If you’re MLS, how do you make sure that the opening weekend of games have greater TV rating numbers than last season’s opening weekend? You put a game on FOX in primetime and you sign Mexican star Javier Hernandez.
Enticed by the prospect of a brand-new expansion team playing at home against the most exciting team in Major League Soccer, televising Nashville versus Atlanta on FOX in primetime made perfect sense, and was bound to generate a lot of interest.
In another smart marketing move, MLS scheduled the debut game for Mexican star Chicharito live on the over-the-air Univision network, making sure that it would boost the TV ratings for Houston versus LA Galaxy.
So how did MLS do in the 2020 opening weekend?
FOX’s viewing number was up 3% compared to the average on FOX network last season., while Univision/TUDN had a 57% in viewership compared to last season’s Orlando-New York City FC opening weekend game. ESPN’s numbers on English-language TV grew 2.5%.
During the opening weekend of the 2019 season, MLS’s five nationally-televised games collectively averaged 296,000 viewers (compared to a 318,250 average for 2018’s opening weekend from four nationally televised matches). For the 2020 opening weekend, the average viewership was 463,400, which is a 56% gain. Viewing numbers for ESPN Deportes and FOX Deportes were unavailable at time of publication. (Viewing numbers for ESPN Deportes and FOX Deportes were not included in the 296,000 average for opening weekend of 2019 either).
Specifically, here’s how each MLS game did on the national broadcasts:
• Nashville vs. Atlanta — 756,000 viewers on FOX network (FOX Deportes number not available at press time)
• Houston vs. LA Galaxy — 558,000 viewers on Univision and TUDN combined
• LAFC vs. Inter Miami — 463,000 viewers on ESPN (ESPN Deportes number not available at press time)
• Seattle vs. Chicago — 311,000 viewers on ESPN (ESPN Deportes number not available at press time)
• Portland vs. Minnesota — 229,000 viewers on FS1 (FOX Deportes number not available at press time)
Looking at 2020 versus 2019, here’s a head-to-head comparison:
|FOX||756K (Nashville-Atlanta)||No game on FOX|
|FS1||229K (Portland-Minnesota)||199K (Seattle-Cincinnati) & 174K (Galaxy-Chicago)|
|ESPN||463K (LAFC-Miami) & 311K (Seattle-Chicago)||394K (DC-Atlanta) & 361K (LAFC-KC)|
|Univision & TUDN||558K (Houston-LA Galaxy)||355K (Orlando-NYCFC)|
While the TV viewing numbers for the opening weekend of the 2020 MLS season are strong, this weekend’s matches will be the true litmus test to see whether interest in the top-flight American league is growing. Only one game this weekend will be on over-the-air television (DC United against Miami on Univision). And the Atlanta United game isn’t televised nationally (it’ll be behind the ESPN+ paywall).