As we wind down the month of October, another edition of 2 for 3K is upon us.
We’ve got two completely different subjects in the sports world in approximately 3,000 words (and in today’s case, it’s exactly 3,000 words). Let’s get to it.
By Collin Giuliani – Lead NFL Writer – @CollinGiuliani
It’s natural to not want change and to stick to the status quo. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? That’s exactly what the Yahoo stream of Jaguars/Bills at Wembley Stadium was – one of the biggest experiments in the history of the league. Luckily for the NFL, they got one of the best games of the season out of it; Jacksonville was up 27-3, blew the lead to trail Buffalo 31-27, then scored the game-winning touchdown with over two minutes left to win 34-31. There was the experiment of playing a game in London in direct competition to a semi-final match in the Rugby World Cup at Twickenham Stadium in London.
And then, there was the experiment of streaming a game over Yahoo. The league has never streamed a game online before as the only means of watching it; unless you were in the Buffalo or Jacksonville area, you could not watch the game on television. Yahoo paid $20 million for the rights to the game between two of the least popular teams in the league. And, I was skeptical, to say the least. How could you not be? When your team (the Jaguars) is involved in an experiment like this, and Yahoo had never streamed an NFL game prior to this (not even a preseason game), it’s normal to be a bit pessimistic.
Let me just take this moment to apologize to Yahoo for doubting you. Because that was the greatest stream I had ever seen in my life.
For all of the Jags games that I don’t go to, I watch on my computer via the Sunday Ticket streaming service. The streaming quality there is okay, though it’s nothing spectacular. It does freeze occasionally, and sometimes does pixelate. However, once it’s up and running, there are little to no problems. Still, it can be frustrating. Sometimes, it does take a refreshing or two of the page to get the program back up and running again. It’s a good service, but it’s not perfect.
If every stream was like the Yahoo stream, I would never worry about not being able to watch a game again. The picture quality was flawless, and it looked crystal clear as though I was watching a game in HD. There was, maybe, a five-second buffer during a commercial, but other than that, the game never paused or slowed down once, and remained at that high quality picture for the entire duration of the game. I was definitely worried that Yahoo would find a way to mess this up; the streams could’ve buffered dramatically, they may not have had the servers to handle fifteen million people watching the game, and they could’ve bombarded the homepage with advertisements. Instead, it was an incredible streaming experience.
You can bet that the NFL is taking note of this. If one game between the two least popular teams in the NFL can generate 15 million viewers and can draw $20 million from Yahoo for the rights, then imagine what future games will do. Imagine if every international game was played on a site like Yahoo, which would include four London games next year plus a Mexico City game (nothing has been confirmed yet, but that’s looking likely for 2016). Jaguars/Bills as purely an experiment drew $20 million. Four London games, plus a Mexico City game that could be in a prime spot, could get $150 million next year combined. Advertising money was just over $50,000 for a 30-second advertisement. Now that the league knows what these games can make in terms of viewership, that’s going to increase dramatically.
This was a monumental step forward for the league. It was the first time ever that anyone around the world could watch a game for free. And it worked. It was the first time ever that a game was being streamed. And it worked, with no technical difficulties whatsoever. This is not just going to be a one-off thing. I guarantee that this won’t be the last time that we see a game be streamed by the league, as this is only the beginning. Are we ready to put big time games on there yet? No, and I don’t think we’ll ever reach the day where the only way to watch the Super Bowl is to live stream it off the computer (I’m not sure if there are enough servers in the world that could handle that). However, we’re getting to the point where streaming could be a viable option and not just a novelty way to watch a game. The league took a huge risk with this experiment, and it worked wonders.
Decision Day Delivers
Even though soccer is growing in the United States, there are a lot of things about the sport that will never catch on with regards to other leagues. You’re not going to see football or baseball eliminate commercials and have a continuous clock. You’re not going to see yellow or red cards issued in other sports, you’re not going to see playoff series become home-and-home series where the result is decided by goal aggregate, and you’re not going to see other leagues in the USA having away sections in stadiums or having elaborate tifos. Simply put, it is just part of the culture of sports in the United States.
However, there’s one thing that soccer does incredibly well – that is the final day of the season. Again, this is a European website, so many, if not, all leagues in Europe follow a similar practice, where every game on the final day of the season is played at the exact same time. Following the Disgrace of Gijon at the 1982 World Cup, you’ve seen the World Cup do the same thing, where all games in the group are played at the same time. It seems like a normal and common sense thing to do; no games are impacted by the results of other games around the league, no games can be fixed, no team can have an unfair advantage, and it adds excitement to the last day of the season.
This is not a thing in America. When I saw it in action for the first time, though, it absolutely blew my mind.
I remember where I was when Manchester City defeated QPR on the last day of the 2011-12 Premier League season. I’m not a fan of either side (I became a Fulham fan in the 2013-14 once Shad Khan bought the team and once the Premier League became much more accessible in the United States; of course, things haven’t exactly worked out, but that’s besides the point), but ESPN was showing that game, while ESPN2 was showing the Manchester United game. I remember seeing the scenes at Sunderland of Manchester United fans listening on the radio to what was happening over at The Etihad. I remember seeing Sergio Aguero put the ball in the back of the net with virtually no time left, and seeing the stadium erupt while the Stadium of Light went into silence with the remaining Manchester United fans left. This was the first exposure that many Americans had to playing games simultaneously on the last day of the season, and it was awesome. It was revolutionary. Even though it seems like such an obvious concept, and even though Europeans were born into it and don’t know any better, it was unheard of in American sports.
And, after years and years of wondering why the Europeans do it better than the Americans, and wondering whether or not the system will ever be changed in America, it’s finally happening. Not all leagues are doing this, but you’re starting to see a shift in how the final day of the season is being played.
I bring this up in today’s 2 for 3K because Major League Soccer just concluded their regular season, and tonight, will begin their post-season. Whether or not you agree with 12 teams out of 20 making the post-season is a completely different argument; however, the final day of the Major League Soccer season this year was jam-packed and action-filled. It was the first time that MLS had this, and they called it Decision Day. All of the Eastern Conference games were played at 5:00 PM on October 25, and all of the Western Conference games were played at 7:00 (note that the Eastern Conference games had no bearing on the Western Conference games, and the one game that did, which involved the New York Red Bulls fighting for the Supporters Shield with a Western Conference team, was moved to 7:00 to be played simultaneously with that conference). For MLS fans, this was awesome. Decision Day worked, and it looks like it is here to stay.
Now, it’s time to bring it to the other four professional leagues in the USA. While MLS is creeping up and is starting to become that fifth league that warrants discussion similar to other leagues, for years, the Big Four of American sports are the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL.
To MLB’s credit, they did that this year. All of their games on the final day of the regular season started at 3:05 EST, and the only one that didn’t (Cardinals/Braves) was because it had to be played as a doubleheader due to rain from the previous day, and because the Cardinals had already clinched the #1 seed in the National League while the Braves were already eliminated from the postseason (so the game had no implications whatsoever). I didn’t agree with the decision to go directly against the NFL (and this was evidenced by the fact that the very next day on SportsCenter, the first mention of the final day of the MLB season was 20 minutes into the program), and thought that they should’ve ended the season on a Tuesday or a Wednesday so that they would dominate the programming, but regardless, the idea was good, even if the execution was a bit off. Now, it’s time for the other leagues to start doing something similar.
In the NBA, there are 30 teams. Yet, only 14 games (28 teams) are being played on April 13, 2016, which is the final day of the 2015-16 NBA regular season. The New York Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder will not be playing on the final day of the season for some reason. Additionally, as of now, the timing of the games is all off; the New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves are both in the Western Conference and will play each other at 8:00, while other Western Conference teams are playing at 10:30. Those times are not yet fixed and set in stone, but it still doesn’t make sense that some teams in the same conference are playing games at different times, and that some teams are not playing at all. To the league’s credit, all of the games on the final day of the season are played by two teams in the same conference, so the odds of games meaning more are increased significantly. Still, there’s work to be done.
How would I fix this? It’s tougher in America to play all games at the same time on a weeknight because of the differences in time zones; you’re not going to start a game at 7:00 PM EST in Los Angeles, and you’re not going to start a game at 10:30 PM EST in Philadelphia. However, there is a solution. For one, every team plays on the last day of the season. Because there are fifteen teams in each conference, one of the matchups is going to have to be between two teams in different conferences. That matchup would be between the two worst teams in the league from the previous season. The reasoning for that is simple – the odds that those two teams make the playoffs are slim, so the game will likely mean nothing anyway. All of the games between Eastern Conference teams start at 7:00 PM, and all of the games between Western Conference teams start at 9:30 PM. Adam Silver is a very good and very progressive commissioner; when he banned Donald Sterling for life, doing what nobody thought he would, he not only brought back the league’s credibility which was lost in the final years of the David Stern regime, but he put his foot down. He’s a very forward thinker, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see something like this occur soon.
In the NHL, much like in the NBA, there are 30 teams. However, where the NHL differs is that there are 14 teams in the Western Conference and 16 teams in the Eastern Conference, so the balance is there. And, the league is off to a pretty good start already; all 30 teams play on the final day of the season. The execution, though, is horrible. There’s no reason why Chicago should be playing Columbus on the final day, and there’s no reason why Washington should be playing St. Louis, because both of those teams are in different conferences. When you have even divisions in the Eastern Conference, every game should be played within the division; there’s no reason why Buffalo (in the Atlantic Division) should play the New York Islanders (in the Metropolitan Division), and there’s no reason why Carolina (in the Metropolitan Division) should play Florida (in the Atlantic Division). The timing is also off; two games are being played at 12:30 PM, one game is being played at 3:00, one game at 5:30, five games at 7:00, one game at 7:30, two games at 8:00, two games at 10:00, and one game at 10:30.
How would I fix this? For one, every game starts at the same time depending on the conference. All of the Eastern Conference games start at 3:00, while all of the Western Conference games start at 7:00. Seems like a simple solution, instead of starting every game in a random span of ten hours. All games are played not only within the conference, but within the division as well. The one exception would be in the Western Conference, because there are two divisions of seven teams each. However, there is a solution – in the Western Conference, the two worst teams in each division from the previous year would play each other on the final day of the season. With the way hockey is structured (a faster paced version of soccer), a final day like this could be just what the league is looking for.
Now, we move to the granddaddy of all American sports, the National Football League. There used to be a time where the final day of the NFL season was a complete and utter mess. Teams from the AFC would play teams from the NFC, the Sunday Night Football game could not be flexed (so if you had two teams below .500 in a game with no implications whatsoever, you couldn’t change it, even if there was a better game on television), and games would be played at different times, even if the implications from one game impact the other. The worst indication of this was when the Jets played the Bengals on the final day of the 2009 regular season, and the Jets needed a win to get into the playoffs. Because the Bengals were already in, they rested everyone, allowing the Jets to unfairly cakewalk into the post-season.
The system has changed somewhat. It is possible to flex games now, and NBC does not schedule a Sunday Night Football game until the end of week sixteen to ensure the best possible matchup. All games on week 17 are played within the division, so the odds of a meaningful game occurring increase dramatically. And, most of the time, games that have direct implications on one another are played at the same time (for example, in 2010, all of the AFC South games were played at 4:00 because the Colts and Jaguars had a shot at winning the division but were not playing against each other).
Still, the NFL system could use some tweaking. My solution is very similar to what I’ve proposed for the other two leagues – all of the AFC games are played at 1:00, and all of the NFC games are played at 4:25. This would alternate every year. There was a situation a few years ago where the Chargers played the Chiefs at a later time than the Steelers, even though the result of the Chargers’ game impacted the Steelers and their playoff hopes. The Sunday Night Football game would be a game with playoff implications, yet would have no direct impact on other teams (for example, last year, the Panthers played the Falcons for the NFC South; the winner was guaranteed to be the #4 seed, while the loser was eliminated, regardless of any other result that occurred that day).
Imagine watching the RedZone as all of these games are winding down? Imagine watching that channel at 4:00, when seven or eight AFC games are all ending at once, and most of the results matter in some way? Imagine the pandemonium that would occur? That’s how the Premier League does it, and it has worked wonders. You’re starting to see other leagues in America trying to implement similar systems and find ways to make the final day more exciting, but the perfect system is the one that soccer uses. It’s time that the NBA, NHL and NFL (because MLB already did this in 2015, although the execution wasn’t great) implement this system. It’s not that hard, and it creates tons of excitement. Considering the fact that sports is all about excitement and ratings, it’s the surest way to ensure excitement on that final day.