Would more Americans watch a live MLS game or a TV documentary about the 17th-placed team in the Premier League? We now know the answer after NBC debuted their first MLS game on free-to-air television Saturday, while FOX showed its debut episode of the “Being: Liverpool” behind-the-scenes documentary on its free-to-air channel.
NBC’s broadcast of Seattle against Portland generated a 0.4 rating, while FOX’s coverage of “Being: Liverpool” garnered a 1.3 rating. NBC’s TV rating for its first free-to-air MLS game was so bad that the game earned the lowest overnight of the weekend for a live sporting event on broadcast TV. The weekend friendly game between the US women’s national team and Australia had a higher rating with a 0.5.
The two-hour Saturday afternoon broadcast of Portland and Seattle was beaten by a one hour broadcast about Liverpool Football Club. MLS fans may argue these TV ratings for the fledgling league are baby steps and that the slow-and-steady turtle will win the race, but the fact is that the first-ever Premier League game shown on free-to-air network television last season generated a 1.0 household rating with 1.6 million viewers, which is far greater than MLS’s 0.4 rating. Hopefully ratings will improve for the remaining 3 MLS games scheduled to appear on free-to-air NBC this season.
Meanwhile, the average MLS viewing audience on NBC Sports this regular season is up 101 percent compared to the regular season average from last season on FOX. On paper, that sounds impressive until you realize that the viewing average on NBC Sports is only 137,000 (FOX’s average last season was 68,000).
FOX’s debut episode of “Being: Liverpool” was aired on a Sunday afternoon alongside NFL programming, which is a more popular sports viewing day than a Saturday afternoon. But excuses aside, it’s time for MLS to make some improvements in its TV coverage. On a local level, the league is making giant strides, but on television it’s one flop after another.
The success of Premier League soccer on US television continues to accelerate. The next match to be shown on free-to-air television is this Sunday, September 23 when Liverpool plays Manchester United (shown on tape-delay on FOX at 2pm ET or 4:30pm ET; check local listings). The second episode of “Being: Liverpool,” meanwhile, airs on FOX Soccer Sunday night at 9pm ET.