Wednesday's soccer news starts with Major League Baseball's potential tweak to its playoff system. A league that spent decades with only two teams advancing directly to the World Series now has a multi-tiered structure with a knockout round. It's the knockout round that may be getting a different look, with MLB reportedly wanting to bring the total playoff pool to seven teams in each league from the current five. That could happen as soon as 2022.
According to a report by the New York Post's Joel Sherman, the playoffs would add a team and a choice. The team that finishes second in the league and wins its division would pick its first round playoff opponent from the three wildcard teams. If that sounds like a created problem in search of an unnecessary answer, then you can go ahead and imagine the response. It's almost like expanded playoffs always teeter on the brink of artifice, reminding people that there are obvious ways to determine a league champion.
UEFA's Champions League isn't a league. It's an extended playoff borrowing the World Cup group stage concept and extending it over the standard European club calendar. That's not enough, of course. UEFA is also in the expansion business, facing pressure from some parts of its membership to add more games and guaranteed places. Unlike baseball, UEFA faces the threat of that part of its membership breaking away entirely. Baseball may be facing the existential threat of an aging fanbase and declining interest, but it's not as imminent as UEFA's need to please the elite clubs in time for the next TV deal.
Baseball also isn't the only North American sports league reconsidering its schedule. The National Basketball Association is reportedly considering borrowing the domestic cup idea from soccer leagues all over the world. The National Football League wants either a 17th regular season game or another round of playoffs. MLS has already compacted its schedule and switched all rounds of the playoffs to one-game knockouts.
All of those are attempts to address the attention span of the contemporary sports audience. For all the business-speak that amplifies the value of broadcasting live sports events, most of us have plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest a change in viewership. People seem to like watching highlights on their phones rather than committing to multiple hours in front of the television or going to games in person. It doesn't take vital metrics tracking changing viewership and generational gaps to figure that out.
How pro sports organizations address that is the big picture question all over the world. FIFA's response is expanding the Club World Cup for next summer and the World Cup for 2026. UEFA did the same with the European championship and is adding a third club competition. They're answering with quantity while MLS moved to scarcity. Fewer playoff games with more on the line, something that only the National Football League has in North America. Baseball seems to be embracing novelty. If that works, other leagues will undoubtedly follow. That's the game right now in pro sports, trying to maintain what they already have to sustain the era of massive broadcast rights fees.
Also in the soccer news, former USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann is no longer the coach of Hertha BSC. Klinsmann took the job in December through the end of the Bundesliga season. Hertha is in 14th-place, six points above the relegation playoff spot.
"We were very surprised by what happened this morning," Hertha BSC general manager Michael Preetz said in a press statement. "There were no previous indications of this decision, especially after the support shown throughout a busy winter transfer market in regards to signings."
In a Facebook post, Klinsmann wrote, "especially in the relegation fight, unity, cohesion and focus on the essentials are the most important elements. If they are not guaranteed, I can't take advantage of my potential as a trainer and can't live up to my responsibility either." Klinsmann confirmed that he remains an advisor to the club.
Football Italia's Emmet Gates considers the options for Juventus with Inter Milan now in 1st-place on goal difference. Inside World Football's Samindra Kunti explains the financial issues for the Belgian Pro League. The Guardian's David Conn looks at the situation with Oldham Athletic in League Two. The Independent's Tony Evans has the Chinese Super League waiting on a start date.
The Athletic's Sam Stejskal explains MLS interest in recruiting players from Brazilian clubs. The Canadian Press reports that Ignacio Piatti is leaving the Montreal Impact for San Lorenzo in Argentina.
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