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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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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. World.Football.Talk

    September 24, 2021 at 6:08 am

    Blah! Blah! Blah! Too much “analysis” is put into this simple topic.
    People will prioritize to watch whatever they want to watch regardless of time, the llame and boring “pro/rel” excuses, or regardless if the American pigball games are on or not.
    Personally,. I like to watch the 10am and mid afternoon Premier Football Games and will make time to watch the national football MLS games, and since I do not follow or like Pigball games at all, then I got no issue in my viewership selecrion since the ⚽nly footballl that matters to me most is round shaped.

  2. CornerPost

    September 23, 2021 at 10:01 pm

    Anyone know why the late Sunday Prem game switched from 4pm UK time to 4.30pm?
    Used to be perfect. Now the last 15/20 mins collide with the start of the early NFL games.

  3. Jasinho

    September 22, 2021 at 1:38 pm

    Before I started following European football on a pseudo-religious basis, I used to be one of those that would sleep in on the weekends, very much like the above post.

    However in the last twelve years or so I’ve been up at 7am on weekends specifically so I could take in the pregame before all the matches kick off.

    Due to the advancements of the latest technologies, I am not limited to just one screen. Whereas if El Clasico is on, I would watch on the main screen while the tablet and laptop would have other games on whether it is a match from Serie A, college football, the NFL, or even these days matches from Brazil and Argentina on Paramount+ or Prende TV.

    The big drawback is if I am up since 7am watching all the footy, I really crash by the time the later matches finish which is closer to 5pm US-Eastern. that is when I resort to watching american football on just my tablet laying in bed since tablets don’t cause as much eye strain as a 70″ tv would.

  4. El jefe

    September 20, 2021 at 5:23 pm

    When college football starts my MLS viewership is pretty much extinguished until the playoffs start. Now, if MLS had pro/reg i’d be much more enticed to watch the second half of the MLS season on a saturday or sunday night no doubt.

  5. Ra

    September 20, 2021 at 4:04 pm

    I saw that EA is releasing FIFA 22 in a couple of weeks. It reminded me of playing button soccer as a kid. Awesome times. Fifa 22 seems great, but it still looks to me that we are missing something intrinsically important. I used to play with my dad’s childhood kit. Just don’t see these things happening anymore.

  6. disco george

    September 20, 2021 at 9:57 am

    I think I must be the outlier that proves Kyle’s hypothesis, since I’m basically a human sloth.
    I don’t think I’ve gotten out of bed before 11 am on a Sunday in months, so the later La Liga and Serie A start times are my jam. Yeah, I’d like to watch more Premier League matches, but I’m not getting up at 5:30 am to watch teams I don’t really like. Since I don’t care about American football, I end up watching most ESPN and Fox MLS games, even though it is admittedly irritating to have to go look and see the start times and broadcasters every week. I’ll even watch those random USL midweek games on ESPN2, just because I can watch while I’m working out at night.

  7. vishal

    September 18, 2021 at 6:45 pm

    That’s a great analysis, Kyle! Soccer weekends do collide with College football on Saturdays and NFL Sunday.
    Would be interesting to get the ratings of the European soccer leagues when it’s up against the Football season versus when it ends in Feb. I think soccer would have higher ratings after that as Champions league Knockout phase starts in Feb after that. Also the soccer leagues approach season end where fight for top 4 or championship heats up!

  8. Ricco

    September 18, 2021 at 6:04 pm

    Interesting article I always felt the English FA or at least the EPL follow a NFL type of schedule where the league have their day or days for mainly TV reasons, it’s more structured and convient

  9. Giovanni

    September 18, 2021 at 5:01 pm

    100% agreed

  10. José Cerrato

    September 18, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    @Turfit Oh, entiendo. 👍

  11. JP

    September 18, 2021 at 2:39 pm

    Watch it Kyle, this goes against standard WST thinking that competition with American sports and time slots has nothing to do with MLS ratings vs EPL. It’s because there’s no pro/rel and playoffs make the season meaningless…

  12. rkujay

    September 18, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    The American trend to follow a player vs. a team is slowly moving to footy. Personally, I , an American was given a subscription for the Manchester Evening News, which arrived by mail two weeks late with the edict that we are now United fans. Dad was stationed in England during the war.
    I have one team. It would not occur to me to switch allegiance.
    (Oh, that’s WWII, by the way)

  13. Turfit

    September 18, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    @Jose, This site tends not to talk much about LigaMX even though most of the matches can be watched with English commentaries and it is usually the most watched league in the USA. I have been a Pumas fan for over 20 years now and recently started cheering for FC Juarez since you are able to see their stadium from the state that I live in. Plus I have been a fan of Coach Ferretti ever since he was the coach for Pumas.

  14. Mercator

    September 18, 2021 at 1:55 pm

    This is why the ESPN multicast is so great – makes it much easier to get into the later games because the college football (and almost every other sport) is also on ESPN quite often. Last weekend for example the Gators played at 1 on ESPN. Chelsea villa was roughly at the same time, along with Munich Leipzig and Juve Napoli and I would have done them all on the multi screen but Seria A/EPL isn’t on ESPN so I didn’t watch the Chelsea match, and only popped in for the final 15 of Juve. Quite similar with MLS in the evenings, I would watch much less if the ESPN multicast didn’t allow me to watch multiple games at once in conjunction with other sport like Tennis, Hockey, NBA etc.

    It really is a must for any league running several games at one kickoff time, or playing in time slots competitive with bigger US sports. Cannot believe only ESPN and Fubo seem to have this feature, it can really sort conflicting kickoff times.

  15. José Cerrato

    September 18, 2021 at 11:26 am

    Interesante artículo, faltó mencionar el kickoff de la Liga MX.

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