MLS takes big hit in TV ratings; What the poor numbers indicate

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After MLS scored an excellent August with TV ratings far exceeding the norm, MLS viewing audiences this past weekend took a big hit.

Out of the two nationally games on English-language TV, the average viewing audience was 77,000 (63,000 for the Toronto-New England game on ESPN2, and 91,000 for Orlando-Sporting Kansas City on FOX Sports 1).

Both MLS games had a ratings share of 0.0.

In comparison to other TV viewing figures for soccer on Sunday, even a NBCSN documentary about Bournemouth on Sunday (2-3pm ET) had more viewers (92,000) than Orlando-KC. Sunderland-Spurs had 345,000 viewers (Sunday, 8:30-10:30am ET, NBCSN), Puebla-Santos 180,000 (Sunday, 6-8pm ET, Univision Deportes), and Pumas-Veracruz 122,000 (Sunday, 1-3pm ET, Univision Deportes).

The only positive for MLS is that the TV ratings weren’t as bad as the ones for both NWSL games on FOX Sports 1 this weekend (42,000 for Seattle Reign vs. Washington Spirit, and 28,000 for Chicago Red Stars vs. FC Kansas City).

So, what do the poor TV viewing figures tell us?

1. NFL has an impact, but can’t be used as an excuse. Many soccer fans and writers will write off this past weekend’s poor TV ratings as a result of the opening weekend of NFL. While there’s no doubt it had an impact, the overnight ratings share for NBCSN’s Leicester City against Aston Villa on Sunday was a 0.37 (with a viewing audience of 401,000). The game was televised from 11am-1pm ET. FOX’s NFL pregame show on Sunday began at Noon ET.

2. The “Giovani Dos Santos Effect.” One of the main reasons why MLS TV ratings did so well in August was because 2 of the 3 games with impressive viewing figures featured LA Galaxy, the in-form side in MLS that continues to add star signings to its team — making them a super club and more appealing to TV audiences, particularly those tuning in to watch new signing Giovani Dos Santos play. When LA Galaxy plays, that’s great for MLS but when US teams such as Orlando, Sporting Kansas City and New England are in action, the interest is negligible. Toronto, meanwhile, may be popular in Canada, but the team garners very little interest to soccer fans in the US.

3. MLS should focus its attention on Liga MX, not Europe. The poor ratings are a worrying sign for Major League Soccer and the broadcasters (FOX, ESPN, Univision) who have invested millions in MLS/US Soccer for 2015-2022. Instead of continuing to focus its attention on signing players from Europe and playing European sides in All-Star games, the league would be better served focusing its efforts on acquiring more talented players from south of the border. Dos Santos gave MLS an immediate ratings boost. There are plenty of other Liga MX and South American players who can add quality on the field and more people tuning in to watch games on TV.

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