MLS encouraged by growth in TV audiences

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 advertisers.

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:
266,000 ESPN2 (+18% vs. 2014)
263,000 UniMas (+29% vs. 2014)
224,000 Fox Sports 1 (+58% vs. 2014 on NBCSN)

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 proving that.”

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.”

5 comments about "MLS encouraged by growth in TV audiences".
  1. David Sirias, May 7, 2015 at 3:06 p.m.

    Ratings would be even better if all the PBP and color guys actually called the game,. Even our best American, John Strong, falls into the habit of chit chat over things irrelevant to the game at times......Ironically, the best game callers are the two English speaking guys for Friday night UND who get the most grief for their "enthusiasm" and ostensible juvenile behavior. But they freaking call the game and there is no doubt as to who is responsible for a buildup or who made the killer pass--something that remains a mystery in most all other broadcasts. Those guys are the future. Hate to beak it to you all ... Besides better, smarter, more technical players, MLS needs more Chick Hearn and less Vin Scully if it wants it's viewership to continue ticking up

  2. Mike Jacome, May 7, 2015 at 3:54 p.m.

    To me, the best way to increase interest and viewership other than more high profile DPs, is picking wisely the most attractive games to broadcast nationwide. I have seen a number of low profile games being broadcasted and many other games that I really crave were not. Lucky for me I have MLS Live...

  3. beautiful game, May 8, 2015 at 11:24 a.m.

    That's right Mike, MLS live when most games are of mediocre quality while the 40% of the contest is immersed in player headshots from the front, side, and the back, throw ins, corner kicks, the benches, coaches, and ground level play which totally suppresses the game and its natural vision of team shape and player movement. How can 40% of the TV video be so meaningless? As for the commentary, it's full of hot air.

  4. Rick Estupinan, May 10, 2015 at 9:10 p.m.

    As long as English speaking broadcasters don't get into the bad habit of saying gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool for what it seems to be a loooooooooooogn time,I am okay with the job they are doing.Most of Spanish broadcasters do this.Some of them have come to realized that this is an idiotic,stupid,ridicules anachronism.The latter ones call a goal the way it should be done,with excitement for 3-5-6 seconds and getting right back to tell the audience how that goal came about,keeping the excitement all this time.There is no need for adding more annoyance to a generally bad game.Thank God for the on - off switch.I usually,after some one score I turn off the switch for a minute and a half.

  5. Allan Lindh, May 11, 2015 at 4:38 p.m.

    All the announcers need to watch a few matches with the sound off, and realize that most of the time you cannot identify the player with the ball, nor the player making the run. Just call the bloody match, we don't really give a hoot what you think about the players, the pitch, the tactics. If you were so smart, you wouldn't be up in the booth, so shut up and call the match.

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