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Why MLS TV ratings aren’t growing: World Soccer Talk Podcast

World Soccer Talk is a weekly podcast about watching soccer on TV, online and apps.

In the NEW episode, number 114, Christopher Harris and co-host Kartik Krishnaiyer cover a range of topics including:

• How the MLS TV ratings did on their opening weekend of the new season,
• Fubo and Sling face serious competition from a low-cost streaming service,
• Whether TNT is making any progress with Champions League coverage,
• Our thoughts on Sky Sports News coverage on NBCSN,
• Insight about watching soccer in the United States from around the world,
• And we have a bunch of letters from you, the listeners, in our mailbag section.

Listen to the show via the player above or via this link.

Send in your questions, comments and feedback via e-mail, via Twitter (@worldsoccertalk) or Facebook. We’ll read them out on-air in the next episode.

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  1. DiRT

    March 11, 2019 at 10:55 pm

    As someone who just got into the sport in the last few years, I’m blown away by how terrible the MLS tv rights deals are. Instead of just tuning to beIN or NBC Sports Gold or Fox Sports/Soccer or ESPN+ or B/R Live, I need to check to see if it’s on a network, Comcast Sports network, Fox Sports Network, or ESPN+. I don’t watch other domestic sports in the US, so I don’t know if that’s just how things are, but unless I pull up the FuboTV Soccer listings, I might not have any idea what game is playing on what network at what time. I’ve tried to use different apps to help me follow along, but they all seem to think I want score spoilers and a constant barrage of notifications. MLS can;t seem to make following along idiot proof for idiots like me who want to try to get into it.

    • JP

      March 12, 2019 at 9:18 am

      Hey DiRT, the TV rights deals are similar for other US sports. For your local team the games will be on a regional sports channel, usually an affiliate of NBC or FOX, sometimes unaffiliated like the YES Network, etc. Nationally televised games usually distributed to different networks depending on the day. NBA has ESPN (Wed?) and TNT (Thursday?) and ABC (Sat/Sun?). NFL has CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, and NFL Network. MLB has FOX, TBS, and ESPN. NHL the only one dedicated to just one network for national TV (NBC). In each case, if you want to see games not from your local market that aren’t on national TV, need to subscribe to a package to see them (NHL Center Ice, NBA League Pass, NFL Sunday Ticket). ESPN+ fills that role for MLS.

      This is probably the case for soccer overseas as well, where they have multiple local distribution partners rather than just the one when distributing to international markets. Think PL in England is Sky and BT? Serie A in Italy RAI, DAZN, and maybe one more.

    • NaBUru38

      March 12, 2019 at 11:53 am

      In 2018, the Texas Longhorns football team played 14 games on 5 different channels: ABC, ESPN, Fox, Fox Sports 1 and Longhorn Network.

      The Alabama Crimson Tide appeared on ABC; ESPN, ESPN2, CBS and SEC Network.

      The Michigan Wolverines appeared on ABC, ESPN, Fox, Fox Sports 1, NBC and Big Ten Network.

  2. JP

    March 11, 2019 at 10:09 am

    Ok, since this was a rather dull weekend for international soccer I made it a point to check out some more MLS than usual. Mixed results, details below.

    Saturday 2PM, NE Revolution vs Columbus on my local NBC Sports provider.
    Atmosphere terrible with even upper seats of the lower bowl tarped off. Field turf and remnants of lines/numbers/logos for the Patriots still visible. The action itself left a lot to be desired. Build up in play slow and predictable. After almost the entire 1st half I gave up and went to Chievo v Milan, a match I wasn’t expecting to follow. In comparison to the Revolution this match was riveting and stuck with it the rest of the way.

    Sunday 3PM, KC vs Philly on ESPN+
    Atmosphere was fantastic (chose this match over NYC/DC after sampling both) with the soccer specific stadium and the play itself kept me entertained throughout. Pace of play seems much faster than what my Revolution provide. Went to Fiorentina v Lazio after the 1st half and checked in again at HT of the Fiorentina match….great atmosphere and entertaining action still evident.

    Sunday 5PM, Atlanta vs Cincy on ESPN
    Although the place was packed, the atmosphere on TV leaves a bit to be desired with the field turf and the crowd mostly not visible thanks to a high walled NFL stadium. Surprisingly the action was boring as well, considering Atlanta was fun to watch last year. Didn’t make it more than 20 minutes before becoming distracted with other things and forgetting about the rest of the match.

    Sunday 8PM, LAFC vs Portland on FS1
    During the 1st intermission of the NHL game I was following tuned into this. Much like KC, the atmosphere and action were both top notch. Have to give the LA crowd the edge over KC. If it weren’t for hockey I would’ve stuck with this match the entire way through instead of just during the 1st and 2nd intermissions.

    Final takeaway, there are MLS clubs worth watching and stadium atmosphere matters a lot for TV production.

    • Edwin

      March 11, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      Exactly I watched all the games you mentioned. I’m a DCU guy and I was flipping back and forth with them and the KC vs Philly game. I’ve come to the conclusion until the CBA is done and there is another jump in cap and until the next 8 teams come on board which will mean there will be more MLS 3.0 teams driving exciting atmospheres there will be games like New England vs Columbus.

      Fortunately there have been rumblings from Sam Stejskal with some owners he’s talked to that they are aiming to boost the Cap to 20m w DPs and get rid of TAM. At some point there will be a tipping point for the New England’s/ Columbus/ and Colorado’s of the world to catch up. It will come with the increase spending provided by by the CBA or next TV contract or it will be owners of those teams getting desperate and taking a chance to rejuvenate their markets. I’m thinking it will more than likely be from the increased spending more than wise ownership.

  3. Peter

    March 10, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Comes down to the lack of natural rivalries and teams in cities that have little national following. Detroit is a prime example of a needed market, natural rival to Ohio, Chicago,Toronto and much of the Midwest and then some. One of the larges markets, but Cincinnati gets a team. cant expect high ratings with such poor decisions. to much focus on California and the west as well. Without the old core of sport fans no matter how much you think the young are going to watch in droves they wont.

  4. Jose Rodriguez

    March 8, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    Hey guys love the show as always. I came across an article on twitter from @usopencup They are not affiliated with the actual tournament but just bring news and information about it. They stated that there are plans from the US Soccer Federation to broadcast every match from the tournament nationally. The article even goes on to state that teams will need to hire more workers and have the ability for a broadcast truck to be at the event as well. I believe that this is the right direction to go in for the tournament to get the recognition it deserves. My question is do you know what partner they will go too? My assumption is ESPN Plus.

  5. Bappie

    March 8, 2019 at 8:48 am

    MLS ratings on FS1 aren’t that much worse than NHL on NBCSN but NHL is better at creating events, such as the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series, which draw eyeballs.

    For instance NBCSN drew 157,000 for Kings-Predators, while the Penguins-Flyers NHL Stadium Series game on NBC scored 1.94 million viewers

    NHL also has a regular slot on NBC,

    Very importantly, I believe the NHL ratings new reports include streaming while MLS figures do not. As MLS draws younger viewers, it probably has a higher percentage watching online.

  6. NaBUru38

    March 7, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    MLS teams don’t have the budget to attract the best players, and they are unwilling to increase the budgets.

    Any random player from Hannover, Palmeiras or Fenerbahce costs US$ 1-2 million, but most MLS players are worth half of that. Yes you have marquee players like Rooney and Nani, but depth is weak.

  7. The Groover

    March 7, 2019 at 2:55 pm

    Why does list Rennes vs Arsenal as being on fuboTV today when fuboTV rep just told me: “I apologize for any inconvenience this may be causing you but this game is not available with fuboTV.”

    Love the podcasts on – great listening.

    • Christopher Harris

      March 7, 2019 at 3:06 pm

      The game was on Galavision, which is available via fuboTV. The support rep was wrong.

  8. Yespage

    March 7, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    In a time of TV ratings stagnating or dropping a bit for well established leagues due to media saturation, it is hardly a surprise that MLS isn’t bucking the trend. And of course, it probably makes more sense to look at the rating numbers season by season (half season), instead of day to day to be able to cut out the noise.

    • Edwin G

      March 7, 2019 at 12:49 pm

      Totally agree I see JP is going in depth but I think you hit the nail on the head. Look at the numbers season by season. I never get why there is such a knee jerk reaction with MLS ratings beginning of every season. I’ll stop I know why…. MLS numbers then end up with another yearly gain and we don’t get the equal opposite knee jerk reaction

  9. JP

    March 7, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    Think Chris is close to articulating the cause of MLS’ ratings issues. Soccer fans have a multitude of options to satisfy their soccer itch. At the risk of being labeled a “Euro snob” by MLS fans, the quality of play is often much better elsewhere and becomes glaring when viewing MLS in comparison. I am just one example, but can only stomach most MLS in the summer when that comparison is less fresh. I compare it to watching the NHL following a winter Olympics cycle (when the NHL allowed players to participate). For a few weeks after the NHL games seemed so much slower, would need time to re-adjust and find the same enjoyment as before the Olympics.

    I really don’t know how MLS can counteract this problem. To be honest, their focus on live attendance over TV ratings is probably wise in the long term of the league. Good attendance and mediocre ratings is a more sustainable than ratings without attendance.

    Posted it on another article, but think they should shorten the schedule to what it used to be in the early days. April to October if I remember correctly. Bigger picture – as a compromise between the pro/rel supporters and detractors – regional MLS leagues where the top 2-3 teams qualify for a US/Canada wide tournament like the Champions League that would also be played during the season.

    • Edwin G

      March 7, 2019 at 1:22 pm

      I have no problem highlighting negatives just put the time in to highlight the positives on the same subject. Don’t give a back handed compliment which is full of shade and claim it’s a compliment. It’s a insult on the intelligence of those who aren’t in the Anti-MLS crowd already.

      I don’t buy “the satisfy their soccer itch” argument because if that was true those leagues would have higher TV ratings than MLS. There are two leagues that do EPL and Liga MX and EPL isn’t by huge numbers like people on this website want you to think. We are talking 100,000k more or so thats nothing. Just another example of what I talked about earlier. Soccer community has been its worst enemy thanks to tribalism and trying to create differences.

      It’s not really a issue people are just trying to make it one. MLS TV ratings aren’t rocketing but are growing slowly year to year. No matter the personal opinion of Euro Centric viewers want to tell us. Stats are stats and at the end of the season MLS TV ratings have increased each yr since 2012. This is just another one of the examples of people trying to kick you when you’re down happens in life all the time. They’d have a leg to stand on if they were fair and acknowledge the TV growth since 2012 but it’s always a reason to dismiss or as you’ve seen lately try to tell you don’t believe the official released numbers believe our numbers and narrative. I’ve always found you to be level minded in your post. Even you’d have to say thats a slippery slope.

      Reality check AAF a semi pro football league out does EPL/MLS/BUNDESLIGA/SERIE A/LIGA MX/La Liga weekly now on a smaller distributed in most cases NFL Network. But we over here as soccer fans are trying to take down each others favorite leagues on a daily bases. Crabs in a bushel mentality I tell you and is why I will keep using the term Eurosnob. It’s not like people just created that term it was rightly used to describe a behavior exhibited.

      • Edwin G

        March 7, 2019 at 1:48 pm

        I get the number of options but I don’t buy the talent argument that’s just been pushed into being a thing buy people who are anti-MLS and try to use things like that to belittle the league. If that was FACTUAL the other BIG 5 Euro Leagues would have higher ratings and the Bundesliga and Serie A namely would have higher TV ratings than MLS. The true reason here is culture MLS will keep growing in the US as it continues to become more of the culture. To non Mexican Americans who outnumber in a majority soccer fans in the US LIga MX is the top league.

        EPL was the league presented culturally to the rest of the soccer community as the Representative of true football and its still being pushed culturally which is why it’s the second most watched league in the US.

        MLS wasn’t big enough in the age in the mid 90s to mids 2000s when the EPL underground craze started to take hold and eventually go mainstream. What we have now is MLS a league that has slowly and steadily started to gain a hold culturally thru expansion and people who are purist/Pro Rel Zealots all have found a common caused and want it to be stopped. So the issue is a tribalism thing more than anything. MLS will continue to grow while that faction nitpicks at every little thing about it. It’s really a collection of the worst kind of personalities in life jealously, envy and hatred.

        That’s one thing I will compliment Kartik Krishnayer on at least he sees it . He’ll call MLS out when its wrong, but he will call out what I just described. Some so called SOCCER fans are just in favor of what ever hurts MLS more than standing on true principles. They will cheat lie by hook or crook to make MLS look bad.

      • JP

        March 7, 2019 at 2:03 pm

        Not sure what in my comment can be construed as anti MLS except for maybe “the quality of play is often much better elsewhere”. Objectively I find that hard to refute. I’m a big Serie A fan but will readily admit the quality of play in La Liga and Bundesliga is often superior to Serie A. You can be a fan of something and also admit it’s not the best in the world. I’m not trying to pit European fans vs MLS fans into an all or nothing debate about what people should watch.

        In another comment I also theorized that MLS having to compete with other US sports also hurts it’s growth. Many sports fans have a deeper connection to NBA to use one example, so if their NBA team is playing at a similar time they’ll probably choose that over a national MLS match not involving one of their MLS clubs. This is something the Euro leagues don’t usually contend with (except the 2:30 Sunday matches), and believe those ratings would take a hit if matches coincided with more US sports.

        Basically, acknowledging soccer is still a niche here (not being anti soccer….I am a fan), and MLS or any other soccer broadcasts will take a backseat to most US sports if on at the same time (national or local).

        • Edwin G

          March 7, 2019 at 2:13 pm

          JP I never said you were Anti-MLS man I’ve said in replies I’ve always found you level headed. My post is about WST not you man.

          • JP

            March 7, 2019 at 2:16 pm

            My bad, figured it was pointed in my direction since a direct reply. Carry on my fellow soccer lover.

        • Edwin G

          March 7, 2019 at 2:21 pm

          You make alot of sense into what you said I know MLS isn’t the highest quality. If it was all about the highest quality La Liga would be the most watched league not Liga MX.

          I agree with alot of what you said. I just don’t see this type of analysis from many others. It’s the all or nothing Euro vs MLS. They live in this make believe world that soccer in the US is more popular than what it is and that MLS is the problem and should be more like the other Euro Domestic Leagues. They purposefully ignore some of the things you mentioned and that MLS has the higher TV ratings than those other Euro Leagues sans EPL. It’s because it doesn’t fit the narrative of failing MLS they so badly want to create.

          I’m not sure why we can’t just love soccer and want it to be bigger no matter when and how ever it’s played.

          • JP

            March 8, 2019 at 9:22 am

            Soccer still has a long way to go before it becomes as popular in reality as those of us who are already converted think it is.

            Of my circle of friends, there’s only one who follows the UCL (and only after the group stage really) and may watch some EPL here or there.

            At work, there is no one who follows soccer.

            Go to a bar after work to watch the conclusion of a UCL match…in the case where I don’t have to ask the bartender to put it on there may at best be 1 or 2 people watching the match already. Talking head shows (on mute lol) and CNN more in demand than a live sport.

  10. Edwin

    March 7, 2019 at 10:47 am

    You guys are so ridiculous you right this article every year. You cater to the inner EuroSnob and take pride and wish for low MLS ratings, The pathetic thing is the ratings have risen each yr since 2012. I don’t care about why im sure you will tell me or us some excuse as to why they were up point is they were up. You exist to crap on MLS and serve to people that want to here MLS crapped on.

    Own up to it. You never admit to being wrong you’ve been writing this same variation of a article the past cpl years. You never come out to say well they posted a TV gain again so they must be doing something right. Its alway like you go hmmm, How can I find a negative out of this.

    • Edwin Games

      March 7, 2019 at 10:52 am

      The thing is it doesn’t matter to you MLS numbers will be fine as they have been despite you and your Eurosnob crew trying to convince everyone MLS is failing. If MLS had gotten a higher number you and everyone knows you wouldn’t have mentioned it. You couldn’t wait to write this and they couldn’t wait to see you do this.

      Eurosnobs you cater to coming to your defense in 5,4,3,2,…

      • Mikey

        March 7, 2019 at 1:58 pm

        I think this has more to do with MLS distribution than anything else, you need to relax.

        • Edwin G

          March 7, 2019 at 2:11 pm

          Lol at trying to tell me to relax like I’m the one writing these sensationalized headlines that get proven to be wrong year after year. You would be better saying “hush let us revel in our glee”
          I will keep speaking out sorry if that’s uncomfortable for ya.

    • G Dog

      March 12, 2019 at 4:51 pm

      Edwin, I don’t think you are breaking anything that is new. WST is anti-MLS. That is kind of accepted practice. A few years ago, MLS came out and disputed a report WST had put out regarding ratings and ever since I take these reports with a grain of salt. I agree with you that the viewing numbers are increasing, albeit slowly, and that the networks and league seem fine with everything. I’m sure if EPL had to compete had to head with college football, NFL, NBA Playoffs etc, they’d be singing a different tune.

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