By Paul Kennedy
Through the first nine weeks of
the 2015 MLS season, total viewership is up on the three television networks as compared to last season. But what is most encouraging to MLS is that the gains in the first year of the new eight-year
agreement with its television partners are even greater in the key 18-49 adults demo -- the most important demo networks use to evaluate their MLS numbers and go out and sell their MLS broadcasts to
All three partners -- ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision Deportes -- have aired games on eight of the first nine weekends of the season, and they will continue to do so for the
majority of the remainder of the season as part of the most concerted effort yet at destination viewing for MLS soccer on national television.
ESPN2 is up 18 percent as compared to the
2014 final average in terms of total viewers but up 25 percent among 18-49 adults. The increases are even greater for UniMas (up 29 percent and 64 percent vs. 2014) and Fox Sports 1 (up 59 percent and
75 percent as compared to 2014 on NBCSN, MLS's former partner). 2015 MLS TV Audiences: P2+ AVG. NETWORK
(CHANGE) 266,000 ESPN2
(+18% vs. 2014) 263,000 UniMas
vs. 2014) 224,000 Fox Sports 1
(+58% vs. 2014 on NBCSN) P18-49 AVG. NETWORK (CHANGE) 173,000 ESPN2
(+25% vs. 2014) 167,000 UniMas
(+64% vs. 2014) 142,000 Fox Sports 1
(75% vs. 2014 on NBCSN)
“We’re pleased with the growth of our TV audience,” said Seth Bacon
, MLS's senior vice president, Media. “Every year our League becomes more relevant and has more buzz around it and you can see that here. Another element that we’re
excited about is the numbers when it comes to the 18-49 demo. We know our audience is young -- those young working professionals who participate in our supporters groups -- and these numbers are
That strong core of younger viewers is represented in the share of MLS television viewers who are 18-49 adults. According to MLS, 65 percent of ESPN2 viewers are
18-49, while 63 percent of Fox Sports 1 and UniMas viewers are 18-49.
In the short term, MLS and its broadcasters will look to maintain the early-season momentum. ESPN2 viewership dropped
considerably for its stable of mostly Sunday night games once the NFL season started. In 2014, NBCSN's MLS viewership dropped after the end of the EPL season in May and rarely hit its season average
of 142,000 viewers for its run of late summer and fall broadcasts on Friday nights. For the long term, a key will be to increase interest in MLS outside local markets -- which is where quality-of-play
issues are so critical.
What's been very encouraging for MLS across all three networks has been their commitment to promote its broadcasts.
Fox Sports and
ESPN have been cross-promoting their back-to-back Sunday MLS broadcasts, something television partners don't always do for properties they share. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Univision's
heavy promotion of MLS for its broadcasts on UniMas and UDN, its sports cable network that hosts a new Sunday night MLS show "Somos MLS."
For each of the first nine weeks, there have
been Sunday doubleheaders or tripleheaders on ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1 -- one game was bumped to Fox Sports 2 -- and while not as consistent for the rest of the season, a majority of Sundays will
feature ESPN2-Fox Sports 1 doubleheaders for which a significant audience is sitting through the four-hour block.
“The cross-promotion that
all of our partners are partaking in is unprecedented and it is really working," said Bacon. "You see a significant number of viewers staying on MLS programming on Sunday nights as the doubleheader
goes from ESPN2 to FS1. It shows an increase in interest of soccer fans watching MLS clubs outside of their own market.”