Until a few weeks ago, there was a regular ritual on English Premier League Saturdays on twitter. English people would suddenly start talking about a TV show, "Match of the Day," where they would show highlights of all the games and have pundits sit around and talk about said games. Considering American sports have shows of their own devoted to this type of programming, with my favorite of the bunch being TNT's "Inside the NBA," I could imagine how this show worked.
But whether it is because of the historical dominance of the BBC in English homes or the fact that the show is an absolute juggernaut, I was always pretty amazed at how much the program would drive the conversation, for good and for bad, every week.
Then, NBC rolled out its new EPL set-up earlier this month, and along with the games, they brought an American version of "Match of the Day" to their programming.
After just two weekends, I'm prepared to declare it my new favorite sports show.
I have no idea how this American version compares to the English original, but it ticks off many, many boxes for my soccer needs. I live in California and I have never been an early riser, especially on weekends. I like watching EPL games, but I don't follow a particular team, so sometimes I DVR games that I have no intention of waking up early to see, and sometimes I just see what's on when I wake up. If your household is like mine, the DVR fills up fast, and so if I tape a game or multiple games, I better watch it that day or else the DVR will start eating older shows.
Sometimes, taping a game is smart, but sometimes, it can lead to a blah 0-0 draw. I want to give the unfancied teams a chance, but I also want to find an entertaining game or two to watch. Basically, it's a crapshoot.
But not anymore. Beyond the other soccer shows that have been launched in recent weeks, like "ESPN FC" and "Fox Soccer Daily," "Match of the Day" not only shows extended highlights of the match, with the original commentary from the game itself, but most games also get several minutes of discussion devoted to it by the pundits, who have so far been Robbie Mustoe and either Kyle Martino or Robbie Earle. Their tone is calm, but they are informed about the team and players they discuss, and the points they make sometimes have real insight behind them.
The other aspect I've been impressed with on "Match of the Day" has been the diagramming and video-assisted explanations provided so far. Taking a page from ESPN's video work during major international tournaments, the Robbies and/or Kyle do a good job explaining a tactical move that has or has not paid off, or explain how the goal was set up using the tools, but without getting too crazy with the graphics and non-essential multimedia clutter. My only critique on this is that I wish they did these segments with more games, as they did it a few times the first weekend and I think they only did it once the second weekend.
Now, you may be reading this and saying, "So what's new? It doesn't sound like they are reinventing the wheel here." No, they're not. They're mostly taking a successful formula and either bringing it to the States or bringing it to the EPL, depending on your geographical orientation.
But beyond being a good show, it provides several advantages to soccer fans who are interested in what's happening, but can't DVR and/or live watch every game every weekend. If you are too lazy to wake up, like me, you can watch everything that happened on Saturday, plus good analysis, in two hours on Saturday evening (for weeks with multiple Sunday games, they have also done a one hour "Match of the Day II" Sunday evenings). You can see more than just a couple of quick goal highlights, plus you get to hear reasonable people spend a few minutes discussing some of the talking points of each game. It's brilliant in its simplicity.
So that takes me to my next point: MLS totally needs a comprehensive version of "Match of the Day."
Think about it - like any sports league, it's really hard for most people to keep up with everything going on in that league. MLSsoccer.com provides free highlights videos of each and every game, but it is up to the fan him/herself to click on each game, to read the various analyses (keep doing that, by the way, please) and listen to the various podcasts. Like the EPL, a "Match of the Day" program wouldn't be the be all and end all of all that coverage, but it would help provide fans with an outlet to stay caught up on everything happening on a weekly basis. It sounds simple. But it would be genius, and help expose potential fans to the ins and outs of the games in the league.
Now, I realize why there hasn't been a comprehensive MLS-only highlights show to this point: TV rights. Major networks divide some of the games among themselves nationally, so NBC gets some, ESPN gets some, and Univision gets some this year (not to mention TSN in Canada). The network that would be best-primed at the moment nationally to do a "Match of the Day" MLS program is NBC, but they only own the rights to a fraction of the league's games. So they would have to pay all the other networks, including the local networks that show most games in MLS, quite a bit of money. In contrast, "Match of the Day" circumvents this obstacle in both Britain and the United States, most notably in the U.S. because NBC has exclusive rights to show all of the EPL games this season.
The other obstacle is demand. It's no secret that national TV ratings have not grown as much as boosters of MLS would have hoped by now. Although they are growing, it raises a valid point when it comes to any auxiliary programming - would enough people care to watch? I honestly don't know what a good audience range would have to be in order for a network to take the leap.
But let's think about this in a world without those obstacles. Watching extended highlights and analysis from seven matches or so in a two hour block sounds like a good idea, right? It's a formula that already works well in England, and has gotten off to a flying start so far in the U.S. It would be nice for the American and Canadian league to find a way to get that treatment as well, and the sooner the better.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!