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Premier League TV Ratings Take A Dip On ESPN2

Up until the past week, ESPN has been the golden child of Premier League coverage in the United States. We’ve been spoiled by pictures in HD, match coverage that begins when the players enter the tunnel, Monday evenings that bring us the UK feed of ESPN’s coverage, and Saturday mornings with Georgie Bingham and company.

But the shine is now starting to come off a little with TV ratings for the past two weekend games that leave a lot to be desired when you compare them with ratings from August and September of this year.

Here are the complete ratings so far this season for games shown on ESPN2 (with last weekend’s games highlighted in red):

  1. Liverpool v Aston Villa, Mon., Aug. 24, 3 pm, 398,391 viewers
  2. Wigan v Man United, Sat., Aug. 22, 10 am, 374,799
  3. Manchester City v West Ham United, Mon., Sept. 28, 3pm, 293,600
  4. Portsmouth v Everton, Sat., Sept. 26, 7:45am, 270,927
  5. Bolton Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur, Sat., Oct. 3, 10am, 265,508
  6. Chelsea v Burnley, Sat., Aug. 29, 7:45 am, 253,934
  7. Liverpool v Burnley, Sat., Sept. 12, 10 am, 253,779
  8. Aston Villa v Manchester City, Mon., Oct. 5, 3 pm, 248,956
  9. Fulham v Hull City, Mon., Oct. 19, 3 pm, 209,207
  10. Aston Villa v Chelsea, Sat., Oct. 17, 7:45 am, 206,886
  11. Burnley v Sunderland, Sat., Sept. 19, 7:45 am, 199,380
  12. Chelsea v Hull City, Sat., Aug. 15, 7:45 am, 164,485

As you can see, the games from last weekend are near the bottom in terms of ratings according to Nielsen Ratings. And here’s why I think they’ve taken a dip:

  1. During the first several weeks of the Premier League season, ESPN was advertising its Premier League coverage on websites galore across the Internet and including popular destinations such as BBC Sport and The Guardian. Now, it seems that the advertising has stopped,
  2. While we don’t like to admit it, the baseball championship games are occupying a lot of time of American viewers which may be having an impact on viewing figures for the Premier League. And with NFL season in full swing, there are only so many hours in the day to watch sport,
  3. The international break prevented Premier League football from being shown for two weeks, just as the season was getting very exciting. Now that the break is over, it may take casual soccer fans a little time to get back in the habit of watching Premier League games on ESPN2.

The other reason is that the quality of opposition last weekend is not as attractive as a game featuring Manchester United or Liverpool. Surprisingly, the games featuring Chelsea have resulted in mediocre TV ratings (the highest being just over 250,000 for Burnley against Chelsea in late August). Plus the game between Fulham and Hull City feature two clubs with relatively tiny groups of spectators.

Luckily for ESPN2, the TV schedule over the next few weeks will improve significantly for the network. First up is the Birmingham derby this Saturday morning between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa. The following Saturday is the biggest game of 2009 for ESPN2 featuring Arsenal versus Tottenham Hotspur. It’ll be quite interesting to see what the TV ratings are for the first Arsenal game on ESPN2 so far this season.

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  1. szazzy

    October 29, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Maybe you could rethink and update your MLS doomed to fail article now that we have a lot more data from both sides.

  2. jmansor

    October 23, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    I think it will be good for ESPN/ABC to promote the EPL coverage during next years World Cup. That will be a great launching pad for a successful season next year.

    • The Gaffer

      October 23, 2009 at 1:45 pm

      Especially with Martin Tyler being the commentator for many of the World Cup games.

      The Gaffer

    • sucka99

      October 24, 2009 at 2:17 am

      Or could it be that thie EPL/La Liga coverage is ONLY to drive viewers to the World Cup after which they’ll only be promoting/covering MLS and Beckham’s return?

  3. Bright

    October 22, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Whoops. I meant 3 p.m./Monday

  4. Bright

    October 22, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    I’ve done some quick ninth grade math, which I probably messed up somehow. I did the averages for month, day, time and teams that have played more than once. Here’s what I got:

    1. Liverpool – 326,085
    2. 10 a.m./Monday – 298,029
    3. August – 297,902
    4. 3 p.m. – 287,539
    5. Aston Villa – 284,744
    6. Man. City – 271,278
    7. Saturday – 258,576
    8. September – 254,422
    9. Burnley – 235,698
    10. October – 232,639
    11. 7:45 a.m. – 219,122
    12. Chelsea – 208,435
    13. Hull City – 186,846

    • The Gaffer

      October 23, 2009 at 1:46 pm

      Thanks Bright. Nice work. But what about Man United and Wigan?

      The Gaffer

  5. Mike

    October 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    I hope ESPN stays the course. I’m an obsessive fan of college football, and getting to watch an early Prem game followed by a day of college football is pretty much perfect.

    Plus the HD looks amazing. I can’t wait to see the Emirates later this month.

  6. NJ

    October 22, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I think you have to look at these games. The worse ratings were for the first game, the deal finalized the day before with no publicity so you couldn’t expect much. The next few, ex Chelsea Aston Villa, the matchups were not that compelling and you had 7:45 time slots which are a nightmare outside of the east coast, what casual fan really wants to wake up at 6:45 in CST let alone 4:45 on the west coast to see a game.

    The top 2 show you more 1) Liverpool Aston Villa on a Monday, if you have a good match people will find it, and 2) decent match up better timing 10am will draw in the fans. The only one that really surprises me is the Aston Villa Chelsea game, you had a good match up, but I don’t think the start time helped. It will be interesting to see how an Arsenal Tottenham plays out.

    • jayoh

      October 22, 2009 at 5:51 pm

      I couldn’t agree more…you are losing half of the country when a game starts at 4:45 or 5:45 am…tivo or not, I love Villa but I’m not waking up to watch that game at 4:45am on a saturday morning, start putting those games on at 8 or 9 am on the west coast and I think the ratings for espn will definitely rise.

  7. Kevin

    October 22, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Gaffer, what do you mean by that? In my experience Chelsea are incredibly popular in the US, second only to Man Utd.

    • The Gaffer

      October 22, 2009 at 3:32 pm

      I don’t believe Chelsea are that popular in the United States except in California, Texas and the northeast. There are far more Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal fans. Just by looking at the ratings so far this season on ESPN, the Chelsea matches are lower down the list.

      The Gaffer

      • ovalball

        October 22, 2009 at 4:53 pm

        “I don’t believe Chelsea are that popular in the United States except in California, Texas and the northeast.”

        Uhhh, Gaffer, that’s where most of the people live. 😉

        I really don’t get the Villa/Chelsea ratings. That looked to be a great match and was. Perhaps as others have suggested the newness is simply wearing off. At 7:45 on a Saturday I don’t think you can blame it on any other sport. Hangovers, maybe.

  8. Duke

    October 22, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    I, for one, am not optimistic about EPL on ESPN. I don’t think these numbers look very good, and this is a tough time of year for soccer to draw eyeballs, what with playoff baseball and surprisingly competitive football at both the college and pro levels.

    Maybe after the first of the year, with only the NFL left to contend with (and only on Sundays), the numbers might look better. Let’s hope.

    BTW, I had TV listings that showed a couple of La Liga games scheduled for ESPN last Sunday, but when the time came around, they had hunting shows on in that time slot. I realize that Sundays during NFL season are tough on competing sports, but I don’t think that bodes well at all for soccer on the WWL.

    My 2 cents…

  9. winstongator

    October 22, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    “The other reason is that the quality of opposition last weekend is not as attractive as a game featuring Manchester United or Liverpool.”

    Huh? Villa-Chelsea not the quality of opposition as Pompey Everton who outdrew in the same time slot. How is Wolves-Villa an upgrade in quality? I’ll second Jonathan – the Chelsea-Villa game was awesome.

    Last weekend had an early big college football game – Texas Oklahoma, Saturdays, esp on the wwl are college football 100%.

    Are they really looking at ratings week-to-week? What would they have needed to draw, ratings-wise, to have outbid fsc for future rights?

    • The Gaffer

      October 22, 2009 at 2:03 pm

      Hi Winston, matches featuring Villa and Chelsea are big to us, the die-hards, but the passive soccer fans and newbies aren’t as interested in those games as they would be if Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester United were playing.

      Good point about the college gridiron games.

      Regarding ESPN and TV rights to the EPL, it all comes down to money and who bids the most for the rights. Ratings help so networks can charge more for advertising.

      The Gaffer

  10. Jonathan

    October 22, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    At least until FSC-HD gets wide distribution (and who knows how long that will take), I sure hope ESPN hangs in there w/ EPL coverage. Watching that game in HD last weekend (Chelsea-Villa) was fantastic. Having to slog back to FSC to watch Spurs-Bolton that night was a brutal letdown.

  11. Mike

    October 22, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Where is the ratings for the Monday night Aston Villa/Man City game before the last break?

    • The Gaffer

      October 22, 2009 at 3:33 pm

      Good catch Mike. I’ll add the ratings for that game this afternoon, and will update the article to reflect that.

      The Gaffer

      • Mike

        October 23, 2009 at 1:38 pm


  12. man99utd

    October 22, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Troubling to say the least. I realise there is only so much time to watch sport, but most of these matches come on in the early hours of the day, when the family is asleep. The advertising (lack thereof) is of greater interest to me. Could it be that this was a one off for ESPN and now that they’re seeing the numbers they’ve stopped pushing it as hard. Let’s face it they’ve never pushed soccer as hard as let’s say “poker”. Maybe it’s time for FSC to expand their coverage add FSC2 HD and be done with a network that spends most of its time slagging off the beautiful game in America.

    Or sadly, could it be that interest in the beautiful game has been a bit overstated in America. Hate to be so gloomy but it leaves one a bit gutted.

  13. olivert

    October 22, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    The novelty has certainly worn off.

    I honestly didn’t think ESPN2 can average more than 250-300K viewers for the entire 2009-2010 EPL season.

    With that said, I still believe that FSI will approach ESPN, Inc. with a sublicensing proposal for the next 3 seasons (2010-2011 through 2012-2013) that might look like the following:

    1. 1st pick of Saturday “early” match kicking off between 0700 and 0845 New York Time
    2. 1st pick of Saturday match at 1000 or 1100 New York Time
    3. 1st pick of Sunday “early” match between 0730 and 0930 New York Time or earlier

    If FSI were to retain Serie A as well, I can see FSI throwing into the proposed sublicense package the Sunday “early” Serie A match at 0630 or 0730 New York Time.

    FSI will retain enough good matches so that it will have a shot of convincing cable and satellite operators to move FSC from the sports pack to an extended digital basic package (i.e. DirecTV Choice or Choice Xtra package)

    There is no “synergy” argument for ESPN, Inc. to sublicense the Monday night EPL matches (kickoff between 1445 and 1600 New York Time) from FSI during the next 3 seasons because the 12 matches in that time slot will be the property of BSkyB instead of ESPN UK.

  14. TT

    October 22, 2009 at 11:59 am

    How accurate are the figures? Just curious.

    In Britain ratings for matches are said to be skewed as pubs/clubs are not factored in.

    • The Gaffer

      October 22, 2009 at 12:56 pm

      As accurate as they can be, but I’m sure they’re smaller than what the actual numbers are due to pubs and people viewing the games in public locations such as gyms, sports bars, etc.

      The Gaffer

      • Sarah Millery

        October 22, 2009 at 4:21 pm

        You are quite correct Gaffer, games are rarely watched at home, and are mainly seen at supporters clubs / pubs (Canada). I guess this is one of the few places in the world where a Man U and Liverpool supporter can sit together and watch a game, yes as unnatural as it sounds, it happens:)

        Any chance of this, dare I say, being the Ronaldo effect? or at least the Real Madrid pulling effect? If it is, I don’t expect it to last that long, as the EPL is untouchable as far as excitement is concerned.

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