THURS, 1PM ET
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Man United v Chelsea TV Audience Breaks EPL Record In US

 Man United v Chelsea TV Audience Breaks EPL Record In US

Last weekend’s Manchester United against Chelsea match televised live on ESPN2 scored the largest viewing audience number ever for a Premier League game on US television. By U.S. standards, an incredible 526,000 viewers in 420,000 households watched the broadcast which kicked off at 7:30am ET on Saturday, April 3, 2010.

ESPN’s previous record for the largest viewing audience for a Premier League match on US television was from August 2009 when 398,391 viewers watched Liverpool against Aston Villa for a Monday 3pm ET match. In comparison, Fox Soccer Channel’s largest viewing audience for an EPL match was from February, 2009 when 298,000 viewers watched Liverpool versus Chelsea. For the 2008-09 season, Fox averaged 90,000 viewers per Premier League match. ESPN2′s average viewing number for the 2009-10 season has been much higher.

The estimated 526,000 viewers for the Manchester United against Chelsea match is even more impressive when you consider that the game was shown live at 4:45am PT on the west coast of the United States.

Worryingly for Major League Soccer, the viewing figures for the Man United against Chelsea game trounced the TV viewing numbers for the opening game of the 2010 MLS season featuring Seattle Sounders against Philadelphia Union, which was televised live on ESPN2 on a Thursday night during prime-time. Only 285,000 viewers watched the game, which was down 14% from the previous year when 327,000 watched Red Bull New York against the Sounders.

Games between Manchester United and Chelsea are often one of the highlights of the Premier League calendar year, but this past weekend’s game was even more exciting for soccer fans in the United States who were able to watch the match in HD on ESPN2.

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

51 Responses to Man United v Chelsea TV Audience Breaks EPL Record In US

  1. Brett says:

    That’s quite the rating for anything at the crack of dawn!

    But it’s a bit unfair to compare it to the MLS opener. That was on opposite the opening round of the NCAA Basketball tournament. Nothing else sportswise was going to do well that evening.

  2. john says:

    very unfair to compare it to MLS, come on now even the most casual football fans know United vs Chelsea is massive.

  3. Nick says:

    I bet it would have been close to 700-800k if the game was on late morning.

  4. Art Vandelay says:

    Also, the fact that it was on so early is a non-issue since most people have DVR’s these days.

  5. Enjoy it while you can says:

    Premier league rights are expensive and the ability to recuperate money through commercials is limited.

    When EPSN & Fox figure out in a few years that viewers are not increasing then you will all be wishing for Setanta.

    Football in the States is never going to be popular and is always going to be niche.

    ESPN would probably have gotten better figures back in the 90′s when there was lots of German & Irish out here.

  6. Denilson says:

    Dont forget there were no commercials or any kind of promotion for this match.

    • Rabble Rouser says:

      That’s patently untrue. I saw plenty of promos and it showed up on the ticker a number of times.

  7. asdf says:

    To site admin….I believe you have a problem w/ the ratings system on your site…have a suspicion commenter #5 is abusing it

  8. Patrick says:

    It’s cause the MLS is terriable at marketing and letting people know the games are on. Didn’t see any commercials or advertisments or anything. Only reason I knew it was on was because I accidentially stumbled upon it.

  9. Leeboy says:

    Not bad! In the UK (from The Guardian) -

    ‘Sky Sports 1′s live coverage of Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Manchester United in the Premier League top of the table clash was the most watched programme on any channel Saturday lunchtime, with 2.18 million (22.3%) over two hours from 12.45pm.

    Full coverage of the game, which Sky used to launch its 3D service in about 1,000 pubs, attracted 1.737 million (18.5%) between midday and 3pm.’

    Bear in mind that Sky Sports is a premium set of channels in the UK, like HBO in the States, so ratings never match free OTA offerings

  10. Fan says:

    The ghost of Krishnaiyer still lives at EPL-MLS Talk. Gaffer has assumed the mantle to insult true American soccer fans, those who watch the domestic game by selectively picking TV ratings and comparing it to MLS matches. Most of the time Krishnaiyer and Gaffer stretch the truth as much as possible to prove a point.

    They cite ratings for MLS matches and past ratings and ask us to take their word for it and then they use at as a pretext to say MLS should return to Miami or Tampa.

    A big part of the problem with Miami is that people do not feel American enough to support MLS and fill the bars and pubs to watch Brazil matches, Premier League and Spain.

    The real strong American soccer writers like Ives, Kyle McCarthy, Jeff Carlisle, Grant Wahl, Greg Lalas, etc do not write these constant articles about TV ratings that Krishnaiyer did or Gaffer. Simply put, they will not let go of this and exaggerate the truth. Towards the end of his sorry tenure at MLS Talk, Krishnaiyer began to extol the virtues of MLS on TV but would still get his shots in. He would basically say “nobody is watching but you should because it is competitive.” Well for me that was very patronizing. He and this family of sites had taken so much justified abuse about our league on message boards and the comments section that he decided to be more subtle in his obvious shots at MLS and promotion of the Premiership.

    Gaffer now has gone back to the old strategy of just comparing TV ratings and writing a weekly article about their being no interest in MLS. While the rest of you will be doing a circle jerk about Barca-Real Madrid this weekend, a game 4,000 miles away, I’ll be watching soccer, live and in person.

    Manchester United and Barcelona cannot provide that.

    • The Gaffer says:

      …And the conspiracy theorists come out of the woodwork! While I’ve always backed up my articles with stats — real numbers of TV ratings that are not made up — you continue to provide not one morsel to back up your arguments. I’m not exaggerating the truth. I’m merely stating it. I’m not trying to insult MLS. I’m just stating the facts.

      “A big part of the problem with Miami is that people do not feel American enough to support MLS and fill the bars and pubs to watch Brazil matches, Premier League and Spain.” — That’s ridiculous. I support MLS. I want a MLS team in Miami.

      It doesn’t have to be a “I will watch European soccer” or “I will watch MLS.” You can have both. I do. Yes, I’ll watch the Real Madrid against Barcelona game this weekend. So too will most soccer fans around the world. I don’t have a MLS team near me, so I’ll be going to see Miami FC play their season opener Saturday night.

      The “real” American soccer writes such as Ives, McCarthy, Carlisle, Wahl and Lalas don’t tend to write about TV ratings, at least not very often. That’s one of the things that makes me different.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • Rabble Rouser says:

        “I’m not trying to insult MLS. I’m just stating the facts.”

        Then why don’t you state the fact that the average EPL audience is similar to or below the average MLS audience? That one never finds its way in your stories.

        • The Gaffer says:

          RR, the article is on the topic of EPL TV ratings. It’s not an article about MLS vs EPL. The MLS paragraph was included to show what the difference was between the opening game of the season — which you would expect to have big viewing numbers especially when it’s shown on a weekday primetime night — versus a game that was shown in the early morning hours of Saturday.

          I haven’t had a chance to analyze the average EPL audience based on the new numbers that were released last night and to compare that against the MLS numbers. If you have stats to show this, please provide them.

          Cheers,
          The Gaffer

          • Rabble Rouser says:

            MLS in 2009 was an average of 290K per game. That’s from Sports Media Watch. Add in the 285 – and seriously, we’re acting as if 285K on a thursday night during the Sweet 16 is a horrible thing? Really? – and the number would move barely any.

            EPL, based on stats from this site, is averaging 271.4K.

            YOU brought up the MLS thing and decided to put it in a negative so don’t go hiding (like you hide behind a psuedonym so we don’t know your biases) and act as if you didn’t intentionally do it to try and justify your own preferences.

            And I shouldn’t have to do the math for you on facts available on your own site which, just surprisingly, don’t justify your implication that the EPL is doing so much better than MLS.

            If Spurs and Arsenal drop 10-15 percent this Saturday, will we see an article next week about the drop from the ManU-Chelsea match? I hardly think so.

          • ovalball says:

            …”you hide behind a psuedonym so we don’t know your biases.”

            Rabbler Rouser,

            You lost me. His name is Christopher Harris, which is no secret. I’m not sure how knowing that reveals his biases. He has admitted to being a Swansea City fan, for what that’s worth.

    • man99utd says:

      Fan,

      MLS cannot provide that for me either because of where I live. So it must be on the tele.

      • Patrick says:

        In The Gaffer’s defense…

        While you guys blindly defend the MLS’s ratings vs the EPL. You forget to take into account one simple stat; MLS is getting that small rating with over 308million Americans where as the UK is getting that rating with only about 62million people from the UK. Where your stats try to point out the ratings are similar I’d say its still a big loss for the MLS due to the % of viewership.
        You also have to realize there was no other MLS games going on(to my knowledge) at the time so it had little competition in league. Where in the Chelsea-Man U or any other EPL game there are several other EPL games going on simotaneously as well as hundreds of thousands of fans pouring into their stadiums which would also skew the EPL viewership numbers in favor of the MLS.

        Maybe overall population dosnt matter as much as I think it does, but to me you have to take overall population into account and between EPL, Championship, League 1 and 2 you have more fans attending matches and watching their favorite teams so it drains the above statistics from EPL games you don’t see as anything impressive compared to MLS stats.

  11. Rabble Rouser says:

    The game drew half of the English language number that MLS Cup did. The game didn’t outdraw the Western Conference final from last season. Two MLS regular season games last season had more viewers than this game.

    The panic over the MLS Cup opener and comparison to this game ignores a few very important realities. While the MLS Cup opener dropped, it is still in line with the average for last season. It’s not really that big of an anomoly.

    And why shouldn’t ManU-Chelsea outdraw MLS? The Gaffer – wow, wouldn’t it be nice if he could come clean with who he is and what his biases are; at least Kartik didn’t pretend he was a shill with an agenda – comes up with some lauaghable premise as if MLS is going to outdraw the most popular league in the world. What a shocker that two teams with massive worldwide followings drew a really good number in a game that would play a critical role in determining the EPL champion. Whoda thunk it?

    Ratings are only a valuable measurement with a longer analytical view instead of picking one number from each property and putting them side by side. They are also only useful when keeping things in perspective, such as starting from the understanding that the EPL is more popular than MLS.

    In fact, I think it’s more fair to ask why the EPL doesn’t do this kind of number all the time instead of just for the huge, huge, huge matches. The league has so many built in advantages and we are hit over the head time and time again by a few “experts” about how MLS is sooooooooo deficient, yet it still has similar or better ratings than the EPL time and time again. You won’t read that story here. It’s a lot easier cherry picking the statistics which justify your persona than looking at the whole issue.

    • ovalball says:

      “The Gaffer – wow, wouldn’t it be nice if he could come clean with who he is…”

      I have provided that for you above.

      You must be new to the site. We not only know who he is, but how many kids he has, where he lives, where he’s from originally, his favorite team, the name of his first pet, etc., etc.

      Have at him all you want, but get off your rant about his identity. It is pointless.

    • Eric T says:

      Rabble Rouser, he dropped the MLS line in one sentence simply as an interesting matter of comparison and you’re freaking out. Relax and stop trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.

  12. Ian says:

    I actually think once FSC has HD on all platforms that would boost the ratings to around the same as ESPN2

  13. CrewFan says:

    I have to agree with Rabble Rouser…comparing the biggest EPL match of the season to a regular season MLS game is just taking an unnecessary cheap shot. This is the problem many MLS fans have with this site. Wherever there’s even the slightest opening to bash MLS and their tv ratings, the opportunity is taken all too gladly. Of course Man U and Chelsea playing the biggest match of the season is going to draw viewers! But what does that have to do with the ratings of one MLS match. It’s like comparing the ratings of the Super Bowl to the ratings of the opening Arena football league game. Why not encourage promoting MLS (and soccer in general) instead of always trying to tear the domestic league down?

  14. Rabble Rouser says:

    More perspective. The 285K in the MLS game is presented as “only that many watched it.” That match outdrew 21 games from the world’s most popular league on the same network.

    That doesn’t mean that MLS is better or anything, it just means that The Gaffer likes to play fast and loose with statistics to suit his own purposes.

    MLS has challenges with its level of play and any other number of things that people use to decide not to follow the league. The EPL has problems with the times their games are on and the relative anonymity of some of the lower-level teams which turn off some viewers.

    Yet both tend to average about the same amount of viewers, somewhere in the 260-290K area, with similar jumps for higher-profile matches around 500K up to a million. That’s the reality here, not some pissing match using selected statistics to try and show that one league is better than the other.

  15. man99utd says:

    But MLS is on in primetime and EPL isn’t. So shouldn’t one expect that MLS would have even better numbers on average. Most of the whinging that goes on concerning the EPL on ESPN revolves around the time issue. I must admit 4:45 is a bit early. MLS has no such excuse. Yes, March Madness may have impacted the ratings from this match, but what about the rest of the season?

    • Rabble Rouser says:

      But MLS isn’t as popular as the EPL. So shouldn’t one expect that the EPL wouyld have even better numbers on average.

      It’s not about excuses. It’s about reality. You say, “what about the rest of the season.” Well, the ratings will likely be very similar to what the EPL got through most of the season because English-language club soccer draws, on average, somewhere under 300K on average with individual audiences ranging from the 150K level up to the 500K level.

      The data is right freaking there. They both draw similar numbers because of their unique challenges. MLS can’t consistently outdraw the EPL despite its built-in time advantages and the EPL can’t consistently outdraw MLS despite its rank as the world’s most popular league.

      • The Gaffer says:

        RR, that’s exactly the point. MLS has always been more popular than the EPL in the States in terms of TV ratings. It’s never been that close, but this season has changed things because some of the EPL games have been on ESPN instead of Fox and Setanta.

        MLS should be wiping the floor clean in the ratings game. Their games are shown during primetime compared to the early morning hours on a Saturday.

        Cheers,
        The Gaffer

        • Rabble Rouser says:

          MLS has not always been more popular. MLS has simply been on a more readily available channel prior to this season.

          You keep coming back to the time issue while blatantly ignoring that the EPL is a more popular league without a doubt. You can’t only look at half the equation.

          • The Gaffer says:

            RR, MLS has always been more popular in terms of higher TV ratings than the EPL on US television. What evidence do you have to show that the EPL has been more popular than MLS in the States?

            Cheers,
            The Gaffer

  16. lester says:

    As much as I would prefer to support RR and Fan against the Gaffer and Krishnaiyer’s bring MLS back to Miami and Eurosnob campaign, the ratings for MLS on FSC are pitiful and overall weekly MLS viewership is below the Prem

    They are perhaps 1/3 of what the Prem matches get so when you factor in all national broadcasts for the week in English, the Prem is killing MLS. It’s not even close.

    FSC shows three live Prem games each weekend and averages 125k
    ESPN shows one and averages about 265k, and two some weeks. (we’ll count as one and half to compare viewers)

    total = 775 k average viewers

    MLS

    ESPN shows one live MLS game and averages 280k
    FSC shows one likve match and averages 45k

    Total = 325k weekly viewers

    This does not include all the pubs which are filled for Prem matches but never for MLS.

    Krishnaiyer was right when he said more people watched MLS in 1998 than in 2008. But he incorrectly and for partisan purposes claimed it was due to two teams in Florida leaving. In reality, it is because MLS has less sexy foreign players than it did then and the core of the national team which then played in MLS now plays abroad.

    • CrewFan says:

      Ok, comparing total viewers is completely ridiculous. You’re comparing the EPL, which shows 4.5 games according to your numbers, to MLS who is showing 2 and trying to directly compare the number of total viewers?! Of course they’re going to wipe the floor with MLS if they show more than twice as many games! Even if you do 2nd grade math you can directly compare the average numbers of viewers PER GAME using your data, which actually shows MLS averaging only about 10,000 less viewers than the EPL (172,200 to 162,500)…not too bad, if you ask me.

  17. CrewFan says:

    But Gaffer, comparing the EPL and MLS is not entirely fair. An analogous example would be NFL Europe back in its day. Which do you think would get higher ratings in Europe, the Super Bowl, or a regular season NFL Europe game? The same applies with this scenario trying to compare Chelsea/Man U versus the first game of the MLS regular season. Naturally, more casual fans would want to see the best in the world, i.e. Chelsea/Man U. I fully agree the ratings for MLS could be better, but I think continuously focusing on these ratings as a way to degrade MLS does a disservice to the growth of soccer in the U.S. Teams, fans, and media should be more focused on drawing fans to the stadium first, then hope to capitalize with a fresh marketing strategy (with support from ESPN by the way) after the World Cup to boost ratings. This idea of constantly trying to prove that MLS is inferior to the EPL because of tv ratings is getting tiresome. No objective, sane individual would agree MLS is on the same level as the Prem on the pitch, so why should their ratings be comparable, no matter what time of day the telecast is?

  18. M Emanuel says:

    Gaffer,

    I’m curious, in comparing the FSC and ESPN broadcasts, do those numbers take into account that ESPN is more widely available than FSC? I’m just wondering if there is any adjustment in the numbers for this reality that would undoubtedly inflate ESPN’s total viewership over the less widely available FSC.

    Cheers.

    • Wow says:

      You have a GREAT point. I totally forgot about the level of people that actually have the channel…

    • The Gaffer says:

      M Emanuel, ESPN2 is in a lot more homes than FSC. The last time I checked, ESPN2 was in 98 million homes while FSC was in 36 million homes.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  19. Lucky Luciano says:

    Guys, hello? The MU v Chelsea game, a regular season match, kicked off at 7.30 am ET – which of course is 04.30 am Pacific.

    MLS’s hyped-up, opening game of the season, in prime time, featuring the most popular franchise in the league, drew less than half the amount of viewers as the EPL game.

    But why is anyone surprised?

    Man Utd and Chelsea have fans all over the United States. Seattle Sounders and the Philadelphia Union don’t.

    It’s as simple as that.

    MLS is fine if you have a local team to follow. If you don’t, you follow something else – whether it be Div Two or foreign.

    What’s the problem? Get used to it MLSers – your league is just one part of the wonderful soccer mosaic in the USA.

  20. ovalball says:

    “There are statistics, damn statistics and lies.” We can all prove whatever point we like.

    Each league is what it is. The more popular they both become in the U.S. the better. If the USMNT is ever going to truly challenge in a WC then we need a stronger, more popular MLS as well as U.S. players playing in the EPL.

    The best thing we soccer fans could hope for is steadily increasing ratings for both leagues. That would show us that the sport is actually gaining a stronger foothold in our country, which we desperately need.

    The “soccer revolution” in the U.S. has been proclaimed time and time again, but until we can outdraw “Bassmasters” it just ain’t gonna happen.

  21. Gious says:

    It isn’t shocking that this game had the highest ratings here

    Gloryhunters loved this game. Two of the biggest gloryhunting teams in the US.

  22. Patrick says:

    *sorry for repost I intended to post at bottom in response to people saying Gaff picks and chooses stats*

    In The Gaffer’s defense…

    While you guys blindly defend the MLS’s ratings vs the EPL. You forget to take into account one simple stat; MLS is getting that small rating with over 308million Americans where as the UK is getting that rating with only about 62million people from the UK. Where your stats try to point out the ratings are similar I’d say its still a big loss for the MLS due to the % of viewership.
    You also have to realize there was no other MLS games going on(to my knowledge) at the time so it had little competition in league. Where in the Chelsea-Man U or any other EPL game there are several other EPL games going on simotaneously as well as hundreds of thousands of fans pouring into their stadiums which would also skew the EPL viewership numbers in favor of the MLS.

    Maybe overall population dosnt matter as much as I think it does, but to me you have to take overall population into account and between EPL, Championship, League 1 and 2 you have more fans attending matches and watching their favorite teams so it drains the above statistics from EPL games you don’t see as anything impressive compared to MLS stats.

  23. The population isn’t growing that fast, these huge numbers are down to something much more discreet or a collection of several factors.

  24. BG says:

    One thing, Mr. Gaffer you are forgetting to point out that many of the spanish-speaking MLS fans watch the game on ESPNDeportes. So, yes, MLS opener was down a little from last year, but usually MLS get’s another 50K-100K Viewers on ESPNDeportes. ESPNDeportes ratings have increased in the last 2 years. So, in my opinion, ESPNDeportes will become the destination point for many of the Spanish speaking fans of MLS in the US. So, if the opener got almost 290K on ESPN2, than there was atleast 50K-75K viewers on ESPNDeportes. So, when you combine the two, you probably had about 350+ viewers for the opening. MLS needs EPL, and EPL needs MLS. They are not competing against each other, but they are complementing each other. Last year, MLS ratings actually went-up in the 2nd half of the season, versus the 1st half. If i’m not mistaken, 3-4 games got over 400K+ viewers, and 2 games over 500K+ on ESPN2. The Western Conference Final did about 700K or more on ESPN2. And, i do believe, there was atleast 2-3 games that averaged close to 400K viewers. Last season, ESPNDeportes also saw about 50K-100K viewers on most of it’s MLS telecasts. So, the overall picuture for MLS is not bad in terms of tv viewing. I expect some bounce after the World Cup, and most expect a few major star signings for MLS after the World Cup. This is just the beginning of the season for MLS, it is a long season. I would not focus too much on just one game. With all due respect, i think we should make our conclusion at the end of the season. Regardless, I pointed out on bigsoccer that if the ManU v Chelsea game was at 3:00 PM (EST), instead at 7:30am (EST), the game would have seen about 0.6-0.8 rating on ESPN2 with about 700k-1 million viewers. Regardless, ESPN knows that good EPL games will attract viewers regardless of the time, and it can only get better for future seasons.

  25. fsquid says:

    I’d love to see some comparisons on the ratings with women’s basketball and other ESPN events just for some context.

  26. Smitty says:

    Any idea of folks who record it on their DVR are in those viewing numbers or not? I rarely get up to watch the game that early, but for sure watch it later that day… Just wondered if others like me are in the count or not…

  27. passing thru says:

    personally, I watched Man U-Chelsea here in the states because I’d much rather watch world class soccer than the much poorer quality domestic league. In fact, I also watched Bayern-Schalke on FSC last weekend rather than the MLS opener.

    I mean seriously–I’ve watched those two EPL and Bundesliga matches as well as Barcelona-Arsenal, Man U-Bayern, Inter-CSKA and most of Lyon-Bordeaux and then last night I watched Liverpool-Benfica. This week there’s Real Madrid vs. Barcelona and a host of other solid European games. With access to this sort of good material, there’s really not a lot of great reasons for me to watch the far inferior MLS games. I’d much rather spend my precious time watching the good stuff. Until US soccer gets itself out of the minor leagues, I’ll watch the majors.

  28. BG says:

    The ratings only include LIVE (who is watching live)+SD DVR(DVR numbers within 24 hours)…It will not include any numbers after 24 hours, meaning we are missing the LIVE+SD DVR + 7-DAY DVR Plus numbers. So, those numbers should include the DVR numbers within the 24 hours. The overnight rating (Like 56 or top markets) doesn’t include the LIVE+SD DVR numbers.

  29. john says:

    arsenal are de best say nada

  30. dave says:

    It’s only a matter of time. MLS has reached maximum capacity of fans, there are a limited supply of people who want to watch a fake off-season league, or watch games that are MEANINGLESS (that is, every regular season game). And the quality of play in the MLS is just terrible, throwing a few designated players around won’t change that- it is all so much booting the ball at the net. No structure. Also, Puerto Rico 5- Galaxy 0. (And here come the excuses- see that’s the problem, you mls people just have excuses. But never any results.)

    If ESPN gets more games, they might just be surprised how many people will watch.

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