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WPS and EPL Big Winners for FOX in Ratings Game

30498 300x203 WPS and EPL Big Winners for FOX in Ratings Game

When Fox Soccer Channel became Nielsen rated last October the hope at least on my end was that it provides evidence that more people were interested in Major League Soccer as spectator sport than the English Premier League. I even floated my theories two years ago in a running debate with Christopher Harris of EPL Talk. The only point I argued with Mr. Harris where I was correct is that the Mexican League is the most popular spectator league in America.

The FMF outpaces the EPL by a wide margin among spectators. But my theory that MLS too outpaced the EPL thanks to the decent TV ratings enjoyed by the US Men’s National Team was off the mark. In fact MLS matches rate better in Spanish on ESPN Deportes and Telefutura than they do in English. Much of this is due to interest in the FMF among the Latino audience in the US and particular players.

For example in the five telecasts on ESPN Deportes between April 11th and the end of May, three achieved a rating share of 0.5 or less while the matches involving Chivas USA achieved higher ratings. The matchup with Cuauhtémoc Blanco and the Chicago Fire achieved a whooping 1.3 share on Deportes while only garnering a 0.2 English language rating on ESPN 2. Every ESPN telecast this season has gained a higher rating on Deportes than on ESPN 2.

ESPN’s ratings on MLS matches thus far this season peaked with the Seattle-Red Bull opener at a 0.3 and have not achieved higher than a 0.2 rating since, which would make it among the least attractive programs for advertisers on the ESPN family of networks in prime time.  Only one ESPN2 telecast this season got more than 250,000 viewers, again the season opener between Seattle and New York which had 254,000 viewers.

I know this has been brought up repeatedly but it begs repeating. When fewer football viewing options were available in 1999 (and also ironically the year Doug Logan was fired as MLS commissioner and replaced by Don Garber) , MLS averaged a 0.5 rating on ESPN/ESPN 2 and a 0.9 rating on ABC, and at the time it was thought to be underperforming.

The picture is even bleaker on Fox Soccer Channel with its anglicized audience and commentators. MLS has averaged a 0.1 rating on that network this season and is being watched by the same number of households as the WPS. This is not shocking when you think about: for more sophisticated football fans, WPS is a more enjoyable game with technical skill and tactical awareness being higher than in many MLS matches. MLS has evolved to a point where the players are far better than the managers, which makes watching MLS frustrating for some.

Additionally, WPS has marketed its matches well and in two cases FSC has been forced to show MLS matches that are played during a US National Team qualifying date, a time when most US based fans are focused on more important things. Furthermore, MLS has a small base of fans generally in MLS cities, and has yet to become a truly national product. Many of these fans are at MLS matches being played at the same time. Those soccer fans inclined to watch MLS outside of MLS markets could very well be attending USL or PDL matches at the very same time.

The disappointing ratings for MLS are all the more upsetting to me personally when compared to the ratings for the Premier League on FSC. The top flight of English Football averaged a 0.2 rating on the network while the FA Cup averaged a 0.3. However, certain matches gained remarkable viewership: For example the Liverpool-Chelsea clash gained a 0.9 rating for the network.

Even Serie A with its odd start times including a feature match beginning a 6am on the west coast has outdrawn MLS on the network, averaging 8,000 more viewers. Much of my discussion with Christopher Harris two years ago centered on start times: MLS in primetime and European football in the morning with odd starts. But my theory was wrong- primetime games haven’t helped MLS cut through the clutter of American sports fan indifference and European football fan snobbishness.

Thankfully, MLS is only in year three of an eight year rights deal with ESPN which was shrewdly negotiated by SUM who also acquired from FIFA the English language TV rights to the World Cup and Confederations Cup through 2014 and sold those on the ESPN.

This entry was posted in Leagues: Major League Soccer, TV Ratings. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

16 Responses to WPS and EPL Big Winners for FOX in Ratings Game

  1. bq says:

    Interesting stuff. Thanks Kartik, well done.

  2. Thanks BQ………recover from Chicago and Gulati’s rousing speech yet?

  3. Ginge says:

    MLS TV ratings are crap, so let’s blame fans of English football and call them snobs. Good plan.

  4. Pumas Fan says:

    Even more reason to create a loose partnership between the MLS and the FMF that would be win/win for both parties.

  5. eplnfl says:

    Just a micro point here. MLS games for the English audience played at 10:00pm EST or later are going to get next to nothing ratings also it would be true for a game shown on a Saturday afternoon in the summer . The Spanish language games on Sunday afternoon at 3:00pm EST is a time that is excellent for the targeted audience.

    FSC should go with a Saturday or even Sunday night game in Prime time every week and the ratings would go up. As to the ESPN coverage. Monday night football until the NFL starts would be up against little else. When the NFL kicks off go to a Tuesday night.

  6. BH says:

    up against little else … except Baseball

  7. eplnfl says:

    BH, MLB is beatable. Name me a great story line in MLB this year. It’s who is doing roids? Old news and not good news. MLB on TV is BORING! Aren’t we all sad that the Yankee v. Red Sox games being the only ones that matter according to the networks. Inter-league play is old news and means little at this point.

    Take on MLB head to head.

  8. Footballer says:

    I posted here a couple months ago that the US league should become a Hispanic brand exclusively in Hispanic media. That would be a good way to repay their Latin fans, who seem to be supporting the league more than Anglos, based on Kartik’s numbers. It’s a pain to hear Hispanic announcers say English words during their telecasts. We’ll see if someday they can turn that corner.

    Pumas fan, that’s a horrible idea. Superliga has proven that you cannot trust United Marketing. If the Mex Fed partners with the US league, they will get screwed one way or another. Don’t wish that upon them, man. If Garber wants to partner with FeMexFoot, it should be on Mexico’s terms. But Mexico has nothing to gain with such a partnership. Mexicans in Mexico could care less about US teams. So Mex should stay far away from Garber, and just continue to build their own football league.

    @ epl: Hahaha, that’s not a bad idea. Monday Night (association) Football. I think ESPN can pull it off. Have the same “Da da da da DUM!” to start off the matches. Instead of 2 helmets colliding , it’ll be 2 shields colliding. Hank Williams Jr. can still do his thing. I’d watch.

  9. Alejandro RUiz says:

    “This is not shocking when you think about: for more sophisticated football fans, WPS is a more enjoyable game with technical skill and tactical awareness being higher than in many MLS matches. MLS has evolved to a point where the players are far better than the managers, which makes watching MLS frustrating for some.”

    How many WPS have you actually been to in person? Because theres no way we’ve watched the same product. I’ve been to Fire games and Red Star games multiple times this season and I can easily tell you which team has superior skilled players and tactics and it’s not the one with the coach from England. It’s not bad or unwatchable, and it’s actually more entertaining than I thought, sorta like watching USL-2 sides.

  10. Fan says:

    The number of inaccuracies, false assumptions and outright childish accusations in here is staggering. You’ll do anything to justify your pre-disposed position that you are right and everyone else is wrong, won’t you?

    You do realize those ratings for Deportes represent many fewer people than watch on ESPN, don’t you? And your petulant little accusation that lower ratings are because of Don Garber’s tenure really shows how little you actually know and that you should never, ever be taken seriously.

    The ratings for MLS are not great, but your fifth-grade level analysis of it completely misses the mark.

  11. I didn’t blame Garber but find it ironic that he takes credit for everything yet can never be blamed when MLS TV numbers regardless of how you spin it have dropped.

    The raw number of viewers is smaller on deportes- of course because it is in far fewer homes. But Telefutura’s viewership numbers for MLS are consitently the same or slightly higher than ESPN2′s even though TF is in far fewer homes nationally than ESPN2. This article was more about FSC’s and ESPN’s numbers featured this week in Sports Business Journal. That’s why without discussing the raw Telefutura numbers I said the spanish language viewership nationally and ratings were higher. Nielson ratings are based on audience share as you must know. The audience share on Deportes is HIGHER than ESPN 2, while the raw numbers on Telefutura or equal or higher to the raw numbers on ESPN 2 and FSC. In fact if you combine the 3pm Sunday TF match and the Deportes numbers with ESPN 2 and FSC’s numbers you’ll see on national broadcasts (again not local telecasts) the raw viewership in Spanish is higher than in English.

    And for the 50th time the ratings for MLS aren’t just “not great” as you describe but in raw numbers and ratings point terms substantially lower than in 1999 when Don Garber became commissioner. That is an irrefutable fact. Whether it’s Garber’s fault or due to outside circumstances is a matter of opinion and interpretation but the ratings are in fact lower than 1999, and that cannot be disputed unless you have some other piece of evidence that states the nielson ratings for ESPN and ABC in 1999 were inaccurate. (keep in mind MLS had between 8 and 13 ABC over the air telecasts each year between 1998 and 2000)

  12. BTW, i don’t think the declining TV numbers are the fault of Garber. But the league clearly has some issue on TV that have not been addressed adequately.

  13. Dave says:

    —–
    Thankfully, MLS is only in year three of an eight year rights deal with ESPN which was shrewdly negotiated by SUM who also acquired from FIFA the English language TV rights to the World Cup and Confederations Cup through 2014 and sold those on the ESPN.
    ——

    SUM never acquired FIFA rights for 2007-14. Those rights we negotiated between Fifa and Disney/Univision directly.

    SUM (or more accurately Phil Anschultz) did have the 2006WC rights which were then used as part of the old MLS bartered time-deal with Disney.

    The 2007-14 contracts that MLS/SUM now have with their main broadcast partners were not a result of SUM controlling FIFA rights. Disney and Univision went straight to FIFA to get those international match rights.

  14. KT says:

    “And for the 50th time the ratings for MLS aren’t just “not great” as you describe but in raw numbers and ratings point terms substantially lower than in 1999 when Don Garber became commissioner. That is an irrefutable fact.”

    So let me refute if if I may.

    1999 ESPN2 ratings: 25 games averaged .27 rating and 171,620 households.
    2009 ESPN2 ratings: 7 games to this point have averaged a .2 and 200,000 households (according to SBJ)

    MLS did do better on ESPN in 1999 (.34 rating, 261,400 TVHH), but so would a lot of things as ESPN2 was still not in a comparable number of homes. I don’t know how you combined the two ratings from 1999 to get a .5, but it’s not true. The ABC rating was .83 with a TVHH average of 827,983. There’s no regular ABC rating with which to compare it in 2009.

    And David is correct, the WC 2010-2014 rights didn’t pass through SUM. Disney got them right from the source.

  15. Dave thanks for the clarification. I myself have been confused on that.

    Let’s hope MLS numbers improve. My hope is that ESPN DOES NOT get EPL rights because right now with MLS as the sole league they promote we’re getting a bump for sure, as bad as the numbers are. IF they get the EPL combined with all the ESPN hype/spin etc things will be troubling.

  16. Jose says:

    I for one enjoy watching the WPS matches on FSC. Although I don’t have a favorite team, I still like it better than MLS. Also, when I do watch the MLS, I prefer the Spanish broadcasters/presenters as they have more passion for the game, similar to the English presenters for the EPL, and that makes it more enjoyable for me to watch.

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