How kickoff times influence soccer viewership in the U.S.

kickoff times

The famous clock from Highbury, now at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, dominates the stadium’s roof.

 

As Americans, it is a habit for us to wake up, check the kickoff times, and begin watching soccer. For many of us, weekends serve a primary purpose of watching the beautiful game.

Depending on one’s passion and commitment to watching soccer, entire days are occupied by the sport. However, there are undeniably fans of the game who stop watching as the day goes on.

There are a number of reasons for this. For one, they may have a certain league or team that they follow without much interest in the others. Then, they may only have access to a certain set of streaming services. With the current makeup of how to watch soccer in the U.S., multiple paid-subscriptions are necessary. Finally, certain kickoff times may turn viewers away.

In the United States, soccer is not the most followed sport. Coincidentally, much of the soccer season shares viewership dates with American football. On Saturdays, college football has kickoff times starting at noon and lasting for the entire day. Each Sunday, at least seven NFL games start at 1 p.m. ET before five others follow in the afternoon and evening.

For a number of reasons, some leagues flourish in the U.S. TV market, others falter compared to their European coverage.

Differing kickoff times contribute to this discrepancy when looking from league to league.

Kickoff Times from throughout the world’s game

For this analysis, we will use the U.S. Eastern Time equivalent for the European soccer start times.

The Premier League schedules their games in a very routine fashion. To start, Saturday features one game at 7:30 a.m., a handful of games at 10 a.m., then one notable game at 12:30 p.m. Then, on Sunday, a couple of games start at 9 a.m. before one game at 11:30 a.m. to close out coverage. Additionally, there are often games on Monday afternoons at 3 p.m.

In Germany, the start times are largely similar. Perhaps, the only true differences come from a Friday afternoon game and a Sunday game starting at 1:30 p.m.

Comparatively, LaLiga has significantly later start times for American viewers. For Spain’s top division, kickoff times on the weekends ensure games do not overlap. For example, matchday five in LaLiga has four games each on Saturday and Sunday. Those games start at 8 a.m., 10:15 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Serie A follows a hybrid of the Premier League and LaLiga. Most of the games happen on Sunday, mainly in the 9 a.m. window. On Saturday, the three games do not overlap with each other. Moreover, the kickoff times are, relatively speaking, later in the day compared to the Premier League.

Then we look at Major League Soccer. The season tends to run from April to early November. In this time, the MLS schedules games throughout the week and weekend typically at night. MLS contains significantly more teams than European leagues. In fact, there are plans to have 30 teams by 2023. Therefore, it makes sense that games from throughout the U.S. and Canada overlap each night there are games.

Loss of viewership due to inopportune timing

Let me preface this by saying there are a multitude of reasons why the Premier League is so popular compared to other soccer leagues. The use of the English-language is a factor, as is the similarity between the cultures of the United Kingdom and United States. Those both make sense in terms of growing that league in the U.S.

However, when taking into account kickoff times, the Premier League simply fits in with people’s schedules. Americans love their American football, whether it’s NFL and/or college football. The glorious stadiums and community involvement makes it the major sport in the country. Over the weekends, it dominates people’s television screens.

Still, there are gaps in the morning where there is no American football. By the fortunate good luck of the The Factory Act of 1850 that forbid factories from keeping workers any later than 2PM on Saturdays, it was a contributing factor later that century in the scheduling of English football matches to start at 3PM. More than 100 years later, that 3PM kickoff time (10AM ET) has paid huge dividends to help the growth of the Premier League in the United States when there is no American football.

The Premier League works like clockwork in the United States. Every Saturday, there’s typically a 7:30 a.m. ET kickoff followed by a number of 10 a.m. kickoff times that finish around noon. Then, college football starts, and the often the Premier League’s notable game competes with the early window of college football.

On Sunday later kickoffs make sense. A 9 a.m. start time precedes the 11:30 kickoff. By the time the second game concludes, the NFL window just opened, and people switch over to that sport.

Contrarily, the Serie A and LaLiga games that start on Sundays at 12:30 p.m. or 3 p.m. conflict with American football on weekends. (Real Madrid and Barcelona, especially, often start their games at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. on weekend afternoons).

Then, we see Major League Soccer. MLS schedules its season in late spring through fall. The summer is typically a dead time for American sports, with baseball being the only consistent sport. However, when the MLS season is just starting or coming to a close, it must compete with basketball and hockey or football respectively.

Relative American popularity between leagues

Based on the rise of streaming services over the past couple of years, viewership numbers are harder than ever to calculate.

Therefore, simple popularity is the best gauge on the effect of kickoff times.

For example, the Premier League recently put the second debut of Cristiano Ronaldo at the 10 a.m. kickoff time. According to ShowBuzz Daily, USA Network and Universo pulled a combined 649,000 viewers. This is significantly higher than the 2020/21 league average of 414,000 viewers per game. Moreover, this game was not on one of NBC’s principal channels, even though USA Network is still on cable.

READ MORE: Where to watch the Premier League on U.S. TV.

Comparatively, one of the most-watched games for the Bundesliga (then covered by FOX Sports), was the return to play following the COVID-19 stoppage. Bayern Munich played Union Berlin, and roughly 583,000 people watched. Germany’s most popular team did not pull as many viewers as arguably England’s most popular team. Additionally, that game came on Sunday, May 17, at noon. At that time, in that month, there are no other sports on TV at that time. That fact is only helped by the shutdown of sports across America during the first half of 2020.

READ MORE: Where to watch the Bundesliga on U.S. TV.

The same stands true for the likes of LaLiga, Serie A and Ligue Un. All these leagues have kickoff times that go against the grain of American sports. Therefore, the ensuing timing conflicts make people choose one or the other, and they often go with the more dominant sport.

Other impacts

Take all of that with a grain of salt. There are plenty of reasons one league may pull in more viewers than another. Also, some games will shoot up the average viewing audience, while other, less special games bring it down.

El Clásico is consistently one of the world’s most-watched games each season.

For example, El Clásico, when it involved Messi and Ronaldo head-to-head, drew millions of viewers in the States. In fact, even without the Portuguese in 2020 AND before the pandemic, El Clásico pulled almost one million U.S. viewers. Top-tier games pull top-tier audiences.

On average, there is a correlation between kickoff times and viewership numbers. The more overlap there is between soccer games and traditional American sports, the less likely it will be to pull large audiences.

Understandably, this is not always the case. As stated previously, stardom, intrigue of matchups, importance in terms of the season and other factors all dictate viewership numbers.

Kickoff times represent just another one of those facets into how many Americans watch soccer games each day of the week, depending on the league.

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