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/competitions Total viewing
Liga MX 33%
EPL 22%
Internationals 17%
Other 12%
La Liga 9%
MLS 7%

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.