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MLS accounted for only 7% of soccer TV viewing: Aug-Dec 2016

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Photo credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

MLS’ share of TV soccer is scarily small. Over the period August to December 2016, MLS accounted for only 7% of total viewing of soccer in US while Liga MX accounted for one third.

The TV ratings data collected by World Soccer Talk’s Collin Werner provides an interesting insight into the current position of MLS. He has been collecting national viewing figure for MLS over the last season and for all TV soccer since August. He kindly allowed me to look at the data (see snippet below) and several highlights struck me which I’ll be examining in this article and a follow-up piece next week.

Percentage of soccer TV viewers watching MLS versus other leagues on US TV (August-December, 2016):

Leagues/competitionsTotal viewing
Liga MX33%
EPL22%
Internationals17%
Other12%
La Liga9%
MLS7%

Like many people, I have long argued that the real challenge for MLS is to break the TV market. Europe’s big leagues typically generate about half of their revenues from TV, while MLS is probably below 20%.

The current MLS contract will run until 2022 and pays around $90 million a year of which a significant fraction goes to run the national teams. With less than $5 million going to each of the franchises, the size of the broadcast deal limits the willingness of owners to pay the big bucks that will attract the top talent. This is a catch 22 for the league since better players means better soccer and a more attractive product for broadcasters to sell. MLS needs to find a way to boost their product on TV by the time the next contract comes along.

To have any chance of attracting a large contract MLS would surely need to have a much larger share of its own market. It’s true that there were twice as many EPL and Liga MX games shown, and MLS will indeed expand its supply of games in the next few years with the expansion teams. That should help to increase market share.

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38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. Rye Brook

    May 20, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    All together now: “promotion and relegation”. Even coming to Australia in a few seasons. Go there. Enliven your soul, MLS.

  2. Will willows

    May 20, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Comment on summer mls viewing outside north america when other leagues are dormant.

  3. Alex Michalakos

    January 4, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Sooooooooo…………………………

    MLS accounted for only 6% of the games in the data,
    but accounted for 7% of soccer TV viewing.

    (1) That means that MLS games were actually watched at a HIGHER rate than all the other soccer games, on average.
    .(2) …..the data is from August to December—but the season ended in October, so the only games in November were some playoff games, and only one game in December. so there wasn’t

    Not a very Soccernomics-y article.

  4. Tommy

    January 4, 2017 at 8:45 am

    The Halloween comment is funny because sadly its accurate,

  5. Some fat wana be British lad

    January 1, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Let’s be real here you eurosnobs are just posers and neards who think you’re some sophisticated bunch because you watch epl and then laugh and domestic soccer. At the end of the day no one likes soccer in the USA and it’s proven in my every day life that no one cares so keep on keepin on and stil no one cares. A friend of mine put it best when I took him to watch epl at local bar yesterday…”it’s like Halloween. They are all fat and squeeze into their favorite jersey and try to sing and screem in an accent yet they are from down the street. It will never be taken seriously.” Oh and stop caking it football. We have that here and it’s called soccer. You’re all going to die virgins. Hahahahah

  6. vsssqz

    December 31, 2016 at 8:17 am

    OMG it’s the calendars fault! OMG then it’s the weathers fault! It can’t be the league or product! This is outrageous it can’t be Lalas and Twellman told me it’s one of the top leagues in the world! This is fake news, millions of people are tuning in to watch Kamara and Altidore weekly! Stop publishing this fake news you might hurt Landons feelings! The real one and the tool on here

    • gargoyle

      December 31, 2016 at 9:37 pm

      Thank you, The comments here resemble the current state of political discourse in the US with people choosing to believe what they hope is true. I’m not even sure why this is a some kind of debate with “sides.” Are there seriously people here who are staunch MLS supporters but do not watch h EPL? It’s ridiculous – we all were up this m morning watching EPL – including all the MLS die-hards trying to turn this into some kind of argument.

      This argument is beyond stupid. Stop being so defensive MLS fans. The problem isn’t this website.

      • ribman

        January 1, 2017 at 12:09 am

        yeah just agree with him and his reactivity – if more people just agreed with this guy everything would be perfect but all you other guys – what a bunch of morons-nothing you say could matter because it doesn’t jive with his narrow experiences- that’s not elitist at all….

  7. gargoyle

    December 30, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    MLS is a terrible product that promotes and celebrates mediocrity. The league’s “Champion” lost as many games as it won. Laughable. It’s merely a vehicle for people;like Bob Kraft to make a few shekels during the NFL offseason.

    • TiLoBrown

      December 31, 2016 at 10:32 am

      And the European “Champions” League has teams that finished 2-4. Its pretty laughable to call it a “Champion’s” League when non champions get in, no?

      • gargoyle

        December 31, 2016 at 9:40 pm

        Dumb. You’re talking about group phase records. You should know better. Straw man argument.

  8. Kei

    December 30, 2016 at 10:22 am

    Wonder how these numbers would play out over the course of an entire year, as opposed to just four months.

    Given that we’ve had an entire season’s worth of Premier League, Champions League, and Liga MX, along with other European leagues, on top of Copa America, I wouldn’t be surprised if that percentage were to remain in the single digits, across all networks and languages.

  9. Murica First

    December 29, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    Every time this site gets a chance, however meaningless it may be, it shows its ridiculous eurosnob, EPL and NASL bias. If EuroSnobTalk.com intends to be taken seriously by more than the 10 British guys who follow it religiously, it should really stop the anti-MLS, anti-USMNT, anti-FOX Soccer shenanigans and simply report the news.

    • vsssqz

      December 31, 2016 at 8:18 am

      Report the news? This is news, your league is Crap, improve it and stop buying into the bs they are selling it and then I’m sure they would be happy to report that. I actually think Chris tries to find positive MLS news even though there isn’t much.

  10. Alan

    December 29, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Taking into account what others have already pointed out about the end of the MLS season, this data also includes ALL viewership – Spanish and English-language. That’s cool, but DISCLOSE the information. Should we be shocked that Latinos, who are primarily Mexican-American, watch Liga MX on Univision. 6 million saw the final between America and Tigres…great. Take out the Spanish-Language viewership and what happens to the numbers? Not saying that helps MLS a ton, but there is no way Liga MX stays at 1/3 of viewership. Break it up into English and Spanish language as well as total viewership and we’ll find what most people already know — Latinos/Spanish speakers, as a group, like soccer more than other people.

  11. Aaron

    December 29, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    What is the trend though for MLS? Saying 7% in a vacuum says nothing about growing/waning popularity. Even downward percentage isn’t necessarily bad. It could be total viewership is up.

  12. Thissiteisajoke

    December 29, 2016 at 6:27 am

    I realize this site hates the MLS but this data is misleading at best. The MLS season ends in October and 1 game played in December. At least use average rating per game. I watch euro leage games also. Yes quality of play is higher but this situation happens in all sports. We have pro, college, and high school levels. I can not wait for the next article. “MLS ratings horrible January through March”

    • tim

      December 29, 2016 at 7:59 am

      New article to write by tool bag professor from Michigan:

      “MLS suffers huge attendance blow in February.

      What a bad week for MLS as a total of 0 fans went to games across the US and Canada……In other news the EPL relegated all of its teams except Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool. Arsenal and Tottenham because the rest just don’t matter to the die hard fans in the US.”

      • Dalv

        December 31, 2016 at 8:36 am

        You MLS fans are sensitive, why so sad nobody watches your league? What difference does it make, enjoy it when you go the games or watch, MLS is like a little brother trying to compete and compare himself to big brother.

  13. Tom

    December 29, 2016 at 2:46 am

    Um,,,are we forgetting that the MLS regular season ended on October 23? There were only 17 total matches played after that date, so we’re going off a reduced sample size here. If MLS accounted for say, 15% of total matches aired nationally from Aug-Dec, but only 7% of the viewership, then you might have a point. Otherwise, this just reads like the typical Europoser hipster/anti-MLS click-bait this trash heap of a site is known for crapping out.

    • tim

      December 29, 2016 at 7:50 am

      Stop bringing logic into this… MLS is far from perfect but eurosnobtalk.com takes it to a new level of hate. This site is the Donald Trump of soccer blogs.

      • Dalv

        December 31, 2016 at 8:30 am

        Why do people always bring up Euro Snob? you know your entire league is like a hybrid wanna be American, lets copy Europe and South America league? United names? Sporting Club? The joke fans who are “Ultras” the DC United “Barra Brava” The league you support is a joke, the hipster fans are a joke, empty stadiums are a joke, the players are a joke, any league where Altidore is one of the all stars is a joke, the players that look world class here never looked world class anywhere else, did you watch Lodeiro play in the Brasileiro (you didn’t)? He wasn’t that good, did you see Giovinco? He was okay, Michael Bradley was on the bench at Roma, the commentators on MLS matches are like caricatures of a internet troll. I could go on and on, nobody wants to watch this crap on TV when you have other options, it would be like watching Turkish basketball instead of the NBA and actually Turkish football clubs would destroy MLS clubs. You can’t even beat Liga MX teams and come up with tons of excuses, it’s never the leagues fault, it’s all a giant MLS conspiracy.

        • ribman

          January 1, 2017 at 12:05 am

          You’re doing the same things some of the MLS commenters are making an extreme argument. No one is saying MLS is as good as top European leagues. People are saying the league is growing, getting better in many ways and fan base is clearly growing. It’s not a TV juggernaut – we know but it’s way better off than 5 years ago. Soccer is now an established pro sport in America and we think that is a good thing. The same old arguments don’t apply -it’s not a retirement league, much more creativity in signings, competing with Liga Mx should be the 1rst goal because you know what- they are our rivals, not Europe, and they are a good league – both Mexico and USA do well in World Cup compared to other nations say ugh hmm England. I’m the first to point out my beef with MLS because I can, I have a stake in it, the expansion is too fast, they haven’t figured out playoffs (more weather and fear of other sports than anything else), but they are doing a lot of things right- and you’re constant bashing it doesn’t change it-the league is here to stay and the fact that people defend it suggests there is a passion for it-. I think we got Turkey too
          It is elitist to claim to be an expert on something you don’t follow and compare to things that are not equivalents.

    • Stefan Szymanski

      December 29, 2016 at 11:07 am

      6% of the games in the data were MLS games

  14. wayne rooneys mom

    December 29, 2016 at 1:33 am

    i watch fc dallas and a few other mls games, 8 – 10 a year, but it might be the broadcasts, the accents, or something (besides the actual ability) that doesn’t do it for me in particular.
    my sister and her family live in seattle and go to many sounders games and they love it. maybe if fc dallas had that…?I
    i do love the epl, great prod quality, MIB SHOW, pregames, interviews…just seems higher quality. I’d buy lower quality soccer if television viewing was a better experience. i love double aa baseball bc the experience is great so i could love triple aaa soccer too if it was easier to enjoy.

  15. landon

    December 28, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Hahahahahahaha more mls euro douchery hate! Guys listen you can leave USA anytime you want it’s ok. This site is becoming a joke more and more every day.

    • Harry

      December 30, 2016 at 11:22 am

      The article provides data. If you believe it is wrong then cite your evidence. As to why the MLS lags in viewership compared to other leagues is a different discussion. What is clear is that the MLS needs to expand its viewership if it intends to compete with the other leagues.

      If this site were anti-MLS then why would it cover it? MLS TV scheduling and news is covered by this site.

      Just because the facts don’t support one’s own view does not negate the facts.

      • Paul

        January 3, 2017 at 5:18 pm

        He might have meant the first comment, not the article.

  16. Ron

    December 28, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    I’m a big soccer fan, however, I have no interest in the MLS which I consider to be a retirement league, a place where aging players from Europe who can no longer play regularly latch on to lucrative contracts from MLS owners who hope will lure attendees to games. The league is also an opportunity for young Latino players to hone their skills in the hope of landing a spot with a European side. The MLS is not very good football (soccer) and probably on par with British leagues One or Two. Consider, for example, Jozy Altidore who is a star in the MLS but was a flop in Europe and especially with Sunderland. the MLS is sub par.

    • ribman

      December 28, 2016 at 9:27 pm

      Ron there are so many errors in your post I won’t out them all but frankly, you have no idea what you are talking about. There is some truth in your comments but it doesn’t match what’s actually happening in last few years (Giovinco, Nemeth, Nikolic) (Altidore score 39 goals over 2 seasons in Eredivisie, that’s better than League 1 or 2 and his play in tournaments for USA against the best in world has been good. Guys like you watch El Classico and Man United a few times and then you are a soccer expert. Don’t watch MLS – that’s cool but stop commenting it shows your ignorance of the sport in this country

    • landon

      December 28, 2016 at 9:38 pm

      Jozy was the leading scorer in the Dutch league which last time I checked is in Europe and then struggled on a Sunderland team. England does not count for all of Europe. Might be time to finally move out of your moms basement and experience the world.

    • Bill Willen

      December 29, 2016 at 6:31 pm

      I watch all MLS games, which have improved over the years. But I watch MLS LIVE.
      Is this included in the ratings?

      • Christopher Harris

        December 29, 2016 at 7:13 pm

        No. It’s TV only.

        • AdamTheRed

          December 31, 2016 at 12:54 am

          It’s only NATIONAL tv.

          • vsssqz

            December 31, 2016 at 8:20 am

            You think LOCAL numbers would be better? LMAO. in some markets like NY the games are preempted for pretty much anything and shown on tape delay.

            • TiLoBrown

              December 31, 2016 at 10:28 am

              What carrier do you have? Because right now thats bold face lie. MSG has shown everything live between MSG, MSG2, MSG+ and MSG+2. Very rarely if ever will you have the Knicks, Rangers, Islander, Devils, and Red Bulls all playing on the same day let alone the same time. And NYCFC is covered by YES so theres no overlap there.

    • Jon

      December 30, 2016 at 6:08 pm

      When I’m in the UK I enjoy watching lower league games live but if you think a League Two marchup between the likes of Newport and Accrington is at the same level as an MLS game featuring Giovinco, Villa, or Bradley you are a complete tool.

    • Paul

      January 3, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      How can it be both a “retirement league for aging players from Europe” and a showcase for young Latino players?

      And how many teams have a significant number of “aging players from Europe” on their rosters? Bear in mind that MLS has rules about how many foreign players can be on the roster at a time.

      Posts like this are nonsense and do not reflect the reality of the league. If you don’t like it, that’s fine; it’s not nearly as good a level as many other leagues around the world.

      But please don’t spout nonsense, either.

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