Major League Soccer has kicked off 2019 right where it finished the 2018 regular season with disappointing TV viewing numbers on English-language television across both ESPN and FOX Sports, and a surprising drop in viewership on the Spanish-language Univision Deportes.
Compared to the 2018 opening weekend, the viewing numbers for the nationally televised games this past weekend were:
• Down 24% on Univision for Orlando-New York City,
• Down 13% on ESPN for DC United-Atlanta United,
• Up just 6% for LA Galaxy-Chicago and Seattle-Cincinnati on FS1.
While the 6% increase on FS1 might seem positive, the average of 186,000 for both games on a Saturday night was far below expectations given that the teams were featured during primetime on the East Coast (LA Galaxy-Chicago) and West Coast (Seattle-Cincinnati).
Over at ESPN, the debut of Jon Champion as the new MLS lead commentator failed to make an impact for the DC United-Atlanta United game. The MLS TV viewing number for ESPN’s broadcast averaged 394,000 viewers — down 13% from last season’s opening weekend game (Seattle-LAFC). LAFC versus Sporting KC fared even worse on ESPN on Sunday with 361,000 viewers watching the 8:30-10:30pm ET broadcast.
Worryingly, this is the third year in a row where viewing numbers for the opening weekend have dropped on Spanish-language TV. In 2017, it was 509,000 viewers for LA Galaxy-Dallas. It dropped to 469,000 for Houston-Atlanta in 2018, while 2019 had 355,000 viewers for Orlando-New York. For 2017 to 2019, that’s a 30% drop in viewership.
The 355,000 viewing figure is also another data point from the past few years to illustrate how much of a lack of interest there is among New Yorkers to watch nationally-televised NYCFC and RBNY away games.
In the MLS 2018 regular season, viewing numbers were down on both ESPN and FS1. ESPN and ESPN2 had their lowest audience for MLS games since 2014. FS1 failed on multiple occasions to draw more than 200,000 viewers to their broadcasts. While the viewing numbers were up for the over-the-air FOX network, it was only because they aired the games immediately after World Cup matches when TV sets were left on. On the Spanish-language side, ratings were up 16% on Univision Deportes, which helped boost the overall numbers.
In other TV ratings news, Manchester United versus Southampton on NBCSN on Saturday morning (10am ET) averaged 591,000 viewers, which is the best number for a Saturday Premier League match on NBCSN in 12 months.