Lead-ins impact MLS television numbers

By Paul Kennedy

Three of the last four MLS matches on NBC Sports Network averaged 54,000 viewers. The TV audience for the fourth game -- the May 4 Columbus-New York match -- was more than double that. What gives?

The Columbus-New York game averaged 122,000 viewers -- the second highest viewership for an MLS game on NBC Sports Network in 2013. It followed a Kentucky Derby pre-race show that averaged 500,000 -- easily the largest afternoon viewership on NBCSN in recent months.

The May 4 viewership pushed the MLS average through 13 games on NBCSN in 2013 to 91,800 viewers, up slightly from 91,300 through the first 13 games in 2012, its first season on NBCSN.

That still leaves MLS far off the pace of its final average of 122,000 for 40 regular-season games on NBCSN in 2012. What made the 2012 final average higher by a third?

Five MLS broadcasts took place during the London Olympics when NBCSN drew record audiences. Benefiting from the lead-ins of Olympic coverage, the five MLS games averaged 286,000 viewers. If you throw those five games out, the MLS average for 2012 would have been 99,000 viewers.

While the English Premier League is competition for MLS on a crowded U.S. soccer television market, it could provide a boost for MLS when it launches on NBCSN in August.

The lead-in of the EPL on Saturday or Sunday afternoons will be better than what it gets now on NBCSN.

Saturday's Chicago-Philadelphia match drew just 51,000 viewers -- lower than even the FA Cup replay on Fox Soccer -- after following such shows as Napa's North to Alaska and NHL 36.

That Napa's North to Alaska -- featuring former Miami Dolphins great Larry Csonka -- drew more than double what the Chicago-Philadelphia match drew -- 113,000 viewers vs. 51,000 -- should give pause, though, to the notion that strong lead-ins alone are the solution to MLS's national TV woes.

MLS on NBC Sports Network (2013)
209,000 Seattle-Portland (March 16, Sat. 8 pm)
122,000 Columbus-New York (May 4, Sat. 4 pm)
108,000 Portland-San Jose (April 14, Sun. 10:30 pm)
107,000 Houston-D.C. United (March 2, Sat. 8 pm)
100,000 New York-Philadelphia (March 30, Sat. 3:30 pm)
97,000 D.C. United-Columbus (March 23, Sat. 3:30 pm)
86,000 FC Dallas-Los Angeles (April 13, Sat. 3:30 pm)
82,000 Sporting KC-Chicago (March 16, Sat. 3 pm)
79,000 Chicago-New England (March 9, Sat. 7:30 pm)
58,000 Los Angeles-Sporting KC (April 21, Sat. 10:30 pm)
53,000 Montreal-Chicago (April 27, Sat. 4 pm)
51,000 Chicago-Philadelphia (May 11, Sat. 1:30 pm)
41,000 Colorado-Real Salt Lake (April 6, Sat. 7:30 pm)

NPSL NAMES HITCHCOCK COMMISSIONER. The National Premier Soccer League entered into a management agreement with Playbook Management International and named PMI founding partner Michael Hitchcock as the league’s new commissioner.

“We are very excited to announce that Michael Hitchcock will serve as the new NPSL Commissioner," said NPSL Chairman Andy Zorovich, "and feel that with the addition of Michael and his company, the NPSL is on the verge of great times ahead."

Hitchcock spent 12 seasons in MLS with D.C. United, the Colorado Rapids, LA Galaxy and FC Dallas, earning the MLS Sales Director of the Year, MLS Sales Team of the Year, and the Commissioner’s New Business
Leadership Award. He was also president of the San Antonio Scorpions, who led the NASL in attendance in their first season in 2012.

The NPSL operates in the amateur fourth division of the U.S. Soccer pyramid, which also includes the PDL. NPSL teams operate in 60-plus markets. Two MLS clubs, D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls,
have U-23 squads in the NPSL.

ADIDAS UNVEILS NEW CLEAT NITROCHARGE. Adidas unveiled the Nitrocharge soccer cleat that it hopes will build on the success of the existing iconic Predator, F50 and 11Pro lines.

The Nitrocharge -- first new adidas soccer cleat silo since the release of the adizero F50 range in 2004 -- is designed to retain energy, improve lateral movement, sharpen on field reactions and deliver added sprinting power.

It caters, according to Ernesto Bruce, director of soccer for adidas, "to the relentless energy of those players who are ‘The Engine’ of their teams."


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