunday
12-4:30 PM: NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing, Dickies 500 (ABC). You can tell we’re in the home stretch of the Chase when the start times start moving to noon PT.

5-8:30 PM: NFL Football, Patriots @ Colts (NBC). Without Tom Brady and the Colts being any good it’s just “a possible wild card contender with a nobody QB @ a total scrub team”.

Wait, WHAT? The MLS edition!

Take a look at the “About Major League Soccer” list at the end of the article: MLS is expanding to Philadelphia and no one told me? They’re quadrilateraling and no one told me?!? (The WNBA really needs to get on the ball here!)

MLS already has 16 teams as of 2010 – the addition of Philly will re-balance the conferences at 8 apiece – and will add two more later, as will be announced either later this year or early next, which is insane. You might want to think about breaking them up into divisions within the conferences at this point, certainly once you hit 20.

So with Philly, Atlanta becomes the largest Nielsen market without an MLS team, and – ta da! – Atlanta is one of the teams on the short list of potential expansion candidates. (Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver are among the others? Is soccer THAT big in Canada?) Detroit is the largest 2000-definition metro area without an MLS team (followed by Atlanta) and is next on the list of Nielsen markets, but isn’t on the short list to get a team. Instead, it’s Miami (repeating a bad experience and leapfrogging fellow-Florida-bad-experiencer Tampa, along with Phoenix and the Twin Cities, on the Nielsen market list)… along with St. Louis and Portland, the #21 and #22 media markets respectively?!? It’s not even as small as #31-33 KC, Columbus and Salt Lake, but… they really are going for soccer markets, and I didn’t even think St. Louis was that big on soccer. Maybe they’ve seen Wizards viewership numbers.

St. Louis is #18 on the metro areas list but, in addition to all the ones above except Tampa, leapfrogs Cleveland (who pays attention to Columbus just like in hockey) and San Diego (weren’t they supposed to get Chivas USA at one point?), and Cleveland, Orlando, and Sacramento on the markets list (the latter two are stepbrothers to larger nearby markets everywhere except the NBA anyway – but then again, so is Portland). On the metro areas list Portland also leapfrogs Tampa and Pittsburgh (who’s right behind it on the markets list).

(Worth noting: Most of the cities on the list would also be in the Eastern Conference, necessitating Kansas City to move West. Portland and Vancouver are the only exceptions.)

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 6/28-29

All times PDT.

Saturday
9-12 PM: Tennis, Wimbledon, 3rd round action (NBC). The reason why the 3rd round gets this spot and the 4th round doesn’t is because I actually have something to fill this spot tomorrow.

1-3:30 PM: Arena Football, Colorado @ Utah (ESPN). The playoffs are in full swing so the Arena League appears every week through ArenaBowl.

5-7 PM: IndyCar Racing, IndyCar 300 at Richmond (ESPN). Hey, NASCAR causes interference too often and this is the one sport I watch every time it’s on. If you think NASCAR is just a bunch of cars going around in circles, maybe the real problem is it’s too slow.

8-9 PM: US Olympic Trials, Track and Field (NBC). Same on both coasts so it interferes with the IndyCar on the East Coast.

9-2 AM: Boxing, Manny Pacquito v. David Diaz (PPV). Same on both coasts again, so it interferes with the IndyCar – just barely – on the East Coast.
Sunday
9-11 AM: MLS Soccer, Los Angeles @ DC United (ABC). “Soccer is so boring, it’s just a bunch of passing a ball back and — OMG IT’S BECKHAM OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!!!!11!!11!111!1!!!!eleven!”

12-3 PM: LPGA Golf, US Women’s Open, final round (NBC). It’s the Annika Sorenstam farewell tour! Those other golfers expected to pick up the slack? Who cares about them? No one cares about the male golfers not named Tiger.

Honorable Mention: 11:30-1:30 PM: UEFA Soccer, Euro 2008, final (ABC). Because Dad will kill me if I don’t mention this at least once. You could watch the soccer and switch to golf at 1:30, but then you only catch an hour and a half of golf. Wasn’t Euro 2004 mostly on pay-per-view? Now the final is airing on broadcast television and the US doesn’t even have a horse in the race anywhere! And last month the Champions League final was made into a fairly big deal on ESPN2!

(The really odd part? The only other game in the tournament on ABC was a quarterfinal last week. And ESPN2 showed one of the semifinals Thursday because of the US Women’s Open, whereas all the non-ABC quarterfinals are on regular ESPN. Huh?)

5-8 PM: MLB Baseball, Chicago Cubs @ Chicago White Sox (ESPN). This is “ESPN Sunday Night Baseball presented by Taco Bell Part of AL/NL Showdown presented by State Farm”. No further comment needed.

8-9 PM: US Olympic Trials, Swimming (NBC). Same on both coasts again, but ironically, that means the Track and Field trials the previous hour interferes with baseball on the West Coast but not on the East Coast!

One last thing… Sports Watcher just might continue past August. I’m starting to get into a bit more of a groove. Stay tuned.