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League juggles broadcasts to bump ratings
by Ridge Mahoney, September 22nd, 2009 7AM



[MLS] The league is doing what it can to build its ratings on ESPN2. A scheduled telecast for an Oct. 7 meeting between FC Dallas and San Jose that likely will have no effect on the playoff race has been scrapped; instead, the final game of the season, New England and Columbus on Oct. 25, will be aired at 5 p.m. ET.  League and network executives, said league spokesman Will Kuhns, have worked to give league telecasts better lead-in programming as well as showcase the top teams as much as possible.

Before the 2009 season, the league and network decided to terminate regular Thursday night telecasts and "float" national telecasts among different days of the week. The league's opening game on March 19 (ironically a Thursday), between New York and expansion Seattle, aired on ESPN2, and tentative 2010 schedules lists next March 25, a Thursday, as opening day next season.

The Sports Business Journal reported that MLS is averaging a 0.2 cable rating for its telecasts this season: "An average of 292,000 viewers represents a 7 percent audience increase over last year's 272,000 viewers through 19 games."

(The discrepancy in total households between two seemingly equal 0.2 ratings isn't an error. ESPN ratings are calculated, and circulated internally, to the hundredths of a ratings point, but are released publicly rounded off to tenths of a point.)

Once the college football season starts, most Saturday broadcast windows on ESPN and ESPN2 are filled with games and studio programs. This limits the freedom of the network and the league to air as many of the best games as possible, since the bulk of MLS games are played on Saturdays.

This year, among the Saturday night games that aired on ESPN2 before football season started were two of the SuperClasicos matching the Galaxy and Chivas USA, and several games from Qwest Field in Seattle, where the dates and kickoff times don't seem to matter, as the fans show up in droves regardless.

Instead of the San Jose-FC Dallas game, if Saturday air time was available, these are among the games that could have been aired this month instead (home team first):
Oct 3 - D.C. United-Chivas USA, Columbus-Seattle;
Oct. 10 - New England-Columbus, Chivas USA-Kansas City;
Oct. 17 - Toronto-Real Salt Lake, New England-Chicago, D.C. United-Columbus, Kansas City-Seattle.
Oct. 24 - Kansas City-D.C. United, Real Salt Lake-Colorado.

Even if the Wizards drop out of the race before the end of September and their games are excluded, there are some excellent matchups that can't be considered because of Saturday conflicts. Here's the remaining lineup of games on ESPN2:
Oct. 2 (a Friday) - Chicago @ Los Angeles (Blanco and Beckham, and reverse game of an Aug. 19 telecast);
Oct. 14 (Wednesday) -- New York at Real Salt Lake (not quite the 2008 playoff rematch it might have been, and definitely a candidate for the scrap heap);
Oct. 22 (Thursday) - Chivas USA @ Chicago (Blanco, again).
Oct. 25 (Sunday) -- New England @ Columbus (might be meaningless if the Revs stumble; a critical match if they don't).


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