NBC Sports Network is doing everything it can to pump up TV ratings for its coverage of Major League Soccer. The network is showing some matches on free-to-air television. They’re putting Arlo White back in the lead commentary booth this weekend (and putting stand-in Steve Bower in charge of commentating this weekend’s Premier League matches). They’ve started experimenting with double headers where a Premier League match is followed by a MLS game. And they’ve been promoting the league at every opportunity they get.
So how have the TV viewing audience numbers done in the past week for MLS and NBC Sports Group?
Quite good, actually. For the 2012 season, NBC’s average MLS viewership was 125,000 per game, while the latest numbers we have for the 2013 season averaged 102,000 per regular season MLS game. However, when NBC decided to feature a MLS game immediately after a Premier League match two weeks ago, for the Dallas-Seattle game that followed the West Ham United vs Manchester City match, the average viewing audience for Dallas-Seattle was 395,000 compared to the 658,000 who watched the Hammers versus City match. Both games were shown live on the free-to-air NBC network.
While it’s discouraging that 263,000 fewer people decided to watch the MLS game, the 395,000 viewing figure is still quite impressive by MLS standards.
More recently, on the final weekend of the MLS regular season last weekend, the average viewing audiences for MLS averaged 189,000 viewers who tuned in for Saturday’s 3-5pm ET game between Philadelphia and Sporting KC on NBCSN. While, on Sunday on NBC, 294,000 viewers watched DC United against Houston from 1:30-3:30pm ET. Over on NBCSN earlier that day (Noon-2pm ET), an average of 583,000 viewers watched Chelsea against Manchester City.
Consistently across the board, the viewing audience numbers for MLS games on NBC were far greater than their season average. And the bump that Dallas-Seattle got when it was preceded by a Premier League game will give NBC and MLS some encouragement.
MLS viewing audience numbers aren’t anywhere close to Premier League numbers, but there’s a ray of hope that will hopefully give NBC and MLS some reason to be optimistic during contract negotiations for upcoming TV contracts.
Meanwhile this weekend, NBC are televising three MLS conference semi-finals live on television:
• New England against Kansas City (Saturday, 8pm ET, NBSCN),
• Seattle vs Portland (Saturday, 10pm ET, NBCSN) and
• Houston vs New York Red Bulls (Sunday, 3:30pm ET, NBC).
Arlo White will commentate the Houston-New York game, while John Strong will commentate Seattle-Portland.
ESPN, meanwhile, will televise Sunday night’s semi-final between:
• LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake (Sunday, 9pm ET on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN).
Adrian Healey and Taylor Twellman will commentate the game for ESPN.
Editor’s note: Stay updated on MLS news, analysis and opinion on our Major League Soccer league page.