MLS sees 38% decline in 2015 MLS Cup TV viewing numbers


The final TV viewing numbers are in for 2015 MLS Cup, and it’s not good news. As we reported yesterday, the combined viewing figure for the Columbus-Portland game on ESPN and Univision Deportes was 874,000. The only number we were missing was UniMas. Despite positive numbers for last year’s final on UniMas, the number for the Crew SC-Timbers final was down 56% this year to 300,000.

When the US TV numbers are combined, the viewing audience size for all three major networks declined 38% compared to last year (see below). (The 2014 MLS Cup final featured Los Angeles against New England in the game that was Landon Donovan’s farewell).

2014 MLS Cup2015 MLS Cup% Difference

The only good news of the day came from ESPN, which reported a viewing audience of 32,000 that watched the game online. It’s the best online number ever for a MLS game in ESPN history.

Most soccer fans and journalists, myself included, want to see numbers continue to grow, so the 2015 totals are disappointing to say the least. Some may give excuses that Columbus and Portland aren’t big TV markets, but the reality is that it shouldn’t make that much of a huge difference. The MLS Cup is the pinnacle game of the season, so the majority of soccer fans who are interested in the league should be tuning in no matter what.

SEE MORE: Viewer’s guide to watching MLS on TV and streaming.

Plus, with MLS featuring a playoff format each season, the likelihood that “less” attractive TV markets will battle it out in future MLS Cup finals is greater than a league format where the “bigger” clubs over a course of an entire regular season will prevail. If MLS had a MLS Cup final between the Western Conference and Eastern Conference winners, it would have been New York against Dallas. Those are far better TV markets, but MLS doesn’t appear likely to eliminate the playoff system any time in the future.

It also doesn’t help that the game is scheduled on a weekend where it competes against either the NFL or college football. A rumored midweek MLS Cup in the future isn’t going to move the needle much either. The MLS calendar should be reconfigured so the ultimate game of the season is played when there isn’t a lot of competition on TV, such as August when ESPN reported fantastic numbers in 2015 for a series of league games.

MLS, as an organization, is making a lot of great decisions in expanding the league and acquiring exceptional players. However, the one metric that it continues to fall down on is TV ratings. There are enough smart minds at MLS to make it work, but it takes the cooperation of the owners, MLS executives and TV companies to develop a sound plan. The year 2015 has been a positive one in terms of TV coverage, but seismic changes are needed in order to propel this league to the next level when it comes to the most important measuring stick of all — TV ratings.

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