Major League Soccer’s first-ever game on Thanksgiving Day is a success. The Western Conference playoff match between Colorado Rapids and Portland Timbers wasn’t a stunner on the field. Yet, off the field, it scored a record viewing figure on television.
Aired on FOX Network immediately following the Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions NFL game, Colorado-Portland drew 1.85 million viewers. It is the most-watched MLS game since 2004 (excluding MLS Cup or All-Star Games). While it did not beat the 1.97 million who watched a DC United game in 2004, the Rapids-Timbers match is the most-watched MLS Playoff to date.
Fans of MLS on Tuesday were initially sent into a tizzy when The Athletic erroneously reported a viewing audience of 7.2 million for the game. The discrepancy appeared to be a result of the Bears-Lions NFL viewership number bleeding into the MLS game. For instance, the Bears-Lions had a viewership of 26.7 million people. When the NFL game ended, the MLS broadcast began, except in Chicago. Instead of showing the MLS game in its entirety, the local FOX network in the Chicago area aired a Bears post-game show and then local news.
Regardless, the 1.85 million viewing number is a success. And the timing is ideal. MLS is currently in talks with broadcasters to sell the media rights to the league for 2023 and beyond. MLS executives and owners are confident of a record-breaking deal.
Putting the MLS TV rating into perspective
To put the 1.85 million number into perspective, it is greater than the most-watched Premier League game of all time. The record Manchester derby registered 1.72 million viewers in 2018. For the Rapids-Timbers game, the total viewership including FOX Deportes is 1.89 million.
For Major League Soccer, the Thanksgiving Day game had a lot of factors in its favor. Firstly, the 4:30PM ET start time was an ideal window for every time zone in the United States. Secondly, the lead-in had 26.7 million people watching the NFL game that preceded the MLS match. By FOX and MLS scheduling the match immediately after a NFL game, it automatically boosts the exposure. Some may argue that it does so artificially. For example, many households may leave their TV on after a NFL game and not watch the broadcast. Regardless, it is the most-watched MLS game ever on FOX.
In conclusion, while Major League Soccer will be buoyant with the number, the true test will be to see how well MLS does in other playoff games that air on national television. Next up for MLS is this Sunday when ABC televises NYCFC against Philadelphia Union, live from Yankee Stadium. For TV and streaming listings of all games, follow our MLS schedule.
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