Here’s the $64 dollar question from Week 18: why was Toronto FC v. LA Galaxy televised on ESPN2?
(And, no, that’s not a typo: this is MLS; we don’t do $64,000.)
On one level, I can almost hear the calculations that ESPN’s honchos applied to this: well, David Beckham might play and, even if he doesn’t, the fans in Toronto put on an all right show, right? Hell with it; pull the trigger.
Then, however, it becomes more and more apparent as the week passes that Becks won’t play, but instead will show up looking sharp, but uninvolved, in his Hugo Boss. And, at that point, the writing is, or should have been, on the wall: ESPN would air a game featuring two of the worst teams in the league with an extended plea for understanding and obsessive observation of Beckham serving as a backdrop. Sad as the effort of seeking glimmerings of (fevered) impatience in Beckham’s facial expressions might have been, the lowlight of the evening surely came with LA GM Alexi Lalas’ appearance in the booth. The half-defensive conversation that occasioned almost got me thinking ESPN went ahead with the broadcast solely to air a statement of commiseration with fans itching to see Beckham.
The game went on behind all this, of course. The crowd in Toronto did their bit, yelling, whooping, even booing, but it could never be enough. The end-result came to watching 20,000+ passionate fans futilely encourage a clearly mediocre product. TFC looked all at once dominant and predictable, which is to say energetically ineffectual, while LA’s players just ambled around the park as if they pulled on Galaxy colors for the first time in their lives. All in all, nothing of note happened, so…y’know, a great advertisement for the game, it wasn’t.
Worse, Beckhamania has the less-than-salutary effect of cheapening the rest of the league. So far, the decisions surrounding Beckham take baby steps toward establishing this unhealthy dynamic in which Beckham is more important than the Galaxy, which is more important, in turn, than the rest of the league’s teams. While it’s true MLS has enjoyed unprecedented publicity this year, it comes in an insidiously geo-centric form in which Beckham is the Earth orbited by a obligatory supporting cast. In this context, the decision to bump this game in, as well as another, later game out, tacitly suggests that MLS without Beckham is only a partial, even inferior, product.
Can this be a good thing? I’m thinking not.
While I understand that, for promotional purposes the decision to air this game had to be made early last week – incidentally, when Beckham’s prognosis was still up-in-the-air – this really needs to be the last time MLS bends over backwards to get Becks’ pretty mug on the air. They’re cheapening the hell out of their main product.