By Paul Kennedy
If there's one league Major League Soccer thinks can be a model for growing its national television audience, it's the National Hockey League.
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber recently praised the NHL for taking what was a league with passionate local support but a weak national following and turning it into a national brand with a rapidly growing television audience.
Just how far MLS has to go in matching the NHL's success was evident with last week's viewing figures on NBC Sports Network.
MLS's Houston-D.C. United match attracted 107,000 viewers on Saturday -- up from the 82,000 to watch the 2012 FC Dallas-New York debut game on NBCSN -- but that was a fraction of the 813,100 to tune in the next night on NBCSN for the Boston-Montreal NHL game.
It should be noted Sunday’s game ranked as the fifth-most viewed regular-season NHL game ever on NBCSN, and five of the six most-viewed games on NBCSN have taken place this season.
NBCSN's inaugural "Wednesday Night Rivalry" -- which capitalizes on strong regional rivalries in the NHL -- has been a big factor in the growth of the NHL's viewership, made all the more remarkable because a long strike threatened to force the cancellation of the entire 2012-13 season.
NBC and the NHL signed a 10-year, $2 billion contract in April 2011 -- the kind of deal MLS can only dream about.
While the 107,000 viewers for Houston-D.C. United were up 30 percent from the 2012 opener, they were down compared to the average of 122,000 viewers for MLS on NBCSN in 2012. Last year's average was boosted by an average of 286,000 viewers for five MLS games aired during the Olympics when the network had its highest ratings of the year.
By comparison, the NHL averaged 332,000 viewers per game on NBCSN during the 2011-12 regular season.
RAPIDS HIRE FORMER BBC ANNOUNCER. Veteran English broadcaster Richard Fleming, who worked with the BBC, has joined the Colorado Rapids as their new director of broadcasting, a role that will include serving in the play-by-play role for telecasts on Altitude alongside color commentator Marcelo Balboa. Fleming comes to the Rapids having most recently done commentary for Arsenal’s television broadcasts and website.
FOUNDATION AND POLITICO TEAM UP. The U.S. Soccer Foundation, the major charitable arm of soccer in the United States, and political news organization Politico will partner to hold the inaugural Capital Soccer Classic in Washington, D.C., on April 24. The event, presented by Johnson & Johnson, will include a youth clinic as well as a series of games featuring members of Congress, including the bipartisan Congressional Soccer Caucus; other government officials; media celebrities; and former U.S. Soccer players, including John Harkes, Cobi Jones, Eddie Pope, Claudio Reyna and Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak.
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