In an interview with Sports Business Daily last week, MLS executives revealed their plan to improve lagging TV ratings.
The plan includes:
1. Putting cameras in the locker rooms before the game,
2. Allowing access to team huddles,
3. Putting microphones on coaches during games, and
4. Increasing the number of media “car wash” tours.
While the changes are welcome, they will do nothing to improve MLS TV ratings. The reason why soccer fans are not watching MLS isn’t because of a lack of locker room access. Nor is it because the coaches aren’t mic’d. It’s because the league structure is fundamentally flawed. What’s the point of watching an 8-month regular season when 54% of the teams qualify for the playoffs? What’s the incentive for the viewer to watch these broadcasts? Plus why are the biggest games of the season scheduled at the same time as NFL games in the fall? These are just a couple of the issues that severely limit MLS TV ratings, but neither of them have been addressed in MLS’ new initiatives to improve their numbers.
The changes seem to be implemented only to placate the TV rights holders at ESPN, FOX and Univision. It’s a way for MLS to say “Look at us and all of the changes we’re making for you.” While the changes will keep the broadcasters happy for a short period, they will do nothing to resolve the issues why US soccer fans in their millions are choosing to watch other leagues instead.
According to the Sports Business Daily article, it took MLS stakeholders “more than 18 months” of research, meetings and discussions to come up with the plan. The fact that it took that long to make just four changes that won’t move the needle is a bad a look for Major League Soccer. Plus, the article mentions that the discussions started in the summer of 2015, which shows how the league is moving at a snail’s pace.
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Is it that MLS is working inside a bubble where they don’t know how to fix the MLS TV ratings problem? Or are they too stubborn to make any wholesale changes because they’re so focused on adding expansion teams and signing new sponsors? Or do they, like FOX, believe that the NFL is the “gold template” for TV coverage in the United States and they can’t understand why the MLS viewing numbers continue to be underwhelming?
The irony of the MLS TV ratings problem is that the actual coverage of the league by FOX, ESPN and Univision has been the best the league has ever seen. All three broadcasters are doing a stellar job at bringing the games into the homes across the United States. But viewers don’t have enough reasons why they should watch games on national television that don’t involve their local team.
TV isn’t the problem. The way MLS is structured is.
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