Do the Ratings for the EPL Threaten MLS?

Fox Soccer Channel has become a Nielson rated network for the first time this month. These ratings have shown at least to this point that my personal public boasts that a silent majority of football fans in the United States were more interested in MLS than the vocal minority that follow the English Premier League were flat out wrong. In fact, MLS ratings on FSC this month can only be described as embarrassing.

FSC’s English Premier League telecasts have garnered a respectable average viewership of 179,000 homes on average this month through last Saturday’s Arsenal-Everton match. The MLS this month has averaged  34,000 viewers this month through the RSL-FCD match this past Saturday. That’s a glaring difference especially when you consider the English matches are at odd times. While MLS has averaged 261,000 viewers on ESPN 2 this season, that network is in over 100 million homes while FSC is in just 20 million homes. So do the math: it’s not difficult to comprehend the impact of these numbers from where I sit.

“Eurosnobs” as we call them I have long believed to be a vocal minority of fans in this country. These snobs frown on the indigenous forms of the game that we have grown in the US and that have been developed in other parts of the globe. Many of these snobs want every football match to resemble a match from the English Premier League. They want every match to be played at the EPL’s pace, with EPL like tactics and EPL like players. These fans often disparage not only MLS and USL but also the Latin American leagues on television in this country because the pace  is “too slow” and teams spend too much time “maintaining possession in the midfield instead of going forward.” These fans entire perspective on football, home and abroad is skewed by watching one league with its biased announcers and its well produced propaganda machine. These “fans” are encouraged by media here in the United States and those like Derek Rae who when calling MLS games in the past has routinely attacked its quality and used the blanket term “Premiership standard” to describe the what a player should aspire to. Some in the media like the New York Times Jack Bell,’s Greg Lalas and of course his brother Alexi Lalas have been heroic in defending the American game and its attempts to grow a distinct style of play. However most have continued to use England as their guide when judging American football.

I can rail against this machine all I want but sadly it has won over fans here at home. The same fans that watch the EPL on Saturday mornings clearly do not watch MLS on Saturday night and are probably not patroning their local MLS, USL, or PDL side. Chances are they don’t even know the team exists.

The English Premier League and European Football are entertaining for those of us who love the game. I count myself among its fans. But anybody who thinks the exposure to the European Championships, UEFA Champions League or EPL are going to win over masses of American fans are just plain wrong. They do not understand the American sporting landscape nor the cultural psyche of American fans. By and large despite being a melting pot, a nation of immigrant we do not root in mass for foreign clubs like Manchester United or AC Milan. We root for our sports teams like the Chicago Bears and Boston Celtics. The vast majority of Americans have little or no connection to the British Isles. If this game is going to grow here it is going to be due to the impact of MLS along with USL playing a supporting role. It is going to be because the US National Team is successful and we have developed a nice rivalry with Mexico and other CONCACAF nations.

European football has very little if any role to play in the attempts to make the game more marketable and consistently talked about in this country. Let’s hope these disturbing viewership numbers turn around in the very near future.

16 thoughts on “Do the Ratings for the EPL Threaten MLS?”

  1. Maybe you are an “AMERISNOB”

    Would you like that term being used on you, kartik?

    Stop using Eurosnob. All the time you and Denholm use it and it bothers a whole lot of people. These people simply want to see quality football not the inferior product MLS offers us.

  2. I must agree with John Roe here. I have very few hours of time to dedicate to watching football, and in those hours I prefer to watch a match with some quality to it. Not only does this mean I find it hard to sit through a whole MLS match, but also Serie A and La Liga. The EPL is the greatest league in the world, and this is why we watch it. Believe me, I do my best to cheer for the National side, especially when we play mexico, but the fact of the matter is that the quality is several notches below what I actually ‘want’ to watch … Get used to it.

  3. I prefer the term Anglosnob :-)

    But seriously, don’t stress too much Kartik, in a way it is like comparing apples to oranges. FSC shows one live MLS match a week. That’s usually on Saturday evenings, when television is competing against numerous other activities. Not so much competition early on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Additionaly, FSC is an extra perk that is usually paid for by people seeking out the EPL specifically. How many of them really watch anything non-EPL, and in all reality most of these viewers are so myopic that their ingrained biases and prejudices become a self-fulfilling prophecy – just look at the constant negative attitude towards Serie A when the Sicilian Derby and the Napoli-Juve match were more exciting and entertaining then the bulk of EPL matches this weekend.

    What I want to see is the MLS put the pressure on ESPN to promate the league more, if the Disney Sports Network can focus on the NHL in Sportscenter it s.a.s. can show regular MLS highlights too. Also, what MLS really needs to do is break beyond the humble attitude and become more interesting off the pitch. Admit it folks, sometimes the off the pitch activities in England can be alot more entertaining then the play on the pitch. MLS could use some of those larger then life characters, some smack talkers. Eddie Robinson was giving us some great material this past week, I was getting my popcorn ready 😉

    We all need to take a step back and see the bigger picture. Is the EPL the biggest league in the world? Yes. Are EPL matches always great and entertaining? No. Is the quality of play in the MLS great? No, but it sure as heck ain’t as bad as some people claim it to be.

    Anyway, I’m ready for Dynamo v. Pumas tonight.

  4. MLS is not compelling enough to compete with the EPL. the more exposure the Premier League gets here in the states the less chance MLS has to become a mainstream major league.

  5. Its great that MLS is shown of Fox, and I try to catch as many of those games I can in order to support my local league. However, the last 4 games that appeared in Sept, and I’m sure were the games used in the numbers that were reported were less then compelling. If you look I believe 2 teams of the 8, (granted DC was in there twice) will actually make the playoffs, and at this time of year MLS has proven with college football/NFL football/Hockey/MLB peoples attention spans are short. It will be more interesting to see how viewership looks earlier in the season. Each week on Fox you get a wide selection of games and 1 is likely to capture the attention of the viewer. Granted the numbers are depressing but I don’t think you can draw a conclusion from them.

  6. First off, nice blog, and interesting topic, but I disagree, and I fear what Joe said @ 4:00 is already happening.

    Let me state that I follow both EPL and MLS and I have season tix for the Red Bulls. I would love for MLS to succeed, but the only way it will happen is if they spend more money and raise the standard of play significantly (and not 20 years from now, either). If that means really high profile players only go to New York, LA, and perhaps Chicago, so be it.

    I’ve supported this league for years almost out of obligation, but it gets frustrating after awhile, especially when the game you go to Saturday night seems so minor league compared to the one Saturday morning. Some games look like Sunday in the park football.

    I think the American appetite for “the best” trumps the embracing of “our own.” To wit: how many NFL fans support the Cowboys, 49ers, etc. regardless of geography b/c at some critical point in their fanhood, those teams were “cool” or “the best” and were on TV a lot. Maybe not an apples to apples comparison, but still..

    A friend of mine – big sports fan – decided he wants to really follow soccer now. He’d casually watch int’l tournaments like the WC and Euro, but now he’s gonna follow the club game. What league? The EPL (no English bkgd either). He summarily dismissed MLS b/c of the poor quality.

    Also don’t underestimate the influence of the video games as a mechanism of exposure. The video games are one of the reasons my friend wants to follow soccer.

  7. I’ll be watching the Dynamo tonight as well, on local TV. Didn’t even know that FSC carried MLS games. I’ve gotten a little numb to the comments about the quality of the game. There is definitely an antipathy towards American soccer not only at home, but also abroad. Doesn’t change how awesome it is to show up at the stadium and hear the drums, the screaming from whistle to whistle and, dare I say it, the quality of play. I’ve seen the premiership and the championship play, and while we’re not top tier premiership, we’re not bottom tier championship either. Mainstream media will accept soccer when they have to, and not a moment sooner. Expansion may not be the best for overall quality at the moment, but as MLS teams rise in popularity in cities across America, and it will, attention will follow. I welcome those numbers Kartik. The people who watch the premiership will watch MLS when it comes to their city. Coach is an example, Brian is an example, and I am an example. Even the NFL went through rough patches in the early days, MLS isn’t going anywhere but up.

  8. I can personally tell you that if USL had not come to Cleveland two years back, I would have zero interest in soccer. Yes I watch the EPL, but my interest was stimulated by USL. The same for many of the above posters in MLS cities.

    I do not think the Premier League numbers as a whole can compare to MLS. More people follow MLS than the Premier League here in the US. More people in Cleveland follow USL-1 and USL-2 than follow the PL. It’s just that American sports fans have lives outside of the games, whereas most Brits and no offense to them do not care about anything but their clubs.

  9. Just wanted to weigh in as someone that’s a fan of both leagues. I believe the MLS to be the more exciting league, leaving level of play out of it. Still, when I think back on the past few weekends, I caught the EPL games and not the MLS games.
    This is ONLY–at least in my life–a function of game times. EPL matches are easy to throw on first thing on a Saturday morning. Saturday night? Well, I’m out w/ friends or girlfriend or what have you. I will always catch the FSC mls game if my club is involved, but I don’t change plans otherwise. Saturday morning, I’m always home.

    Kartik- do you know if the Neilson ratings take consideration of people “time-shifting/ DVR-ing” the games?

  10. ~16400. That’s what I care about. That’s the average attendance for 2008 so far. I don’t care about how many people watch MLS games on the EPL network (otherwise known as FSC) so long as people show up to games. As long as a decent number of fans show up at the games then ESPN, FSC, and local networks will continue to carry MLS games.

    Average game attendance is down ~300 per game compared to last year, however total game attendance is up ~100000. Next year should see the same, or perhaps even a slight boost because of the new team and stadium.

  11. Any idea how the numbers have been for subscriptions to MLSLive? I watch all the matches online since I don’t have cable or satellite. Nielson doesn’t count those like me, no? Or how about the Sunday Telefutura match, are these numbers up/down?

    I may be an anomaly, but I’ve been a MLS/USL supporter for only about 3 years and have never been a follower of any other leagues. We can argue forever about what “level of play” these leagues are at. But the simple fact that they are local and played on my continent (to include the Canadian sides) I will always choose to support them first. I prefer to back a club like the Thunder here in Minneapolis whom I feel a connection to, rather than support some club in a country I’ve never visited, have no family from, and where I certainly cannot be a season ticket holder.

    If you love the sport, you will support it at any level. I think you can compare it to a local high school (American) football game; where amongst the fans you will find people that don’t have any relation to the players, are no longer in high school, but enjoy the sport and have a connection to the team because it is their city/town playing a team from somewhere else.

  12. Minotian,
    Well said! I totally agree. I watch MLS, EPL, La Liga, and Seria A. I enjoy watching other leagues, but I support MLS.

  13. I think you could also argue this…

    Someone wakes up on a Saturday morning, they’ll walk downstairs and turn on the tv to watch an EPL match (though, why the hell aren’t more people watching Serie A than those ratings indicate?)

    Saturday night… you’re out at a bar or whatever and watching a MLS match

    There’s nowhere that I can go on a Saturday morning to watch soccer here… however… at night I can go to multiple bars to watch the MLS matches

  14. To be fair, there’s nowhere you can go on Saturday morning and watch a Premiership match in England either, we just happen to be 5000 miles away.

    Also, I think Mino’s got something here. I mean isn’t the reason that the Brits love the game so much is that they support one team from cradle to grave based on the pure fortune of living in that neighborhood. It’s nice to watch, but I just can’t get excited for games between teams I have no connection to and can’t manufacture the same feelings I get when the local team plays. Heck, I hear the European league plays basketball as well as the NBA now, perhaps I should become a die hard supporter of them instead of my perennially crappy hometown team? I can also root for China in the Olympics because they have the most medals. Just doesn’t seem right.

  15. DC United gets better TV ratings in the DC area than the baseball Washington Nationals.
    Just sayin’. Perhaps it is not an MLS problem but an individual club problem. More clubs need to promote the game locally like DC United before you can expect huge national numbers for MLS.

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