NBC’s live broadcast of the USA vs New Zealand rugby game on Saturday, November 1 had a larger viewing audience than any MLS game on NBC.
An average viewing audience of 927,000 people tuned in to watch the New Zealand All Blacks defeat the USA Eagles 74-6 in front of a sold-out crowd at Soldier Field in Chicago. The viewing audience was impressive given that the sport is still a minnow in the United States as well as the broadcast being 2.5 hours.
In comparison, the most-watched MLS game ever televised on NBC had a viewing audience of 699,000 for Seattle Sounders-LA Galaxy on October 25. That’s 24.5% fewer viewers than the number who tuned in for a rugby friendly.
“The figures (for USA Eagles-New Zealand All Blacks) tell a solid story,” USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer Nigel Melville said. “The broadcast was excellent, millions of people saw rugby played at the highest level across America, and, as a result, the game will continue to grow faster than any other team sport in the U.S.A.”
That being said, NBC Sports Group is going out with a bang in regards to their viewing numbers for MLS games. The American top-flight league has long suffered from poor TV ratings, but compared to last year, NBC’s TV viewing numbers are up compared to last year (an increase of 9% as of November 13).
There’s still hope for MLS TV ratings when the new TV deals go into effect next year with FOX Sports, Univision Deportes and ESPN sharing the rights.