It’s been often overlooked that as MLS expands and is adding four new clubs in the next round of expansion, that television market size and media profile might factor heavily into the decision making process. While some markets have established themselves at the lower division level, others that have not might be under strong consideration because MLS needs to have a stronger mix of larger TV markets in its portfolio when its marketing arm SUM negotiates the next TV rights deal that includes the league in the 2021-2022 time period.
By the time the next TV rights is up for bidding, MLS will have expanded from 24 to 28 teams.
It makes business sense for MLS to pursue the top TV markets because the more people who tune in to MLS games on TV, the more money MLS can receive in the future from lucrative TV contracts and sponsorships. MLS is already in the top 10 largest TV markets in the United States. Those top 10 cities are: (1) New York, (2) Los Angeles, (3) Chicago, (4) Philadelphia, (5) Dallas/Fort Worth, (6) San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, (7) Washington DC, (8) Boston, (9) Atlanta and (10) Houston.
So, in MLS’s decision making process to select the next four cities that the league will expand to, the TV market size is a huge factor. Here is a look at each of the prospective 12 MLS expansion markets (in alphabetical order) and the television profile for each including how large a Hispanic TV market each is.
Nielsen rank – 22 (overall) 36 (Hispanic)
Charlotte’s bid is impaired after the failure of the city to approve a multi-million dollar funding package for a stadium. Charlotte is an attractive market and MLS would like to place a team somewhere in the southeast to create rivalries with Atlanta and DC United. However, Charlotte’s bid does not include the owners of the existing USL club, the Charlotte Independence, and seems to be suffering from an unrealistic expectation of public funding.
Charlotte is a growing TV market with a large corporate community. This one makes a lot of sense for MLS but the time might not be right.
Nielsen rank – 36 (overall) 92 (Hispanic)
FC Cincinnati averaged the highest attendance per game in 2016 of any US-based club outside MLS. In fact, FCC averaged 17,296 fans per match, a number that would have ranked ahead of several MLS clubs. Still market size is prohibitive for Cincinnati as is geography with Columbus nearby along with fellow expansion-bid city Indianapolis.
It’s difficult to fathom MLS putting a team in this small a TV market. However, few lower division teams have ever gained the level of support as FC Cincinnati.
Nielsen rank – 13 (overall) 43 (Hispanic)
Detroit provides the biggest mystery of the MLS expansion sweepstakes. It’s a big market and no doubt a place where MLS wants to be. It also boasts one of the most visibly successful non-professional clubs in the country, supporter-managed fourth division Detroit City FC. DCFC isn’t just another fourth division side, it’s a sensation. And the type of supporters the club has attracted have no interest in joining MLS.