The number of viewers for the opening weekend of MLS games on national television in the United States declined by 11% compared to the opening MLS weekend in 2015.
While this year’s opening weekend is not an apples to apples comparison to last year, it’s pretty close. For the opening weekend of 2015, the season kicked off on a Friday night with live coverage of LA Galaxy vs. Chicago Fire on UniMas and Univision Deportes. This year, MLS and the TV networks decided to play all of the opening season games on Sunday.
Another difference is that FOX Sports 1 showed two games on the opening Sunday of last season. This year, FS1 showed the one game (Seattle vs. Sporting Kansas City) and let UniMas and Univision Deportes show the Sunday night late game (LA Galaxy vs. DC United).
Last but not least, only 3 MLS games were nationally televised on 2016 opening day compared to 4 during the 2015 opening weekend.
Having said that, here’s how each individual network did this past weekend compared to the 2015 opening weekend:
|Orlando vs. NYCFC||539,000||ESPN2||Portland vs. Columbus||362,000||ESPN|
|LA vs. Chicago||341,000||UniMas||LA Galaxy vs. DC United||320,000||UniMas|
|Sporting KC vs. RBNY||268,000||FS1||Seattle vs. Sporting KC||267,000||FS1|
|Seattle vs. NE Revs||289,000||FS1|
|LA Galaxy vs. Chicago||87,000||UDN||LA Galaxy vs. DC United||148,000||UDN|
Comparing the numbers, the biggest disappointment was ESPN. The viewing number for ESPN’s broadcast of Portland-Columbus, which was a rematch of the 2015 MLS Cup final, garnered 32% fewer viewers than ESPN2’s game featuring Orlando and New York City FC on opening day. While New York is a major TV market, the fact that Portland-Columbus was on the main ESPN network should have generated better viewing figures than it did.
• ESPN: The viewing audience declined by 32%
• FOX Sports: The number of viewers declined by 0.4%
• UniMas: Declined by 6%
• Univision Deportes: Increased by 70%
Univision Deportes benefitted from having a game shown on Sunday night. I’m sure the executives at Univision would love to have more Sunday night games instead of the Friday night ones moving forward.
Of course, the 2016 MLS season just started, so there will be plenty of opportunities for the TV ratings to improve. There’s a long season ahead, and the TV networks continue to raise the bar with their coverage. The question is, will soccer fans tune in? We’ll update you throughout the season.