The Throw-In: You want tradition? Why not schedule MLS Cup on Thanksgiving weekend?
The word that gets thrown around the most this time of year is “tradition.”
It’s why we stuff our faces full of turkey and assorted starchy side dishes. It’s why we brave the busiest and consistently worst travel conditions of the calendar year.
It’s why we, for some godforsaken reason, continuously stomach the Detroit Lions on national TV (respect to the Motor City) as well as the Dallas Cowboys and, nowadays, a third NFL game on turkey day to distract us.
It's all good. It’s pure Americana, all woven into the fabric of what unites families for a few days every fall, and by definition, is something of a comfy, warm blanket we all can depend on this time of year. It’s a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.
Maybe it’s time to add another tradition to Thanksgiving weekend: MLS Cup.
As much attention as we pay Major League Soccer’s own big game, let’s be honest: It could be so, so much bigger.
Thankfully, we’ve been treated to some really good finals in recent years, which isn’t always the case in pro sports. The problem is, the date of the game has moved around too much as the league has grown and the schedule expanded.
As recently as two years ago, everyone around MLS always circled Thanksgiving as a date when the marathon season was over. Cup was done and dusted and everyone welcomed a break before hitting the reset button.
But last year, with 19 teams stretching the schedule further than ever, we had the first MLS Cup in December. This year, it’s pushed even a week later than last and probably won’t change drastically in 2014.
That’s a problem in my mind. As Major League Soccer approaches a landmark television deal and wraps its arms around how it’s going to be among the biggest and most popular leagues in the world by the end of the decade, it needs to keep working to solidify a consistent image.
Part of that is by giving fans and potential fans a better idea of exactly where and when to find it. Commissioner Don Garber has acknowledged as much, and it’s no secret why the league has scheduled more and more Friday night games over the past few years, culminating with 25 in 2014 – the most ever.
The hope is that perhaps Friday can become to MLS what Saturday is to the English Premier League, or what Monday night is to the NFL. Those are days essentially branded by those leagues, and fans literally plan out their weeks with the games in mind.
But there’s an easier way to start, too. These leagues are also well-known for their showpiece events. That means Thanksgiving Day games for American football, and for every single professional team in the UK, matches on Boxing Day. College football still maintains high-profile bowl games on New Years Day. The NBA has scored a hit with big-ticket games on Christmas.
Fans know where and when to find these games, and they flock to them as part of their holiday experience.
MLS wants to drive its flag deeper into the American sporting landscape? Well, this is the way to do it. Make MLS Cup a tradition by giving it an established, traditional time slot during the festive season.
Funny enough, this has been considered by the execs in Midtown Manhattan. Scheduling Cup on Thanksgiving Day has been suggested in the past, but was an idea that was quickly passed over due to a number of logistical reasons that are legitimate ones: limited TV time slots, big competition from the NFL and prohibitively expensive travel for teams, fans and league employees.
That makes perfect sense, especially over the past decade. But I believe that if MLS is to realize its ambitions of a more prominent place at the world table, it’s going to have to figure out a way to take these sacred cows head on at some point.
Maybe claiming Thanksgiving Day proper is the wrong fight. But what’s wrong with branding Black Friday as MLS Cup day? Or even the Saturday after Thanksgiving?
It’s time to make a new Thanksgiving tradition, and that could start right here if the league were willing to take a chance like this.
Otherwise, we’ll all just remember this time of year as the anniversary of the Butt Fumble.
America can do a lot better than that.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.