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MLS fails to make positive impression on TV ratings


This past weekend, Major League Soccer and its TV partners pulled out all of the stops to try to boost its fledgling TV ratings. Unfortunately despite the much hyped MLS Rivalry Week, the results yet again failed to move the needle.

First, FOX had its first-ever MLS game that aired nationally on FOX broadcast television. Not only that, but FOX and MLS worked together to feature the game immediately after the FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Crystal Palace, hoping that fans of English soccer would continue watching the Hudson River derby.

Second, the Sunday game between Cascadia Cup game between Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps was featured on the main ESPN network, which meant that the more high-profile Copa del Rey final between Sevilla and Barcelona was pushed to ESPN2.

And third and finally, the California Clásico between San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy was featured prominently on FOX Sports 1 during primetime.

Everything was primed for Major League Soccer to make a big splash.

So how did MLS do against the competition?

For those MLS and FOX executives hoping that the FA Cup viewers would stick around to watch the New York City-New York Red Bulls game, they would have been disappointed by the fact that 41% of the average viewing audience that watched Manchester United beat Crystal Palace didn’t watch the Hudson River derby. The average viewing audience for the FA Cup Final was 1,018,000 compared to the average viewing audience of 595,000 for NYCFC-New York Red Bulls.

The New York derby viewing audience number is disappointing especially when you consider that New York City is the number one TV market in the United States. There are 7.3 million homes that have televisions in New York, which represents 6.5% of the total in the USA.

Moving to Sunday, despite being on ESPN, the average viewing audience number for the Portland-Vancouver game failed to beat Sevilla against Barcelona, which was on ESPN2. Three thousand more viewers, on average, watched the Copa del Rey final than the MLS game. Although

Third and finally, the Sunday night primetime broadcast of San Jose against Los Angeles generated a viewing audience average of 210,000 across FOX Sports 1 and FOX Deportes. The 151,000 of those viewers who watched the game on FOX Sports 1 is 23% below FS1’s average for the 2015 MLS regular season.

Meanwhile, here are the soccer TV ratings from May 19-25, 2016 for all live games shown on US television:

Pos.TeamsNo. of viewersTV NetworkGame time (ET)Date
1Monterrey vs. Club America1,395,000Univision Deportes9:30-11:30pmSat., May 21
2Man United vs. Crystal Palace1,160,000FOX & FOX Deportes12:30-3:10pmSat., May 21
3New York City vs. Red Bulls636,000FOX & FOX Deportes3:30-5:30pmSat., May 21
4Leon vs. Pachuca498,000Univision Deportes9-11pmThurs., May 19
5Sevilla vs. Barcelona466,000ESPN23:30-6pmSun., May 22
6Portland vs. Vancouver463,000ESPN5-7pmSun., May 22
7USA vs. Ecuador429,000ESPN28-10pmWed., May 25
8Pumas vs. Independiente427,000FOX Deportes9-11pmTues., May 24
9Pachuca vs. Leon395,000Univision Deportes9-11pmSun., May 22
10Puerto Rico vs. USA304,000FOX Sports 1Noon-2pmSun., May 22
11LA Galaxy vs. San Jose210,000FOX Sports 1 & FOX Deportes7:30-9:30pmSun., May 22
12Philadelphia vs. DC United190,000UniMas & Univision Deportes7-9pmFri., May 20
13England vs. Turkey180,000FOX Sports 2 & FOX DeportesNoon-2pmSun., May 22
14USA vs. Ecuador161,000Univision Deportes8-10pmWed., May 25
15Boca Juniors vs. Nacional120,000FOX Deportes7-9:30pmThurs., May 19
16Atletico vs. Rosario109,000FOX Deportes9:30pm-MidnightThurs., May 19
17Puerto Rico vs. USA105,000Univision DeportesNoon-2pmSun., May 22
18Frankfurt vs. Nurnberg75,000FOX Sports 12:30-4:30pmThurs., May 19
19Nurnberg vs. Frankfurt67,000FOX Sports 1 & FOX Deportes2:30-4:30pmMon., May 23
20Mali vs. Mexico54,000beIN SPORTS Español9:45-11:45amSun., May 22
21Bulgaria vs. Mexico29,000beIN SPORTS & beIN SPORTS Español11:30-1:30pmTues., May 24
22PSG vs. Marseille26,000beIN SPORTS3-5pmSat., May 21
23Almeria vs. Real Oviedo25,000beIN SPORTS Español1:15-3:15pmSun., May 22
24Bulgaria vs. France23,000beIN SPORTS & beIN SPORTS Español1:45-3:45pmFri., May 20
25NY Cosmos vs. Eibar16,000beIN SPORTS & beIN SPORTS Español10pm-MidnightWed., May 25
26Houston vs. Real Sociedad15,000beIN SPORTS & beIN SPORTS Español7:30-9:30pmTues., May 24
27Paraguay vs. England13,000beIN SPORTS & beIN SPORTS Español1:30-3:30pmWed., May 25
28Portugal vs. Guinea12,000beIN SPORTS Español12:45-2:30pmSat., May 21
29San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Sociedad10,000beIN SPORTS7-9pmFri., May 20
30Vallodolid vs. Girona9,000beIN SPORTS Español2:30-4:30pmTues., May 24
31Legales vs. Huesca9,000beIN SPORTS Español2:30-4:15pmSat., May 21
32Guinea vs. Japan9,000beIN SPORTS & beIN SPORTS Español11:30am-1:30pmWed., May 25
33Gimnastic vs. Osasuna8,000beIN SPORTS Español3:30-5:30pmWed., May 25
34Japan vs. Portugal8,000beIN SPORTS & beIN SPORTS Español11am-1pmMon., May 23
35Mexico vs. Czech Republic6,000beIN SPORTS Español10:45am-12:45pmFri., May 20
36England vs. Portugal6,000beIN SPORTS & beIN SPORTS Español1:20-3:20pmThurs., May 19
37Philadelphia Fury vs. Eibar5,000beIN SPORTS & beIN SPORTS Español5-7pmSun., May 22
38Indy 11 vs. Minnesota4,000beIN SPORTS7:30-9:30pmSat., May 21
39England vs. Guinea4,000beIN SPORTS & beIN SPORTS Español1-3pmMon., May 23
40Guinea vs. Paraguay0beIN SPORTS11:30am-1:30pmThurs., May 19
41France vs. Mali0beIN SPORTS1:30-3:30pmTues., May 24

Note that viewing figures for soccer games shown on the over-the-air Univision network or Telemundo have not been made available.

SEE MORE: Browse through all of the TV ratings data from now through 2006

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  1. Huge Jass

    May 31, 2016 at 10:05 am

    ESPN can’t ignore MLS for 2 decades, not reporting on it, etc., and suddenly expect high ratings. Sorry it’s not that easy.

  2. Vince

    May 30, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Do local rivalry games draw big ratings? Seems like NYCFC vs LA would draw much larger numbers than two teams from the same neighborhood. Especially in a league where there is no history… yet.

    I agree with the other commentors…. the NY numbers areprogress. I know they drop from the Manu lead in but maybe this is the blueprint- show a high profile intl game on a major network when follow with an enticing game from mls.

    Here is the only question that matters to Fox- how did the NY game do compared to whatever normally follows a big intl game? If they run reruns of I Love Lucy after these games and the reruns draw more eyeballs than the game, then you are right. My guess is that Fox is quietlt pleased with these numbers.

  3. fredthefan

    May 29, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    MLS can try but it’s tough to create rivalries with little history. Basically the league is trying to create a rivalry between the Union and DC United because they are in close rival cities. It’s like trying to get the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lighting to be NHL rivals in the first decade of existence. The four other major sports have been around for decades so rivalries have developed. While EPL, Liga MX and MLS (to some extent) have done well with TV ratings, you wonder if the market has become saturated right now. Other leagues like Bungeliga haven’t gotten the ratings people expect.

    • Anthony

      May 31, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      I agree with your statement, NBC does a great job with the premier league as univision does with Liga MX. Fox seems to be all over the place with their soccer coverage airing champions league, europa league, fa cup, bundesliga, mls and international matches. With Champions league and europa league games on weekday afternoons those are great to air and compete with ESPN during those time periods. Bundesliga seems to be a lost cause though. Nothing against the league, but like you said, there already a lot of coverage of the sport already and it competes directly with the EPL. I don’t see Fox bringing back the bundesliga after the 3 year deal.

      • NaBUru38

        May 31, 2016 at 4:08 pm

        On the contrary, Fox should get the Spanish league to improve weekend morning fixtures.

  4. Paul

    May 27, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    It could be that a a lot of the fans watching the Cup final had to leave to go watch a MLS game.


      May 27, 2016 at 8:27 pm

      So much but hurt over MLS ratings, ratings suck and have sucked for years.

  5. Scott

    May 27, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Even if those numbers are a failure by your commentary, can you explain how the fault lies on MLS? Wouldn’t the fault come down to ESPN & Fox, etc?

    • Christopher Harris

      May 27, 2016 at 6:47 pm

      It’s a valid question. Are people not watching MLS and tuning out of games because of the broadcaster or because of the league itself, or other factors?

  6. DowntownDave

    May 27, 2016 at 11:51 am

    For God’s sakes the Premier League teams have a 100+ year head start on MLS. It’s going to take time for MLS ratings to catch up.

  7. Anthony

    May 27, 2016 at 10:12 am

    The 463,000 for Portland- Vancouver actually seems pretty high. Its definitely well above the ESPN average, Portland is not a top 20 Market, and the game included a Canadian team. Canadian teams usually don’t draw well in the US

    Living in The NY area, The red bulls have never moved the needle in the market. The team in never promoted or discussed on local radio stadiums and attendance is average among MLS teams. NYC FC does have big names, but the NY area fans support winning/championships more than big names. City is still a work in progress as a competitive and watchable team.

    The real issue is the low viewership for the galaxy game.. That number is well below average for a team that include both Mexican and British international . The Galaxy are supposed to be the crown jewel of the MLS and a primetime game not breaking 200,000 English language viewers is pathetic

  8. Andrew

    May 27, 2016 at 10:11 am

    You should of mentioned that it was a 7-0 blowout for the Hudson River derby. One sided games always turns off viewers.

    • Blaise Wilson

      May 27, 2016 at 10:01 pm

      So do games that don’t really count because 60% of teams in a league that enforces parity make the playoffs.

  9. Tim

    May 27, 2016 at 9:01 am

    Soooo MLS had the number 3 and 6 most watched soccer game over leagues that are more popular in the US? I don’t see this as that bad.

    • Christopher Harris

      May 27, 2016 at 9:05 am

      …on a weekend where there were no league games across Europe since the seasons are over. Now that the European league seasons are over, they should be seeing big increases in the number of viewers (let’s hope so). We’ll know more next week!

  10. John G.

    May 27, 2016 at 8:49 am

    If you were in England and had just watched an excellent match between two first-division sides in a national cup tie, would you want to follow that by watching AFC Bournemouth play Stoke City or turning off the television? Except for the larger stadiums and the over-the-top hype Fox Sports brings to everything it covers… and ESPN too often brings to domestic soccer coverage… that’s MLS right there: the best teams are ridiculously overhyped vis a vi their ability… and them being like middling to lower Premier League sides is a significant improvement.

    Yes, ESPN and Fox Sports are selling the passion of soccer… but no amount of passion can substitute for quality.

  11. Alan Kane

    May 27, 2016 at 8:00 am

    The NYCFC game was the most watched MLS game on any network since 2014 and the ESPN game was highly rated compared to previous matches. On the whole there is progress here… Your report could have easily led with ” Most watched MLS” game in two years but you chose the negative headline instead.

    • Christopher Harris

      May 27, 2016 at 8:10 am

      Alan, it’s difficult to spin this in a positive light considering how disappointing the numbers are.

      The August 9, 2015 game between LA Galaxy and Seattle had more viewers (549,000 on ESPN and 183,000 on ESPN Deportes for a combined total of 732,000 people). That’s greater than the FOX number of 595,000 plus the 41,000 who watched the game on FOX Deportes for a combined total of 636,000.

      The LA Galaxy-Seattle game didn’t have the advantage of being preceded by a FA Cup final. Plus the FOX broadcast network is in 116 million homes compared to the 91 million homes that have ESPN.

      Lastly, New York City is the number one TV market in the entire United States compared to number two (for LA) and number 14 (for Seattle). So the expectation would be that there would be more people tuning into the game from the New York area since they’re local teams.

      Considering these facts, the New York City-New York Red Bulls game should have done much better than it did.

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