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MLS TV ratings down 8% compared to last season

The average MLS TV viewing audience for the 2017 season is down 8% compared to last season, according to data aggregated by Sports TV Ratings and World Soccer Talk.

For the 2017 season through April 3, which totals 15 games, MLS is averaging 261,667 viewers compared to 284,842 after 11 games during the same time period at the beginning of the 2016 season.

The biggest decline in TV ratings has been from Univision. Last year at this stage of the season, the Spanish-language network was averaging 303,750 viewers after four games. This year, they’ve seen a 25% decline in viewers. After six games, they’re averaging 226,167 viewers per match.

For FOX Sports and ESPN, it’s better news thankfully. By mixing up its broadcast times, ESPN’s averaging viewing number for MLS games has increased 29% this season from 246,000 to 318,333.

FOX Sports has seen a slight increase of 5% from last year’s 254,750 average after four games compared to the 268,833 average so far this season after six matches.

SEE MORE: Schedule of MLS games on US TV and streaming

While the news from ESPN and FOX Sports is rosier, last weekend’s TV numbers are concerning. The final Behind The Badge episode on West Brom that NBCSN aired on Sunday mid-afternoon had more viewers than the primetime FS1 MLS game between Toronto and Sporting KC on Friday.

Also the relegation battle between Middlesbrough and Swansea — two teams that do not have a lot of fans in the US — had more viewers for their early Sunday morning game on NBCSN than Friday night’s MLS game shown in primetime to the west coast between Seattle and Atlanta. That’s the same Seattle that is the current MLS champion. And Atlanta, who are the most exciting team in the league this season.

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  1. Seth

    October 3, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    What does this compare to local games? While each market is dependent upon the DMA size- what do local networks deliver in terms of impressions?

    • Christopher Harris

      October 3, 2017 at 7:16 pm

      Hi Seth, we don’t track the local markets. Those numbers are tiny in comparison.

  2. Mike

    May 12, 2017 at 10:39 am

    The league still doesn’t cover that many cities, and the minor league (lower tiers) is still a mess. This will make more sense when the top tier is closer to full capacity and when there are minor league affiliate cities that are reliably associated with a specific big league club. Those minor league teams need to be fully professional as well.

    MLS also has potential to generate interest with international rivalries- but we aren’t truly competitive with Mexican teams yet, so that’s just potential for now. The next round of TV negotiations should go fairly well though, it looks like the US/Can/Mex World Cup will be well locked up by then, and new expansion teams will continue to be recurring stories.

    If just one MLS team can break through and win the Confed between now and then, I think the country will start to sit up and take notice. But we’ve got to earn it.

  3. Beavis

    April 12, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    I recently completely gave up on MLS after following the league closely for the last 20 years. It didn’t really bother me that the on-field product was subpar, but the goofy leftist supporter groups trying their hardest to replicate specific Euro clubs (a certain German club from Hamburg comes to mind in almost every case) absolutely gives me douche chills. There are so many fantastic authentic leagues around the world with a superior on field product and unique supporters.

  4. ShiftingCenter

    April 7, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    I’d have to agree with From the future. I’m an LA Galaxy fan and when I go to games those in attendance are more often than not people no older than their mid 30s through mid 40s. (though I admit I’m a terrible judge of age.) Younger demographics more and more get their entertainment nearly exclusively from online, streaming, or on-demand content. What percent of viewership comes from traditional sources like radio or TV and what percent come from streaming sources like MLS live?

  5. Lakersfan

    April 7, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    You guys are overreacting. Mls used to pay for tv time. Those days are long gone. As long as the us national team is around, mls will get money.

  6. From the future

    April 7, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Ratings for MLS are a limited metric… Let’s see the streaming numbers. I bet you dollars to donuts MLS has the highest % of cord cutters of any American sport. By the time the new contract comes up, I think a lot of stations will have realized this and will be directly monetizing OTT streams and making bank on it.

  7. JL

    April 7, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Streaming is not included in these numbers which skews things a bit. Nielsen does not report streaming numbers and if that’s where this data is coming from (which it likely is) that means they are excluding people who are watching from home or on the road just not on cable.

    • vsssqzzzz

      May 7, 2017 at 11:39 am

      Once again another excuse that can’t be measured, suuuuuuuuuuure that’s it, MLS fans can’t be counted they are so advanced! Add 10% to the number, the ratings are still crap.

  8. JoeV

    April 7, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Until the league finds a way to get soccer fans in non MLS cities to care about it, the rating will go absolutely nowhere. In fact, the ratings IN many MLS cities are not good. TV contract in ’23 will be the defining moment for this league: Without a big one, they are in serious trouble. I know the scarf wavers and fanboys don’t want to hear this, but this is the truth.

    • John

      April 7, 2017 at 11:58 am

      Very true. They literally have 5 years to make it or break it. They’re trying, but nothing so far really seems to work. Com MLS! Let’s do this!

    • Steve

      April 7, 2017 at 12:37 pm

      What is the alternative? We have no domestic league and we pretend a bunch of foreign leagues half way around the league are our league? Thar would be a joke and everyone would laugh that even China can have a domestic league but dumbass Yanks have to run around in Man U and Arsenal scarves. Embarrassing. Americans are their own worst enemy when it comes to soccer. It will never make it here

      • Tom

        April 7, 2017 at 2:26 pm

        The alternative? Simple.

        1) cheer on the demise of MLS like the self-loathing American soccer “fans” such as the ones on this Europoser hipster site love to do
        2) pretend to have a deep, organic, life-long attachment to a team that plays across the Atlantic–a team that is ALWAYS competitive (funny how the American pro-rel zealots conveniently cheer for teams that are NEVER in any danger of relegation)
        3) chant and sing songs in fake British accents.

        Only then can you consider yourself a “refined” or “knowledgeable” soccer (oops, I mean football) “fan.”

      • Joe

        April 12, 2017 at 5:57 pm

        It so awful. People sit on here and 5 of them in bars or so and pretend like they grew up in Liverpool or so. Where is the connection? How do you care about a club you may never see live in a place you never have been to? Its a joke and an embarrassment. I get the PL is a better level but what these euro wana be hipsters don’t realize is that in Europe following LOCAL soccer is a way of life. There is a reason there are only fans of Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal here and not Stoke, West Brom, Crystal Palace, etc.

        • Will

          May 6, 2017 at 9:33 pm

          Even while you attempt to condescend Euro fans you demonstrate exactly why MLS struggles. After next round of expansion, MLS will be operating in only 26 cities. That accounts for less than 10% of the population. As you asked, why should fans follow a team in a city they never been to and won’t go see in person? Exactly! Why should I have to travel several hours just to go see “my” team play?
          Instead of adopting a philosophy of a rising tide lifting all boats, your “dear leader” condescends anything not MLS, calling out lower division cities and referring to fields as “crappy”. Then they want to blame fans for choosing to watch a higher quality game and not watching their “crappy” product.

        • vsssqzzzz

          May 7, 2017 at 11:37 am

          You realize the game is global right? You think these clubs can pay 100 million transfer fees just because the local population supports them? MLS is even trying to get in on the action and good for them, they can make more money bring big players in and the league can improve, this nonsense about just supporting your local team is just that, you’re aware MLS teams are partly owned by the league and some other big companies and billionaire owners? This support your local business you MLS freaks spout is such a joke, that’s like saying support your local establishment by going to your local Burger King and Subway.

        • Mike

          May 7, 2017 at 1:25 pm

          “How do you care about a club you may never see live in a place you never have been to?”

          Happens very frequently in American sports. Especially with NFL fandom.

  9. Kei

    April 6, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    Curious as to where you got the Univision numbers — the weekend afternoon numbers for the “big” networks are often released via press releases, and even they are few and far between, relatively speaking. (Cynically, I think this is designed to sweep embarrassingly low ratings under the rug.)

    We can talk about why the MLS ratings are what they are until we’re blue in the face (and we often do, ha), but the explanation could be as easy as saying that much of the support is driven in such a hyper-local way that most fans simply don’t give a damn about any team other than their own — certainly not to the extent that they’d voluntarily watch a nationally televised games involving two “random” teams.

    • Christopher Harris

      April 6, 2017 at 6:16 pm

      We get the Univision numbers directly from the television network.

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