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Talk of EPL TV Ratings On ESPN2 Plateauing Are Premature And Misguided


Many soccer fans in the United States have posted here and on other sites that Nielsen Ratings for Premier League games shown on ESPN2 have flatlined. Based on the latest numbers from ESPN2, that is simply not true.

The reality is that the teams that were featured in the games shown by ESPN2 over the past two months had “flatlined” in that they featured teams that for the most part are not appealing to the mass of soccer fans in the States. Those teams include Burnley, Sunderland, Hull City, Birmingham City and others.

But when clubs such as Manchester United and Arsenal are featured, the ratings rapidly increase.

Here are the Nielsen Ratings for the 18 Premier League games that ESPN2 has shown this entire season thus far (newest ratings are highlighted in bold). Plus, we have a chart that shows how the ratings have done from August through November, 2009 after the jump:

Top Nielsen Ratings for Premier League Games on ESPN2: August through November, 2009:

  1. Liverpool v Aston Villa,  8/24/2009, Monday, 3pm ET, 398391 viewers
  2. Portsmouth v Manchester United,  11/28/2009, Saturday, 10am, 396995
  3. Wigan v Man United, 8/22/2009, Saturday, 10am,  374799
  4. Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur, 10/31/2009, Saturday, 8:45am, 325187
  5. Manchester City v West Ham United, 9/28/2009, Monday, 3pm, 293600
  6. Portsmouth v Everton, 9/26/2009, Saturday, 7:45am, 270927
  7. Bolton Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur, 10/3/2009,  Saturday, 10am, 265508
  8. Tottenham v Sunderland, 11/7/2009, Saturday, 10am, 259831
  9. Chelsea v Burnley, 8/29/2009, Saturday, 7:45am, 253934
  10. Liverpool v Burnley, 9/12/2009, Saturday, 10am, 253779
  11. Aston Villa v Manchester City, 10/5/2009, Monday, 3pm, 248956
  12. Liverpool v Manchester City, 11/21/2009, Saturday, 7:45am, 236247
  13. Fulham v Hull City, 10/19/2009, Monday, 3pm, 209207
  14. Aston Villa v Chelsea, 10/17/2009, Saturday, 7:45am, 206886
  15. Wolverhampton Wanderers v Aston Villa, 10/24/2009, Saturday, 7:45am, 204882
  16. Burnley v Sunderland, 9/19/2009, Saturday, 7:45am, 199380
  17. Liverpool v Birmingham City, 11/9/2009, Monday, 3pm, 182138
  18. Chelsea v Hull City, 8/15/2009, Saturday, 7:45am, 164485

And here is the chart that shows the ratings from August through November:


What the above chart shows is that a game featuring Portsmouth vs Manchester United will generate near record breaking TV ratings for ESPN2 because United were featured. Sadly for ESPN2, Manchester United are rarely featured on Saturday mornings or Monday afternoons, so Fox Soccer Channel benefits from the lionshare of United games which are shown on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings.

Looking at the Premier League TV schedule for US viewers for the next few months, ESPN2 may have a tough time getting ratings as high as they did for last week’s Portsmouth v Man United match. The schedule looks pretty dire for ESPN2.

Unfortunately the schedule has been unkind to ESPN2. For example, imagine what the ratings would be for an ESPN2 game at the perfect time of 10am ET if Manchester United were featured against Chelsea or Arsenal. At this rate we’ll have to wait until next season to see if there’s any chance of such a high profile Premier League match being featured on ESPN2. Between now and the end of this month, we should know whether Fox Soccer Channel has sublicensed any of its EPL rights to ESPN for the 2010-2013 seasons.

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  1. danimal

    December 5, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    ESPN can’t get Man U (or even City) often at lunchtime because Greater Manchester police will allow late Saturday games basically other than city or vs. Liverpool derbies.

    In London, as the BBC often lamented with regard to FA Cup scheduling, the Metropolitan Police can be pretty restrictive about marquee games being in the same time slot as opposed to lunchtime.

    Also, NewsCorp lost all EPL rights in much of SE Asia and UK rights to the late Saturday game two years ago, so Sky Sports is more inclined to focus on “Super Sunday” unless Champions League or police considerations force them to do otherwise. They now often use the early games to fill their mandatory quota of the less glamorous teams.

    ESPN can’t take late Saturday games b/c of college football/hoops, and FSC is never giving up the late Sunday game as long as it’s the featured slot.

  2. boringarsenal

    December 5, 2009 at 12:01 am

    I wonder what next season will bring to Setanta? I’ve been suspecting that ESPN will grab a better share of Premier League matches, sub-licensed from Fox. Without a substantial portion of Premier League football, Setanta is broadcasting more Football League Championship matches, e.g. Monday night matches. For my money, this is fine as I think the Championship offers a bevy of exciting matches; after all, many of these clubs are former members of the Premiership. Gaffer, do you suppose that Setanta is on it’s last legs after this season?
    Oh, and thanks for interviewing Rebecca Lowe, my football dream of a girl!

    • The Gaffer

      December 5, 2009 at 7:20 am

      BoringArsenal, great question about Setanta. Stay tuned to for a future article on the topic of Setanta and what the future holds for them.

      The Gaffer

      • ovalball

        December 5, 2009 at 7:46 am

        But, Gaffer, my subscription is due Monday!

        • The Gaffer

          December 5, 2009 at 1:29 pm

          Email me privately and I’ll tell you what I know so far.

          The Gaffer

  3. rangers00

    December 4, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    And the title of this thread is as misguided as you can get. I thought I would see average EPL audience going up to the 300s…

    It’s just one game, Portsmouth X Man U that did the trick. The fact is, EPL TV ratings are just plateauing as usual. You telling me Man C X Liverpool only drawing 230K? That’s pitiful. This is one rich team with the aspiration to become a Big-4 vs a team that’s been a Big-4 for better part of a decade.

    Unless ESPN2 can become ESPN2-MANUTV, that they will broadcast only Man U games for the EPL coverage, what do you expect on the ratings that do NOT involve Man U?

    • Jorge Curioso

      December 5, 2009 at 7:40 am

      ESPN2 as MUTV would be loverly, in my unbiased opinion…

  4. Pittspur

    December 4, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Gaffer, I am curious about these ratings. Can you compare them to the ratings of a typical noon (ET) football game that ESPN airs?

    • The Gaffer

      December 4, 2009 at 3:50 pm

      Sorry, but I don’t have access to those ratings. Perhaps one of the readers may…?

      The Gaffer

  5. jleau

    December 4, 2009 at 11:37 am

    ESPN has done a very good job with their coverage especially when considering the poor time slots they are stuck with (4:30 on the west coast at times) and the small lead time to put everything together. The ratings will be much higher with marquee match-ups in good time slots.

    That being said, we fans should have realistic expectation as the average audience for a game is less than that of a Hanna Montana rerun. ESPN seems committed to soccer. There is a ton of stuff on 360 and the WC coverage is going to be great. They will never push the prem ahead of baseball, football, or basketball. It doesn’t make business sense, though it would make me very happy.

    Gaffer, any news on the next rights contract?

    • The Gaffer

      December 4, 2009 at 11:56 am

      jleau, no word yet but it’s expected to be announced between now and the end of the month. Kartik is at ESPN’s headquarters right now and will ask the question if he gets an opportunity.

      The Gaffer

  6. CFTV

    December 4, 2009 at 7:53 am

    With College Football’s regular season ending this weekend I think we will see a bit more oomph put into ESPN’s coverage of Prem and La Liga as they get into the hype of the Copa next summer. ESPN will put more emphasis into College Basketbal with Football’s regular season ending l but Basketball doesnt get near the coverage of College Football when a big story breaks or is broken down as much on their programs. We have seen more and more pieces on recent episodes of SportsCenter and ESPN Anchor Programming like ATH, PTI, and the show with Cowherd about the World Cup and South Africa.

    It does seem like the Prem has put less emphasis in putting “big games” at 7:30am this year than they have in any other year in the past 3 or 4 seasons which is the time slot ESPN purchased this year. I can see if the World Cup next Summer and there is a legit bounce in interest that ESPN could bid for one of the 10am games because the game doesn’t go up against any College Sports on Saturday Mornings. ESPN has way more money than Setanta USA and could very easily bid for either the first or the second choice 10am game because I could see FSC this cycle keeping the first choice game or alternate games weekly because its pretty silly for them to own the best games every week and sell it to a rival network at this point with the game growing in popularity.

    Right now I am watching Mike and Mike on ESPN 2 and on the scroll they have been running the World Cup teams and were doing it yesterday which didn’t happen 4 years ago. Futbol will never be the dominate sport on ESPN but there is obvious interest ESPN has shown towards the sport now than ever. I only think ESPN will be ramping up their coverage more as they pick up more Joe Public Sports Fan that get bit by the bug this summer and see what a lot of people that grew up as American Sports Fans that have found the game the past few World Cup Cycles.

  7. Jorge Curioso

    December 4, 2009 at 1:51 am

    Well, it looks like Manchester United is the biggest draw, by far, and Liverpool is close to bottom.

    One more ignominy for the Benitez Boosters to swallow…

  8. man99utd

    December 3, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Gaffer, thanks for sorting me out, patience is a virtue, but I’m afraid not one of mine…cheers

  9. The Gaffer

    December 3, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    ESPN is very supportive of soccer. In the past 12 months, they’ve made significant improvement in the quantity and quality of soccer that they show. Sure, they lost the Champions League, but the plans they’ve released for their 2010 World Cup coverage are stupendous. Never before has the United States had as much coverage of Copa Mundial as we’ll have next summer.

    As far as promoting the Premier League, ESPN advertised the coverage pretty heavily in the first month.

    While we would like ESPN to promote the Premier League coverage more, we have to realize that this is just one of many forms of sports coverage that the channel broadcasts.

    My advice would be to be patient. Let’s hope the World Cup coverage is as good as it sounds it’ll be. That tournament will provide the best advertisement ever for the Premier League and ESPN2’s coverage of the league.

    The Gaffer

  10. Steve

    December 3, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    What bothers me most about ESPN is that they would rather show some no-name college teams, or a baseball game instead of a premier soccer game. I also wish that they would have a regular showing at a decent time. I understand the time difference, but how about a slight tape delay? ESPN just doesn’t care about soccer and frat boys are too dumb to understand it.

    • Kevin

      December 3, 2009 at 2:22 pm

      Of course ESPN will show a baseball game before a football match. Baseball is a thousand times more popular in the US. It’s a no-brainer. On top of that, what baseball game as conflicted with a Prem match that ESPN has had the rights to?

      They do have regular showings: either 7:75 or 10 on Saturdays, and 3 on Mondays. Also, tape delay sucks.

      • man99utd

        December 3, 2009 at 3:23 pm

        I agree with your comments about baseball and conflicts…So let’s make it simple. ESPN really doesn’t care about soccer in general, so dump it and let a network that does air it… FSC has bought everything else let them have the WC. I realise that ESPN’s HD is brilliant and all, but let’s face it there heart really isn’t in it.

        • Kevin

          December 3, 2009 at 5:15 pm

          No offense, but that is a terrible, terrible idea. This sport will never grow in the States if its showcase is restricted to Fox ****ing Soccer Channel.

          • man99utd

            December 3, 2009 at 7:15 pm


            I understand your logic. But let’s face it, if ESPN was really all that concerned about the growth of the EPL and La Liga it would be promoting it more. They know there are devoted followers so why bother. Unless the gaffer has the scoop (and he usually does) I just don’t think ESPN is all that concerned about the beautiful game.

  11. Pat

    December 3, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I think the timing of the games has the most to do with it. As you can see, the 10 AM EST Saturday games are nowhere to be found near the bottom of the rankings.

    In my opinion if ESPN2 had a Noon EST Saturday game they would do even better.

    Love the coverage, especially in HD, but I am not getting out of bed at 6:45 my time to watch.

  12. man99utd

    December 3, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    As an Man Utd supporter I’m chuffed to bits. As a football supporter in general I think FSC may ultimately benefit more than ESPN from these ratings, once FSC is in HD. Why? Because ESPN doesn’t have the football focus. I still think their primary focus is building up to WC10. If FSC could get themselves placed on the expanded basic tier they will have as large an audience base as ESPN. Then maybe they could drop the dodgy infomercials in the early morning.

  13. olivert

    December 3, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Being a neutral, I did NOT watch Portsmouth vs Man Utd.

    I can certainly understand why a match involving Man Utd on ESPN2 would draw viewers.

    Man Utd probably has more supporters around the world, including the U.S., then Liverpool. Arsenal, and Chelsea combined.

    Furthermore, Man Utd has done more marketing around the world, especially in the growth markets of East and Southeast Asia (particularly the Chinese-speaking markets), then Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea combined.

  14. Chris

    December 3, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Id just love to see a Fulham game every weekend…with 2 channels showing EPL youd think I might get to see a Fulham game everyweekend…those channels being FSC and ESPN2

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