On Wednesday, the 2015 season schedule was unveiled, and almost immediately, there was an uproar among LA Galaxy Supporters on social media about the timing of key away games. I talked to Brownie, a prominent Angel City Brigade member, to see what the fuss was about.
"Supporters get mad every year," he says, "because MLS gears their scheduling towards the TV networks and not the fans."
At the heart of the conflict is what fans see as crucial away games that the schedule makes it near impossible for fans to travel to.
"LA vs San Jose in the new San Jose stadium is on a Friday," he snarled. He also complained about both the RSL and Vancouver away games falling on a Wednesday.
"Really it breaks down to taking time off of work. Some people just can't do it for Wednesday games and you don't want to feel rushed if you're flying out to a different state [for a Friday game]." He pointed out that scheduling like this makes it especially hard on West Coast fans, since, unlike the East Coast, the teams are very spread out Geographically. "LA's closes rival is 6 and a half hours away by bus," he pointed out, referring of course to the San Jose Earthquakes.
In fact, not counting Chivas USA "away" games last year, LA's closest away trip was actually to a different country. Hundreds of LA fans made the trip across the border to see the Galaxy take on Club Tijuana in the CONCACAF Champions League, and probably hundreds more would have made the trip had the game not occurred midweek. Of course there are no complaints there, as that is when CCL games are played, however it does demonstrate a point. Galaxy fans already face major hurdles when it comes to away games. Some are geographic. Imagine the traveling support you'd see from Galaxy fans if RSL or Seattle were as close as Tijuana.
Other obstacles, as Brownie pointed out, come directly from how the games are scheduled.
Now some fans around the country may not buy these excuses, as Portland and Seattle seemingly always show up in huge numbers when they come to LA, and yet, the fan bases are different.
For one, both Portland and Seattle are popular, trendy MLS 2.0 clubs, and as a result, many of their traveling supporters are locally based. When Seattle comes to LA, a lot of that support you are seeing is actually coming from the SoCal Sound.
Second, the Timbers and Sounders simply have more affluent fans. There's a reason why Seattle pulls the best west coast ratings for Premier League games on NBC. That is a league that thrives on affluent viewers ages 18 to 49. And I'm not just pulling this out of my ass, NBC Sports Executive Vice President of Sales told the New York Times as much in a 2013 interview.
A market like Seattle is an outlier in a league where nearly 40% of the fans make under 40k a year, according to a study by Nielsen in 2013. As Brownie alluded to, a large portion of MLS fans simply do not have jobs where they can get a Wednesday off to fly to Salt Lake City to support their team.
At the same time however, MLS would be foolish to ditch their TV contracts in order to ensure their games are being played in prime-time. MLS cannot exist without TV, and MLS ratings simply don't justify prime-time spots. Until MLS starts pulling in big boy ratings, MLS supporters on the west coast will continue to get the short end of the scheduling stick.