At the beginning of August, Philly.com soccer reporter Jonathan Tannenwald heralded great expectations for MLS games that were scheduled to be televised that month on ESPN.
As Tannenwald noted, which was key, the four MLS games would be on the ESPN “mother ship,” the main channel instead of relegated to the more soccer-friendly ESPN2 network.
A note for the TV ratings wonks among you: ESPN’s next four MLS games are on the mother ship, and they are pretty big matchups.
— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) August 6, 2015
As it happened, only three of the next four games were shown on ESPN, but the 3 MLS games on ESPN got a big boost. Here are the viewing figures:
• August 9, 4-6pm ET: LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders, ESPN: 549,000 viewers
• August 23, 3-5pm ET: LA Galaxy vs. New York City FC, ESPN: 452,000 viewers
• August 30, 4:30-6:30pm ET: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers, ESPN: 438,000 viewers
The viewing figures were far greater than what is customary for MLS games. So what was the difference? The August 9 game between LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders marked the debut of Giovani Dos Santos. The resulting TV viewing audience number was the largest for an MLS regular-season game on English-language cable in more than three years.
In addition to the 549,000 number on ESPN, 183,000 people watched the game live on ESPN Deportes. The combined figure of 732,000 was impressive.
Meanwhile, the 452,000 number for the Galaxy vs. NYCFC game on ESPN was far greater than the 216,000 who watched the same teams play on ESPN2 in April.
Next, the 438,000 viewers for the derby between Seattle and Portland on August 30 was far greater than the 309,000 who watched the game on FOX Sports 1 in late April.
As a way of comparing the effect of games being shown on ESPN to other sports networks, ESPN is in 92 million homes (the same number as ESPN2), while FOX Sports 1 is in 84 million households.
Based on the impressive numbers for the LA Galaxy games on ESPN against Seattle and New York City FC, it begs the question why MLS didn’t try harder to try to sign Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez this summer before he moved from Manchester United to Bayer Leverkusen. Based on the Dos Santos signing, Mexico is the key to unlocking greater TV ratings in the United States. Chicharito is at a stage in his career where he’s not going to get a lot of playing time at a major club in Europe, so he was faced with either taking a step down to play at Leverkusen or to play in MLS. Unfortunately for MLS, he decided to move to Germany.
For MLS and ESPN, there are currently no LA Galaxy games scheduled on the “mother ship” in September or October.
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