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Volume 22 No. 26
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Shared venues, international play challenge MLS’s scheduler

In addition to internal business consulting with MLS clubs, Brad Pursel is assigned with creating Major League Soccer’s annual match schedule, which requires him to juggle a host of special requests. Pursel has been with MLS since 1998 and has overseen the league’s calendar since 2002. Staff writer Fred Dreier caught up with Pursel, to discuss how the task, which is almost a yearlong effort, plays out.

Describe the process you go through in designing the schedule.

Pursel's planning of the MLS schedule is a nearly yearlong effort.
Photo by: MLS / SUM
PURSEL: We start in the springtime and have various committee meetings at the [league-level] board and club level to discuss different formats and design a competition format that is fair from a competitive side. Then we coordinate with the TV partners in the fall to discuss windows with them and change things based on time slots. Once we get down to November and December, the real knock-down, drag-out decisions are made, and we put it all together.

How do you integrate requests from teams and broadcast partners?

PURSEL: I develop a questionnaire for each club, and it goes out in early September. They have to identify the number of blackout dates the stadium has and the handful of preferred dates that they absolutely want to be at home. Since the [Los Angeles] Galaxy and Chivas play at the Home Depot Center, they are the first teams I set because there is no wiggle room for changing dates. Vancouver is another challenge because they share [BC Place] with the [Canadian Football League] BC Lions. With TV partners, that is done in face-to-face meetings and verbal discussions.

What is the hierarchy that the TV partners have, and how do you manage conflicting requests?

PURSEL: The big markets like New York and L.A., the partners want to involve them as much as possible. ESPN is our longest [standing] partner, so we work with ESPN first. We’ve developed a relationship with them so they know there are other national TV partners involved, and we haven’t gotten to a point where we’ve had to veto a request. We’ve started working with NBC, and so far, it’s still a coordinated effort.

How do you accommodate the schedule of international tournaments?

PURSEL: It’s very complex with the World Cup every four years and qualifiers every two years. Our best players get called away. Those [schedules] are set in advance so they provide the framework, which helps us lay our schedule around the international calendar. With the Gold Cup and [CONCACAF] Champions League, those fall in the heart of the season and are real challenges.

This year the league says it will have the schedule ready by January, earlier than in years past. How did you accomplish that?

PURSEL: The process started earlier and we made key decisions earlier. We announced the home opener dates and opening weekend TV schedule to allow clubs to make plans in their home communities. It was an internal policy to accomplish that.