Premier League Surpasses MLS As America’s League To Watch On TV

It’s official. The Premier League is America’s soccer league, at least on television.

Earlier this week, EPL Talk exclusively announced that Monday’s TV viewing audience for Manchester United against Arsenal was the highest ever on U.S. television for a Premier League match. And now ESPN has announced that the average viewing audience for the Premier League this season on ESPN2 is 324,000 (21 games), which surpasses the 249,000 average for the 25 Major League Soccer regular season games in 2010.

Over at Fox Soccer Channel, TV viewing numbers for Premier League matches on the network far exceed those of Major League Soccer. TV ratings for MLS games on Fox Soccer Channel remained flat. Fox Soccer Channel, whose MLS telecasts aired primarily on Saturday nights, saw its slate of 31 matches average 53,000 viewers this season, flat with last season.

Fox has been reluctant to share its TV viewing audience numbers for the Premier League, but we do know that August’s game between Liverpool and Arsenal drew 291,000 viewers, which was the twelfth most watched FSC telecast of all time. Out of the four Premier League matches that Fox televised during the opening weekend, the games averaged a 0.4 household rating which was up 34% over last year’s opening weekend. Total viewers for the four games increased by an impressive 46% (194,000 viewers versus 133,000).

While Major League Soccer is suffering with low TV ratings for games that are often shown during prime-time or late evenings, at least the attendances for MLS games are up compared to last year.

Based on the above ratings, we can infer that the new audiences who fell in love with World Cup 2010 gravitated to ESPN’s coverage of the English Premier League in larger numbers than Major League Soccer. It’s obvious that MLS has its work cut out for itself if it is to reverse its downward trend in viewership.

62 thoughts on “Premier League Surpasses MLS As America’s League To Watch On TV”

  1. We knew this was coming. ESPN2 has doing a lot for its coverage. Hiring its own announcers, promoting it on its channels, show EPL highlights on Sportscenter. And it doesnt hurt that ESPN2 HD is so much clearer than FSC HD.

  2. I watched 4-5 MLS matches last season, and the level of play is the main factor in why I probably won’t follow MLS for a few years to come as it will slowly but surely get better. The thing that I noticed the most was that the first touch players get on the ball in MLS is drastically inferior which leads to loss of possession frequently and a lot of back-and-forth possession that doesn’t really lead to anything. I want to enjoy it, but when I have all of these EPL matches (ESPN2, FSC, FSC+) to watch and compare to, I just don’t :(

  3. The gap in viewership will continue to grow as MLS continues to work with strange rules such as having two teams compete for a conference championship that they aren’t a part of (just an example amongst others).

    The day will come when MLS will hopefully get itself sorted but they have a reluctance to do what is right b/c they want to see if it actually cuts mustard with Americans. The answer so far is NO.

  4. In the short term, I’m far more interested on how MLS ratings match up against those for the NHL (now on Versus). Clearly the level of play and star powre of the EPL is going to attract a greater viewership. However, it is much more plausible to define TV success by surpassing the NHL ratings.

    Never in the next 50 or 100 years will MLS or EPL outdraw the NFL or NBA (unless we get a terribly long lockout)

  5. Two words: One League! The structure of the MLS is caught between NFL rankings format and a standard League format. The whole East, West, North, South thing doesn’t work in Footie. I know America is a big country but that’s what needs to happen in order for the game to be taken more seriously. And they need to play better Football…

    1. “The whole East, West, North, South thing doesn’t work in Footie.”

      I have to confess, comments like this never make sense to me. What do you mean, a thing like that “doesn’t work in footie”? Why not? There’s nothing intrinsic about the game of football/soccer that lends it to one particular type of league structure over another. The game is the game. How a league happens to be set up around that game is arbitrary.

      Basically, what you’re actually saying is: “I’m accustomed to leagues being structured a certain way, and so that’s what I personally prefer.” Which is all fine and well. But that’s quite different from declaring it to be some sort of natural fact, as if there’s something about the game itself that calls for a certain type of competition format.

      1. I agree with Detroit. I think MLS has a bungled approach to the whole divisional set-up, but there’s no inherent problem in the idea of geographical conferences.

      2. I personally like the current MLS playoff structure (minus the geographic lunacy which is being worked out). I like the drama of a knock-out tournament as opposed to playing down games over the entire season. We just need to increase the number of teams in the league and quality of play, so that just making it to the tournament will be a real challenge and accomplishment. The US’ geographic size and population mean that we will probably have the largest league in the world in a few decades. How are the experiences of countries and leagues with populations the size of the greater LA metro area relevant to the league we will eventually build? We should look to the world’s leagues for tactics and rules of the game, but I think it is more relevant for MLS to look to other leagues serving a market of our size (NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA) when planning for the future.

  6. I certainly have little interest in the MLS. Maybe if they expand to Atlanta one day (which I would not encourage, given our fairweather fanbase), I’d pay more attention…but until then, I’ll pass.

    1. For those of us that follow MLS, this type of reaction is so disappointing. The League while not on a par with the EPL is much better than is assumed.

      Gary Smith the coach of Colorado and a former assistant and youth coach with Arsenal said in England last week that MLS was a higher caliber of play than the Championship, Enland’s second tier. Henry at New York also stated after a few weeks in MLS that he just does not understand why people seem to think MLS is so inferior. He called MLS a very good, very hard league to play in.

      I am also disappointed why people compare the EPL as a whole against MLS. In fact the EPL is really three different mini leagues with significantly different levels of play. The traditional top 4 Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool along with perhaps Man City and Tottenham are really in a separate league. There is a significant drop off to the middle of the pack and another drop off to the bottom tier fighting to avoid relegation.

      MLS is improving steadily and with the new teams coming in 2011, its time to pay attention to soccer in our own backyard.

      1. Without comparing to the level of play to EPL or other leagues, MLS has problems taken on its own merits – the competition itself is not very engaging. The appeal of EPL is that success on the field is rewarded; in MLS, it isn’t. In fact, the games that generate the most excitement in MLS (and ratings, and revenue) are exhibitions! (LAG vs. Real Madrid, e.g.). How much prize money is there to the teams and players for coming in 1st or 2nd place? Not much as far as I can tell. And in EPL, last season I heard the ESPN Soccernet podcast guys speculating how the Fulham coach might not play all his top players in the Europa league match because the last game of the season could mean them finishing one spot higher (8th instead of 9th I believe) and that moving up one place was worth over 1M pounds to the team! If only league results were so consequential in MLS.

        If MLS had a league competition where there really was ‘skin in the game’, then I’d be a lot more interested in the league. They don’t have to adopt pro/rel to do that either; they could do it easily by just having each team pony up a million or two to the league, which would distribute it to the highest finishing teams at end of season. If MLS wants people to care, they’ll need to do that. EPL will continue to grow in popularity because the competition itself (let alone the top quality of play) is so compelling.

      2. I’ll pay attention to MLS when there is relegation and promotion, like all real association football leagues. This means I will never pay attention to MLS, because the owners of the teams will never agree to the one thing that will make their league legitimate. MLS owners want to be just like owners of other major league teams in MLB, the NFL, the NBA, and the NHL…possessors of a lucrative franchise that never has the threat of real business competition (ie, just reward for poor performance in the form of relegation). They want a license to print money supplied by a captive audience, and no competion for that captive audience because their club is a sealed club – a cabal. Restraint of trade, in other words. Face it, the Victorian era Brits who came up with the relegation and promotion system were ahead of their time, and US/Canadian major league sports leagues’ refusal to adopt this system makes the North American sports fan poorer for it.

  7. Gaffer,
    You do a lot of articles on audience figures, percentages etc (particularly on the MLS talk site) – and it got me thinking: what would most US fans consider to be a “success” for the MLS? i.e. what is their long term objective?

    I mean I often see these articles discussing viewing figures, and as a football fan, my personal view is to be apathetic to this kind of stuff. I don’t care how many people watch my league of choice, or how it compares to other leagues (or other sports), as long as I enjoy what I’m watching.

    But it seems like a lot of people in the US care about this stuff, so I ask them what would make them happy? Would they be happy if the MLS had big viewing figures, but the EPL was still higher? Do they want/hope/expect the MLS figures to ever compare with the traditional big sports in the US? If the MLS attracted/developed better players and sorted out it’s bizarro structure (thus offering a better product) but still had weak audience ratings, how would they feel?

    I also wonder if fans of other sports worry about such stuff – do tennis fans worry if the the US Open draws less viewers than Wimbledon? Or if more people watch boxing than tennis?

    I guess maybe because I’m not American, my interests are limited to my own simple enjoyment of the end-product, and I have less interest in the overall “progress” of the league.

    Maybe it could be an idea for an MLS Talk article if someone could put the above thoughts into some coherent format – i.e. what do MLS fans want/hope for?

    1. Dave, that’s a pretty deep question but, in short, I would say that MLS should try to return back to when its TV ratings were much higher years ago. It’s a good idea for a MLS Talk article.

      The Gaffer

  8. For all this talk about MLS and it’s “bizarro” structure, the Mexican League randomly puts teams into groups, allows teams to buy their way out of relegation, has no Bosman ruling-style free agency, and plays an Apertura/Clasura schedule…all of which is quite different from the way they do it in Europe yet I never hear Europeans whining and complaining about that they way they do about MLS’ setup.

    1. Well primarily I would guess that is because there aren’t many European ex-pats living in Mexico, compared to the US, so the Mexican league really doesn’t register on anyone’s radar.

      I didn’t mean my post above to reflect any judgment on the MLS’s structure, just an acnowledgement that a lot of people (rightly or wrongly) suggest that it’s one of the “problems” with the MLS.

      FWIW, I agree that from what I’ve heard of many Latin American leagues, they’re completely whacky – relegation being based on average performance over the last three years (so technically you can finish champion AND be relegated in the same season), rule changes seemingly every year (often to benefit the bigger teams) etc etc.

  9. One of the biggest issues MLS faces is battling for coverage on Sports Center. Obviously, ESPN would rather cover a scandal or report on a QB battle in Minnesota instead of giving any type of in-depth analyses of MLS. But the coverage that they do give is so minuet that it’s as if it never even happened.

    That is a big problem, as not all Americans have time to follow the actual games and rely on SC (and other news outlets) to receive their updates about what is going on in sports.

    For example, I have no idea who won the MLS cup this year. Yet, I can name the starting lineups for more than 75% of the teams in the Prem. That shouldn’t be…….

    1. This might be true, but it’s not going to change. You look at the numbers of MLS viewers and straight away it’s obvious that Sportscenter would have no business airing these highlights. I’m sure there’s a bit of the chicken and the egg argument here, but at this point, Sportscenter has no reason to show these highlights.

      Plus ESPN has a lot of assbags who when actually given a soccer highlight to do, completely bungle it and lace it with condescension.

      1. “Plus ESPN has a lot of assbags who when actually given a soccer highlight to do, completely bungle it and lace it with condescension.”

        Don’t get me started, Red. The other week they were yucking it up on ATH over a goalie whiff in a CL match, with repeated video. Kevin Blackenstone was the only one with a pertinent comment. Then this week it was Sports Center in the A.M. referring to Nani as Nah-nee.

        These are the folks we’re looking to to give soccer a push? Where, over a cliff?

        1. It’s weird how they allow that to continue on their biggest sports highlight show when they’re so financially invested in soccer.

          I will say though, as much as I hate ESPN, they’ve treated soccer very well lately and have far surpassed my admittedly low expectations for them.

          Their world cup coverage was fantastic but their increased EPL coverage, and the fact that they haven’t tried to Americanize/ESPNize the sport has really made me happy. I would’ve never expected it.

          1. Sportscenter barely shows highlights of anything, and they haven’t for a few years. It’s pretty much a waste of an hour, several times a day, because they just repeat the same talking-head BS that they have on all those other shows (ATH, PTI, Rome, NFL Primetime). I have no idea how anyone can watch Sportscenter.

  10. One reason I rarely watch the MLS is because I rarely know when anything is on. There is little advertisement for it and there doesn’t seem to be a real concrete schedule. They are playing in the summer anyways, just put the games on Saturday and Sundays at set times. It isn’t like they have to compete with the NFL for very long on the weekends, and baseball for that matter.

    1. Yes, this is my second biggest issue. I never know when any of the games are going to be on. They’re scheduling, mixed with non-coverage, is something they absolutely need to figure out.

        1. Most games are played on Saturday nights.

          But there is no “regular time slot” — a la the 3 p.m. window in England — because (A) that’s not really how we do sports in the United States, and (B) the reason we don’t do sports that way is that the United States is a huge country with four time zones.

          1. East coast teams tend to have the same time slots for sports. NHL and NBA start at 7 or 730, NFL is sunday at 1 and 4. Only baseball starts whenever they damn well feel like.

  11. As usual Gaffer, you’re article is laughably myopic. You could add up the television audience from every league in the world broadcast in the US, and the aggregate wouldn’t come close to the viewing audience for FMF Primera.

  12. I’m curious how local ratings for the MLS clubs adds to the viewership numbers as I know Comcast New England airs Revs games, Altitude in Denver airs Rapids games, Comcast Houston airs Dynamo games, Ohio News Network airs Crew games, Fox Sports Northwest airs Sounders games, Red Bull games air on MSG Plus, and so on.

  13. it’s difficult for me to be objective about this given that i’ve only recently become interested in soccer/football and my hometown MLS team (philadelphia union) just had their inaugural season. however i can say that i’ve been very impressed by the level of enthusiasm in the crowd @ MLS games that i’ve attended. the level of play is certainly inferior to the premier league, but not so much that i’d consider it an abomination or anything that turned me off to it. i suppose we’ll see what it’s like in a couple of years but the feeling i got was that, while the premier league’s superior history and quality have more mystique & appeal in the states, the MLS is on its way up not down.

    1. How so Robert? What do you base that on? I believe the only way is up especially as more American stars play in the Premier League. This Saturday’s game between Sunderland versus Bolton had the interesting storyline of Stu Holden which I’m sure ESPN will talk up.

      The Gaffer

  14. I wish all you Eurosnobs would either move to England or just shut the F**k up already. There is no possible way you are all real fans if all you can watch is English soccer and actually get excited for a team you cant support in person or have a connection to. You are all a joke and you give soccer fans a bad name in America and thats why mainstream media will never take soccer serious because we have a bunch of Americans who wish the were Brits!

    1. Who are the Eurosnobs? Seriously, MLS fans must be touchy because they’re always ranting about “eurosnobs”…is anyone on this thread a Eurosnob?

    2. Based on the logic of you have to be able to support a team in person or have a connection to them I guess there can be no NFL, MLB, NHL, or NBA fans in Hawaii or Alaska. I live in Buffalo and have no connection to the Cubs yet I support them. Same with EPL. With internet and television you can be a real fan anywhere.

      1. Ya a little as you can tell. I used to think you were a very good blogger but enough is enough. All you are is negative towrd the MLS and its a joke. Maybe you should just focus on EPL since thats all you care/Understand.

        1. Tom, I care about Major League Soccer, which is why I also run I’m not being negative. I’m simply stating the facts. Yes, those facts are negative but it’s high time that MLS wakes up and does something to improve its ratings.

          The Gaffer

            1. There’s a ton of things that MLS can do. One of these days when I have some time I’ll write an article about it on MLS Talk, but unfortunately it seems that MLS operates in a very isolationist manner, not wanting to hear how they can improve. However, it would be a good discussion over at MLS Talk on the topic.

              The Gaffer

              1. gaffer, i guess im in the minority because i love the mls and always watch it and i even get the mls direct kick package. when i play my fifa 11 game i always pick the galaxy instead of the bigger clubs. yes the epl has better talent but you can’t replace the home passion of the fans. i wouldn’t want the scottish fans of the spl giving up on there league in favor of the epl. could you imagine your beloved swansea having less fans in favor of the epl. yes better product from the prem but you can’t replace welsh pride and thats why i choose to be in the minority, love my mls.

                1. Jose, I’m in a similar boat to you and think that the best thing that MLS has going for them is that feeling of home passion from the fans. However, for most of us in the United States who don’t live near a MLS team, the next best thing is television. And when you’re watching television, MLS is not on an equal playing field.

                  Clubs throughout the Football League (outside the Premier League) have been suffering from fans supporting clubs like Manchester United instead of Swansea City and the other 71 clubs outside of the Premier League. It’s already happening throughout the United Kingdom (and has been that way for a couple of decades)… people supporting a Premier League club hundreds of miles away while their local team is ignored.

                  The Gaffer

    3. Tom does sound a little breathless here, but there’s a decent point lurking underneath his rampage. If someone can only stand to watch the very highest level of football — i.e., if they “can’t watch MLS” because it’s not the top level — then you have to ask: Do they truly like the sport?

      I mean, for me, I just love the game, period. If I only found it watchable when it’s executed by a relative handful of teams around the world, I’d basically be insulting the game itself. I’d essentially be saying that soccer isn’t actually very enjoyable, or that it’s enjoyable only in very limited circumstances.

      And that just seems weird to me. The people who became football/soccer fans in the 1940s and ’50s fell in love with a version of the game that was certainly many steps below the quality of today’s highest level. Yet they fell in love with the game anyway, because football is a gripping game to watch, in and of itself.

      Yes, of course there’s a threshold at some point: Watching a game of 10-year-olds is not automatically appealing, because they’re not actually playing football; the basics have not been mastered. But once you’re up to a certain level — surely anything of the professional variety — it should be enjoyable to watch simply because it’s soccer. To say otherwise is to say that soccer isn’t actually enjoyable.

  15. I’m with Tom. I think what it is for me is that the EPL feels like the NFL, NBA, and MLB in that many of the players are overpaid whiny knobs. I love their virtuosity, but as ticket prices and everything else start to go beyond the means of the average fan, it is exciting to find a league where the level of play is better than expected and most of the players are only making marginally more than their fans. The EPL is great, but there is a real reason to be a fan of MLS right now. It’s a more pure version of the sport in a way. Kind of like supporting a minor league baseball team of a lower tier UK team. I just like the fans and the vibe more. It’s less corporate and easier to identify with the players.

  16. Sorry to cause such an uproar but i cant ttake it anymore. It is very saud that there are Americans in this country or even non-Americans who do nothing else but want to see MLS fail and watch this fantasy league(EPL) and thats it. i watch the EPL too but i am realistic about MLS and american soccer and thats who ill support to keep it growing while this site just keeps bashing it and compaing EPL to MLS. Well no shit its better but if can honsestly tell me that youre a true soccer fan and only watch EPL than youre just a bandwagon who sits in front of their TV on weekends with their MAN U jersey.

    1. Tom, I want nothing more than Major League Soccer to succeed and if there was a MLS team within 1,000 miles of my home in Florida, I would go to the games (I used to be a season ticketholder of the Miami Fusion when they were down here, and now I go watch NASL games featuring Miami FC).

      The Gaffer

      1. Gaffer,

        Be glad you have NASL. Nearest pro team to me is the Rochester Rhinos and despite being one the of most successful 2nd tier teams ownership decided this year not to join NASL and are just going to 3rd tier. I have an amateur team in NPSL to watch (FC Buffalo) but the lack of a high level pro is disappointing. Toronto FC is 90 minutes but borders are hassles.

  17. As long as the best and most well-known players ply their trade overseas, MLS will likely continue to have fewer viewers. That’s OK with me. What’s most important right now and for the near-term is for MLS to continue improving its product. The league is miles away from where it was only four or five years ago, in terms of quality. Once the league feels it is able to open up more from a financial standpoint and bring in a larger proportion of better players on higher wages, the TV ratings will follow.

    ESPN also puts a lot more into promoting the Premiership matches than MLS, which is understandable.

    One area I really wish MLS would improve immediately is in scheduling. I absolutely hate the Saturday evening matches. Why can’t they be on late afternoon? It really does keep potential viewers in their 20s and 30s from seeing matches, as they aren’t likely home. It also doesn’t allow parents to bring young kids to the matches, because they can’t have them out past a certain time in the evening.

    1. They really need to do a match of the week on Monday nights during the summer. There’s nothing else on TV Monday nights during the Summer, and there’s a lot more people home on Monday night than Saturday night.

  18. i think the mls is doing just fine.i was talking to my friend today about buddle either going to b’ham city or staying in l.a. and honestly i actually see l.a. as the bigger club. play in a big city with becks and donovan and so forth or play in the midlands with who, zigic? jerome? larrson? ok maybe larrson i like him, lol. beauty is in the eye of the beholder. i only watch two leagues the prem in the morning and my beloved mls in the afternoons and evening.

  19. This is nothing new. Most local leagues outside of the established European and South American leagues play second fiddle to the big leagues in Europe. Why? Because most of the top talent from these countries, including the USA, ply their trade in Europe. That’s why the EPL, for example, is more popular in almost all of Africa and Asia than the local leagues in those countries. With the movement of players being made easy this trend will continue unless another league, say the MLS for example, can attract the talent by offering the kind of money and prestige offered in Europe. Also, unlike in years past when it was difficult to watch a soccer match from Europe because they were not shown on TV and the internet wasn’t available then, today one can watch any game from anywhere in the world. So people are no longer starved of watching good fsoccer from anywhere in the world. This means that the average soccer fan in this country with his/her limited time to watch a soccer match will prefer the EPL over MLS.

  20. I like getting up on Saturday and Sunday morning knowing their is a game on ESPN or FSC. I have rest of the day to do other things.

    MLS on Saturday night, especially during the summer months, is tougher to make time for. Going to a game is probably a lot better than staying at home to watch.

  21. i’m a big fan of the mls.very happy now that i have a soccer club here in philadelphia, but there are things that need to be done.major league soccer need to put in some work this is the US where we have a league so why should the EPL out play the mls? yes we all know that the epl is a bigger and better league then the mls is but mls need to work harder i hear don say let MLs fans be fans and leave the rest to them. i want to see mls on sportcenter damn go pay them to do that if you have to

  22. MLS cant compete against EPL on TV.

    If I had an MLS team in my town I would happily watch but there is no competition.

    Given MLS has competition on TV from most national game markets, Mexico, England, Italy, Germany, its no wonder it gets bad numbers.

  23. It’s mostly about marketing. The EPL, la Liga, Serie A not only have the talent in those leagues but also very good marketing which makes them very popular worldwide. The MLS has done a horrible job of marketing the league in the USA alone. It also has a number of South American players, yet there is little to no marketing of the product there either. Given that the USA has such good advertising agencies why the MLS hasn’t been able to come up with a decent marketing campaign seems bizarre. Also, the TV networks that show MLS games do a very poor job of promoting the league. ESPN has been doing a decent job of promoting the EPL. This week they’ve had lots of previews of this morning’s Sunderland vs Bolton game. The same with FSC. You don’t see the same level of promoting the MLS on those channels. The MLS also needs to use the internet more efffectively to promote itself. Otherwise, the gulf between its popularity and that of the EPL will widen even further.

  24. American soccer is indoor soccer. Its our version of the game. The sooner MLS goes out of business the sooner indoor can come back and fill the niche as it did in the 80s and early 90s. Indoor can’t compete for players when there are these outdoor leagues, so i hope they go out of business quickly. I miss the old MISL so much. Once MLS dies its enevitable death, an indoor league will re-emerge like after the demise of NASL. The sooner the better.

  25. MLS has the audacity to ask for $20 MILLION a year from Fox Soccer Channel while they draw literally 53,000 a week for MLS games. Other reports show they drew LESS for MLS Cup than women’s volleyball (and volleyball was on espn2)!

    The problem is simple: They won’t have promotion and relegtation. FIFA won’t let MLS expand past 20 teams and there’s no real way to get in the southeast otherwise without some incentive.

    Before anyone says “they’re still growing,” Ultimate Fighting Championship was almost dead 10 years ago, now they bring in more money than all of MLS. Why? They had to adapt or die.

    And along the “they’re still growing” claptrap: When will we see real attendance for high school soccer? It sucks even after several decades. Just compare any high school soccer game attendance to high school football. You depend on youth academies rather than tell high school coaches that they are responsible for middle and elementary player development, that’s why there’s no networking and that’s partially why all those kids in the “world’s largest youth program” end up playing other sports.

    The “it takes time” argument doesn’t fly with the WNBA and it shouldn’t fly here. Those of you that defend MLS, stop making excuses for this league.

    American sports fans are not stupid. There are plenty of them who are soccer fans, just not fans of Major in Name Only League Soccer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *