In a recent speech at The Future of Soccer symposium, ESPN analyst and co-commentator Taylor Twellman went on a rant by using select metrics to defend his case that MLS TV viewing numbers aren’t as bad as everyone makes them out to be.
If you take Twellman’s words in isolation (see video below), you would walk away believing that MLS TV viewing numbers are in the same ballpark as those for the Premier League. But by using select numbers from one game (the Columbus Crew-New York City FC match that had 424,000 viewers, which was more than a Stoke-Southampton game), he used that one number to make a case that “numbers don’t lie, people do.”
The numbers that Twellman should have been shared with attendees at the symposium were:
• The average viewing number for a MLS regular season game on ESPN in 2017 was 272,000 (down 0.72% from last season),
• ESPN’s viewing average for MLS regular season in 2017 was greater than both the averages on FOX Sports and Univision Deportes, and
• In comparison, the average number for a Premier League game on NBC Sports so far this season is 492,650.
Yes, the number for the Columbus-NYCFC game was fantastic, but it was an outlier and not the norm for a MLS TV broadcast. A more recent number (one which happened after Twellman’s discussion at the symposium) was the 419,000 who tuned in to watch the Columbus-Toronto game on ESPN on November 21. However on that same evening, the Houston-Seattle game averaged 255,000 on FS1.
The reason why Columbus Crew numbers are greater than normal has nothing to do with the action on the pitch. The controversy over the Crew maneuvering the team to Austin has enraged soccer fans throughout the entire country. As a result, you have soccer fans from all categories (people who dislike MLS, people who love MLS, fans of other clubs) tuning in to see what happens on and off the pitch. Columbus Crew is the best thing that could happen to MLS TV ratings.
Yes, Liga MX does generate huge viewing numbers for select games featuring either Chivas and/or Club America, but the league as a whole on US television is averaging 469,824 viewers per game as our latest research from October 13, 2017 shows. That’s 22,826 fewer viewers per game than what the Premier League is averaging.
Lastly, Twellman’s discussion about the number of viewers who tune in to watch games on mobile phones that aren’t reflected in the TV numbers is an important one. But it’s the same issue that happens to Liga MX, the Premier League, LaLiga and other soccer leagues.