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MLS Cup Ratings Fall: A Call to Action


This past Sunday’s MLS Cup Final on ABC received a 0.7 Nielsen rating. Last year’s final between Houston and New England received a 0.8 rating. From my vantage point this is a disappointing number considering the game started at 3:30 PM ET instead of 12:30 PM ET as it did last year and it featured a team from the nation’s largest media market. Even more disappointing is the reality of the situation for MLS: that only about one fourth of the viewers who watched the Euro 2008 final on ABC tuned in for the cup final of our domestic league. In fact this 0.7 rating is lower than the average ABC received when showing regular season MLS games between 1996 and 2000. In that period of time European football was not as accessible via cable and satellite TV as it is today, and MLS arguably had more stars of international note: the likes of Carlos Valderrama, Roberto Donadoni, and Lothar Matthaeus among others. MLS at the time represented perhaps the only consistent viewing option for football fans aside from the two hour Fox Sports Net EPL recap show hosted by the wise cracking Lionel Bienvenu.

 In the past I have editorialized against the Euro-snobic tendencies of futbolistas in the United States. These fans would rather watch a game between Spain and Germany which has little relevance or meaning domestically than the MLS Cup, USL or NCAA Soccer. Many of these fans complain about the lack of mainstream media coverage of the sport we all love when they do not make the effort to support the sport in its indigenous American form. I have my numerous issues and complaints with MLS, but not watching the MLS Cup or following the playoffs is not an option from where I sit. Honestly, I feel the same way about college soccer, the USL and the youth national teams. It’s important to support the sport at all levels in this country if we are really to become a football loving and playing nation of some note.

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  1. Pingback: Football Parade | European Football vs American Soccer

  2. Jonathan

    December 2, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    I posted this on Kartik's CSRN blog

    After watching a gritty Barcelona v Getafe game, I could only watch through the first half of the final. It bored me, there was too much fouling, physical play was used needlessly, and players couldn’t string more than 3 passes. I went to do some grocery shopping instead.

  3. Pingback: European Football vs American Soccer | Major League Soccer Talk

  4. Enrique

    December 1, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Rod, first of all you have to get your facts straight, i think you're stuck in the 90's. Heard of Brian Mcbride, Brad Friedel or Tim Howard to name a few, heroes in the best league in the world. The problem is that you think someone cares if YOU watch soccer or not. We don't need your vote to succeed in this country, MLS is not counting on people with you're mindset. We are going for the kids or the fans who connect and identify with the league and in another 10 years see the results. Believe me, if MLS cared about what you thought they would have folded in 2000. Can you tell me how long football, basketball and hockey struggled to become what they are now? Baseball was king, the NFL got recognition in the 50's, NBA in the 70s, and hockey was relegated, but people grew into it. Baseball was king for the majority of the last century and there were a lot of haters of others sports, but the problem is that there is always a market, that's why this country is so great. It doesn't matter if people put MLS down, there is a market that is growing, slowly but growing, and there are business people who are recognizing it now so they can cash in later. This league is going to enter it's 14th year, can u remember the state of the NBA when it was 14 years old. We are not trying to take over but we will succeed.

  5. Rod

    December 1, 2008 at 9:01 am

    It is not just soccer ratings down, but all sports.

    The key is, though, that soccer is so tedious, so dull, that it makes Americans cringe. Even compared to baseball, so little happens, so little movement, so little organization of teams and players that soccer is just a Chinese fire drill, even to the more than casual fan.

    Of course, the MLS is so stupid that it will never draw. Any American-born player decent enough to make money is immediately sold off to a European league. The majority of the guys they do have are basically semi-pros, the kind who would be in the fifth and sixth tiers of European leagues. Even the guy who was the top American at the World Cup could not get off the bench on his German team.

    Then the broadcast of the championship game was a horror too. Both teams show up in similar colors, and there is too much glare on the top of the screen to distinguish them, and the bottom of the screen was dark in shadows. It hurt my eyes to watch. As if the league did not know where the sun was going to be.

    The timing was also all wrong, opposite late season NFL games.

    If you want to watch soccer or tiddly winks or paint ball, be my guest, until the games are interestng, well presented, and actually competitive, nobody else gives a hoot.

  6. Cavan

    November 30, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    I grew up playing the game. I wished that there was a pro league to watch. I only had Serie A repeats on Sunday mornings on the local Italian language station.

    As soon as MLS started, I remember watching every game I could on TV. I was a teenager and had only seen mid-major Division I college soccer and the occasional National Team game. MLS in 1996 was far better than anything I had ever seen in person at that time. (except the extremely rare Nats game). It was more fun than the '94 World Cup game I went too. (granted it was the worst game of the tournament, Ireland-Norway 0-0 in Giants Stadium) I never went in person because I couldn't drive yet lived hours between DC and NY.

    I went to college in the Washington DC area and then stayed. A buddy of mine took me to a DC United game. By this time, I had forgotten about MLS. I had been watching my college's soccer team (a major, major NCAA powerhouse). I was hooked all over again. Even though DC United was weak that year and didn't make the playoffs, I could see in person that they were far, far, better than anything I ever did as a player. It was a fun time, too. Everyone on this site has heard about the RFK atmosphere.

    I can hop on the Metro and go watch my team. I can't do that for any of these Euro teams. And seriously, why would I want to? What you see in England is not a soccer league. It's a game of Monopoly right before everyone goes broke. Where's the fun in that?

    MLS is absolutely essential to our nation's progress in the sport. It provides young players something to dream about. It provides them a view of what the game looks like on a professional level. It lets them go to games and then fantasize about playing in front of the boisterous crowd they see at RFK and the other MLS stadiums. For a youth player, there is no substitute for a pro game in front their eyes.

    As for the Eurosnob… It's a free country. We can all decide where to spend our money and time. Just remember that your dollars go towards stagnating our game and giving money to clubs that will use it to bid up the price of players so that no one else can afford anyone. If the G18 had their way, all other professional soccer outside of their little circle would go out of business so that they could get all viewership revenues and television rights. They might be slightly better than MLS. But they aren't so much better as to make our own league unwatchable. That's just drivel you spew so you can justify your choice to give money to something that you know won't help your own national team just so you can go on MLS related blogs and talk about how much MLS sucks.

    I love MLS. When I used to have a subscription for Fox Soccer Channel and Goal TV, I'd watch those other leagues too. I'm a soccer fan. However, I have no delusions about the differences in quality. An EPL game that doesn't feature one of the big 4 wannabe monopolists is usually far more brutal than any MLS game, even one between this year's Galaxy and TFC. If you love long ball and high crosses galore with lots and lots of balls skidding over the endline, Bolton vs. Blackburn is the place for you.

  7. Eric

    November 29, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    Wrong. MLS Cup got a 0.3 last year on Telefutura as well so the rating did go down this year.

    Back in the days when Telemundo which is in more homes carried MLS Cup and the Spanish language package, MLS Cup averaged about 400,000 spanish language viewers a year.

  8. irishapple21

    November 29, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    MLS Cup ratings were higher this year. If you add in the 0.3 from Telefutura, MLS Cup drew 1.0. That's not too bad. MLS is still building. Eventually, enough eurosnob fans will come around and MLS will build momentum. It's already progressed incredibly. Any of the 1996 teams, including DC United, would be absolutely steamrolled by even the lowest ranked MLS team from this past season. The level of quality has improved greatly. When Euro teams play friendlies against MLS squads, it's now just as likely that the MLS team will win the match. MLS isn't the best in the world, but it's not bad. Considering we've had only 12 years to put this thing together so far, that's really rather respectable. Those who don't support the league should move to Europe where they can wear berets and complain about “the emptiness” to their hearts content with their fellow snobs.

  9. szazzy

    November 29, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Everybody always says “I tried watching MLS” like every game is the same or the product is somehow static. Support the league by supporting a team. You have to have a connection to a team first.

    I'm not a MLS fan. I'm a Kansas City fan.

    Live professional footy trumps TV footy every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I feel sorry for the fans who are missing out on the atmosphere they're looking for, because they saw a couple games on TV, and “know” that their tastes are too good for the league.

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  11. Enrique

    November 29, 2008 at 4:55 am

    I would like to know what the ratings are for Telefutura, back then we only had ABC in the tv deal. I think that combined the ratings are a lot more for the Final. Great points are being made, sadly the only way for MLS to attract the other fans is to raise the salary cap to probably 5 million and get at least 2 DP's. Probably rethink the whole thing, although I don't it's going to happen; probably use another formula. It sucks for us, the ones who defend American soccer, but we need more stars with quality and caliber like Schelotto and Henry. Guys that can play, improve the league and bring in fans. Overall the progress is very slow, but is good.

  12. Magic Man

    November 28, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    MLS gets few viewers because of posts like this. MLS fans assume it is the obligation of those of us who like game to watch every MLS game and are in our face about the league. I've tried watching MLS and generally it stinks. Even USL which has am amautuer/semi pro feel produces crisper passing and more entertaining soccer in the British style.

    I watch every US Nats match on TV. I don't watch MLS. Does that make me a eurosnob? I hate that term and would never embrace it but if that is what you call me that's fine.

  13. Brittkamp

    November 28, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Matt S.

    I assume you did not watch MLS Cup if you made comments like that. That is the problem with Eurosnobs, they put down MLS for whatever sins from viewpoints that either are not backed up by facts or they excuse the EPL with a weekend full of 0-0 games that somehow thay are better games than a 3-1 MLS game. Did you see that last goal? Man U could not do better!

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  15. szazzy

    November 28, 2008 at 11:50 am

    If you don't live in a MLS market, I think it's somewhat understandable as you need to have a connection to a team before you can fully support the league.

    If you do live in a MLS market, but decide to pass based on the quality of play, well, you're probably not interested in seeing America soccer progress. Do you think it matters to fans of Championship teams in England, or say Kaiser Chiefs fans in South Africa, that their clubs – like 99% of others – don't have the players that a Man U, Madrid, or Bayern have? No. Why doesn't it matter to college football and basketball fans? With this rationale, everyone should be NBA and NFL fans.

    The US will never get any better in this climate. MLS clubs can't raise the salary cap until the clubs can afford it. They can't afford it until they get enough fans in the seats and eyeballs on TV.

    We have to make the league a place that better players want to play in. That comes with atmosphere and more revenue. MLS supporters groups are better than ever before, and even in smaller cities like Kansas City and Columbus, there are hundreds of standing chanting fans every match. Come on out, stand with the hardcore fans, and I guarantee you'll enjoy MLS more than any league you can watch on TV.

    I think most Eurosnobs don't even like football all that much. They like glory hunting and feeling like they're part of a counterculture.

  16. undrafted

    November 28, 2008 at 11:40 am

    It is important to support local efforts – the only way to build the sport.

    The question is, how much would it cost to put on a game near the level of the Euro 2008 final? Matt S, how much more do you think MLS needs to spend to bring the product to your standards? The soccer market here is significant and has potential, but it's not in position to compete with Europe. The MLS of 1996-2000 came within a hair of going under. Donadoni left the Metrostars after 1997, Matthaeus arrived in 2000 so I think the above examples are a stretch. Right now MLS has as many stars as it's had since 1996. And the price of good to top footballers has skyrocketed over the last 10 years. At the end of this season, MLS had 11 players that were age 35+. Valderrama turned 35 during his first MLS season. How much of a retirement league do we want? MLS has a dependable 0.7-0.8 rating base but little chance of exceeding that without something special like Beckham in the final.

    MLS faces a huge mountain to climb to get huge TV money. Modern technology means MLS has to deal with every match of note played across the globe. I can't imagine MLS achieving higher ratings without an incredible increase in spending. Right now I think that'd mean NASL 2.0 with the same ultimate fate. The priorities should be buildilng stadiums and developing youth programs. Higher TV ratings aren't in the near future.

  17. Matt S

    November 28, 2008 at 10:14 am

    So MLS does not need to improve its product for some of us to watch it?

    Honestly as much as many of us love the sport, MLS is just tough to watch as much as many of us try. I follow the league but if I have to spend several hours a day watching Man U, Real Madrid, Bayern and other quality soccer, then be forced to watch the comedy of errors which is the the typical MLS game please excuse me for passing on the whole thing.

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