Commentary: Broadcast decisions for MLS Playoffs leave many potential Sounders viewers in the dark

I know there were a lot of Sounders fans – and Timbers fans for that matter – upset that their playoff match today went head-to-head with the Seahawks game against the Chargers.

In my mind, this was a case of a television network prioritizing its bottom line over the voices of the fans – and you’ll understand in a second.

But let me first preface this discussion with an acknowledgement to any Sounders supporters who don’t believe any other team or any other league should dictate when they play – or at least be a factor. I understand that argument completely. But that view also undermines a great majority of fans who really care about BOTH teams, and would have preferred the game to be at a different time if there were other options.

There were four MLS playoff games today, and there was only one in which the majority of the game was played at the same time as the Hawks.

There was a 4:30 window and a 7:30 window – both ideal for the match.

But here was the problem: According to the league, ESPN had the two early windows – at noon at 2pm - and FS1 had the two later windows. Because FOX is carrying MLS Cup this year, ESPN had first choice. And the league wouldn’t allow a Western Conference game to take the earliest window at noon, because that would’ve put the Eastern Conference teams in a bind later that day.

ESPN chose the strongest matchup with the best rivalry in the league. But their only choice for timing was at 2pm.

Listen, I understand that it’s a tough puzzle to put together. And the landscape of going up against the NFL is difficult. We even saw it with Game 2 of the WNBA Finals a couple months ago when the Storm had a game at KeyArena at the same time as the Seahawks season opener in Denver. But in my mind, this was a special circumstance because it involved two teams and two fanbases located the Pacific Northwest.

Of course the stadium was packed – that was never in question. But the number of potential viewers who would normally have an interest were slighted because of ESPN’s decision.

Not everyone has two TVs in their living rooms, or make the extra effort to monitor both at once.

ESPN obviously has to make the best decision for their own bottom line. But it’s questionable whether that’s really the case here, and we won’t find out until the ratings are revealed tomorrow morning. It certainly didn’t play well with sports fans around here – and it was decision that ended up alienating potential viewers. They didn’t have to choose Seattle-Portland, but they did.

And while there’s no official statement from the Sounders or Timbers, I’d assume both teams would rather have had as much exposure as possible.

They didn’t get that today, and it’s a real shame.