Major League Soccer has faced an uphill battle since its inception, fighting tooth and nail to break into a market saturated with long-standing coverage of traditional sports like baseball, basketball and American football. Twenty years on, the arrival of world class stars like David Villa, Kaka and Sebastian Giovinco still aren't enough to keep regularly televised league matches from being replaced by five hours of cars driving in circles.
There are plenty of promising signs for MLS, though, with games expanding beyond American shores to be televised in England for the first time this year. Along with it came the announcement from Yahoo! that they would be expanding their fantasy offerings to cover Major League Soccer as well.
We at Never Manage Alone saw the announcement as a good opportunity to expand our own coverage of fantasy sports, especially with a summer devoid of international tournaments on the horizon. There wasn't much time to spend generating interest given Yahoo only announced the game two weeks ahead of the season opener between the LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire back in March. We studied up anyway, promoted our coverage as much as possible and got a decent little group together to give a new league a shot.
Unfortunately, after just 7 weeks, Yahoo has decided to drop the MLS Fantasy game, with the following announcement taking up prime real estate on the home screen on Monday:
The announcement was incredibly abrupt, coming less than 12 hours after the end of the New York City FC - Portland Timbers match from Sunday evening, and has left us all a bit dumbfounded. The immediate questions that spring to mind are "Why cancel when the season is already under way?", "Why bother having a game at all?" and "Wait...isn't the Fantasy MLS game part of the Fantasy Sports app?"
After letting the shock of the news subside, I spent some time parsing the wording of Yahoo's announcement, and have come up with a theory that could go some way to explaining the logic and timing of their decision:
Yahoo is overhauling their fantasy game yet again.
Again, this is just speculation, but given Yahoo's well-documented issues with their transition to an app-based fantasy game this season, they may have identified this summer as their last chance to get things right before losing the much larger (but dwindling) core audience of fantasy managers playing their Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga offerings.
The offset schedule of Major League Soccer, which takes course over the months of March - December rather than the European model of August - May, may have forced Yahoo's hand. With Yahoo committing to a comprehensive mobile app for its fantasy games for the 2014-2015 season, each of its leagues is interconnected and dependent upon the single platform that has been developed.
What this means is that if Yahoo wants to make drastic changes to one game, it either has to make changes to all of them by updating the app platform, or develop separate applications for each iteration of the game. Since the MLS season overlaps with the end of the 2014-15 season and the beginning of the 2015-16 season for the European leagues, Yahoo would either need to abandon their MLS Fantasy game in August after 20+ game weeks—which would be a LOT more frustrating than after 7 weeks, in my opinion—or spend thousands of dollars developing and maintaining separate apps for a game that is being offered for free, not to mention the fact that users would have to download multiple apps in order to play in multiple leagues.
With the MLS Fantasy game not rolled out with enough fanfare to generate a comparably sized audience to Yahoo's other offerings, making the sacrifice here is an unfortunate one. However, there are potentially far less dire consequences for the state of Yahoo Fantasy soccer going forward than the daunting task of convincing thousands of unhappy app-users to download another Yahoo product.
So, is Yahoo MLS Fantasy gone for good?
Based on my theory, probably not. We'll definitely be without Yahoo's scoring system for Major League Soccer throughout the 2015 season, but if the developers are able to create a stable system in time for the European leagues to start up in August, there's no reason to believe Yahoo can't apply the new system to MLS just as they were able to do with this year's game.
Of course, the people in charge will have a decision to make as to whether the three month period between the 2015 and 2016 seasons is long enough for them to promote the game heavily enough to warrant investing the time into entering all of the players, creating valuations, etc.
With that said, if you've enjoyed briefly playing the Yahoo MLS Fantasy game, or would be interested in giving it a shot next season as the league continues to grow, let the folks at Yahoo know.
Beyond the obvious initial frustration, what are your thoughts on this unexpected development? I, for one, would hate to see the end of the Yahoo Fantasy family of games—especially due to lack of user participation from functionality issues—so if that means missing out on one season of the MLS game to have the ability to continue playing the Yahoo Fantasy Premier League game, I'm all for it. I'll keep everyone posted with any new developments I hear about, but if my theory is accurate I hope you're on board too!