Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber certainly stokes the fire when it comes to controversial statements about the American top flight. However, one thing Garber nailed was that MLS faces stiff competition when trying to lure TV viewership to the United States. The litany of European leagues have considerable followings in the United States, and that saps potential audiences from watching MLS Season Pass.

Take this upcoming weekend as an example. It is matchday seven in Major League Soccer. That brings several major fixtures that fans can look forward to. El Trafico between LA Galaxy and LAFC highlights the next two days of matches. Also, FC Cincinnati faces New York Red Bulls in a game involving two teams on fine form to start the season.

While those games will pique the interest of some, MLS still faces an uphill challenge in rivaling the popularity of foreign leagues. The Premier League remains the most popular soccer league for viewers in the United States. This weekend, those MLS games will have to go up against a game between Manchester United and Liverpool, two of the most popular clubs in the world. Also this weekend, fans can watch the Old Firm in Scotland, the Copa del Rey Final, and the Derby de Lisboa between Sporting CP and Benfica.

The one saving grace is that all of the MLS games at the weekend are in the evening. Thirteen out of this weekend’s 14 games are on Saturday between 7:30 p.m. ET and 10:30 p.m. ET. They do not directly overlap with games in Europe thanks to the time differences. Yet, by that time, many of the soccer fans may be ‘soccer-ed out,’ as it were. They may feel that, after watching so many games in the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A, or other leagues, it is time to take a break from TV. Or, to watch something else.

Can MLS stand out against other TV competition?

The main issue centers around two things. On one hand, soccer fans have deep fandoms that center around one or two clubs. For example, an Arsenal fan may want to watch Liverpool and Manchester City games in addition to Gunners’ contests to see if the side’s title rivals drop points. Major League Soccer may not have the same fandom as clubs across the pond, and that comes from things like talent, ability, and the magnitude of games.

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The other challenge for Major League Soccer comes down to the quality of the competition. The American top flight has certainly developed the quality of its players. This goes beyond the introduction of Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez, or any other players on the older side of their careers in the league.

Many of the league’s young stars who have developed make it more exciting. Thiago Almada at Atlanta United, Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar and American international Jesus Ferreira have made a home in MLS. As seen with the concentration on Lionel Messi, though, these players may not be the driving force MLS needs. The star power of the league outside of Messi will fail to go up against European leagues. Even worse, Messi continues to battle injuries. Apple and MLS are not benefiting from his absences.

Domestic opposition

Garber said previously in 2013 that competing with Europe and Mexico mandated Major League Soccer find a niche.

“I think all of us have got to figure out a way to narrow that window so you can get a situation like the NFL has, a couple of days a week, short schedule, something that’s very compelling and very targeted,” Garber said.

Well, that is what MLS has now. The aforementioned compact schedule of games this weekend is what Garber had in mind. However, even if this skirts the European leagues, other games earlier in the day may take the specifically American attention of fans.

The United States Women’s National Team returns to action this weekend with highly anticipated games in the SheBelieves Cup. On the bright side for Major League Soccer’s sake, the USWNT is playing Japan at 12:30 p.m. ET, well before the MLS games kick off on Saturday evening.

MLS is hesitant to release its viewing numbers on MLS Season Pass from Apple. Consequently, there will be no way to determine how much of a breakthrough MLS has in the American market.


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Season Pass FAQ: We answer your questions about MLS Season Pass
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