Steve Davis of NBC's Pro Soccer Talk reports that a notion is being floated around MLS Headquarters of moving to a 28 game schedule, although with no word on the timeline for this. One would imagine that, if these rumors are true, we could see a reduced schedule as early as next year with the 2014 World Cup on the horizon. A reduced schedule would have it's advantages compared to the current 34 game schedule. Like Steve points out, with NYC FC set to join MLS in 2015, a 28 game schedule would make for simpler match ups (2 x own conference, 1 x opposite conference). It would also allow for MLS to better schedule around FIFA International Dates, like this weekend coming up for example. Each game would also become more important as you have less of a chance to earn points.
On the flip side, with MLS still lagging behind the NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB in TV money, a reduced schedule would only serve to limit the potential earnings from a TV deal. For example, the current deal with NBC, which is set to expire at the end of the 2014 season, is worth $10 million. It's not unreasonable for the next deal, which should increase, to remain at $10 million or even be lowered 1-2 million. This would affect all teams since TV revenue is split among all 19 teams. This may not hurt the bigger teams like the New York Red Bulls, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, etc, but the "also rans" who already don't have money to spend will just hurt more. Additionally, MLS already has trouble attracting "eurosnobs" to games because they see MLS as a lower teir of soccer (which it admittedly is) that doesn't deserve their attention. Reducing the number of games would only serve to foster that attitude at a time when soccer is starting to gain some real traction with NBC picking up the rights of the Premier League.
For years, there have been calls for the MLS to encompass two main trains of thought in regards to scheduling. First, move (back) to a balanced schedule where everyone plays everyone else twice ala English Premier League & pretty much the rest of the soccer world. With the size of the country, this isn't as simple as it sounds because of the amount of travel required going back and forth from coast-to-coast. Second, move to an European type schedule, starting in August, and ending around May. While I personally would like to see this happen, just because it makes everything easier with scheduling around FIFA & CONCACAF Champions League, it won't happen due to the nature of weather in the US/Canada.
Now, how does this rumor relate to the Red Bulls in particular? A reduced schedule would allow the training staff to better manage injuries, especially with older players like Thierry Henry & Tim Cahill. Outside of that though, I don't see any benefit for the Red Bulls. The path to a MLS Cup would be easier, but it would be easier for any other team in the league. Less games would mean that the team has less time to gel, something which any true championship team needs. Less games also mean less home games. Aside from less income from ticket & concession sales, less home games means that RBNY has a lower chance of grabbing attention of those who aren't already fans. If the rumors of a possible Red Bull-Sky Blue merger is true, Sky Blue's presence could possibly offset the loss of revenue, but that likely won't be true.
Overall, I don't see a reduced schedule as a good thing for the Red Bulls or MLS. The drawbacks outweigh any possible gains a reduced schedule would bring the league. I do think the scheduling situation needs to change. It's amateurish that the league's best players aren't around for all 34 games due to FIFA dates. There's no reason MLS can't have a balanced schedule (in the future of course). Lastly, at a time when TV coverage is finally starting to pay off for MLS, changing the schedule can only hurt that revenue stream.
Let us know what you think in the comments.