Heading into the 2015 MLS Cup Final, American soccer observers knew the ratings would not be good. Here were two small-ish market teams in Columbus and Portland without a Kaka or David Villa or Steven Gerrard on their roster. Because of that, they are two teams (especially in Columbus’ case) that might not be featured as prominently nationally as your LA Galaxy or Seattle Sounders or NYCFCs of the world.
Most importantly though, the game started at 4:25 PM ET – precisely the same time as the NFL’s national doubleheader window, which often draws even higher viewership numbers than Sunday Night Football. From a competition standpoint, MLS made a choice to go up against the Barcelona of American television ratings.
The results? About what you would expect.
According to our ratings guru Douglas Pucci, MLS Cup 2015 scored the following audiences:
ESPN: 668,000 viewers, 350,000 adults 18-49
Univision Deportes: 206,000 viewers, 107,000 adults 18-49
The rating itself was a dismal 0.4 overnight, a record low for the game. Audience wise, though, the 2015 MLS Cup did defeat the 2013 version between Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC, another matchup between two of MLS’s smaller market teams. The ESPN audience for the 2015 MLS Cup Final was down 30% versus last year, which featured Landon Donovan’s final game for the LA Galaxy. On the bright side, the WatchESPN audience was up 21%.
Given these numbers, it’s perplexing why MLS continues to bash their heads against the wall in trying to schedule the most important games of their season smack dab in the middle of the NFL season on a Sunday afternoon or evening. As ESPN’s Taylor Twellman told us before MLS Cup this past weekend, perhaps the league needs to start thinking about midweek games on Wednesday nights to avoid going up against football every Sunday.
While there may be other ramifications to a decision like that (specifically on attendance), the league needs to at least consider playing the MLS Cup on a Wednesday night. For the championship game of the season, a weeknight showing isn’t likely to affect attendance or enthusiasm in the home market. So why not wait the extra three days and have the spotlight all too yourself instead of the Sisyphean struggle of going up against the NFL and wondering why so few are watching your championship event?
UPDATE: Some more numbers from MLS that have come in to Awful Announcing…
Unimas added an additional 300k viewers for the game, bringing the grand total to 506k for Univision/Unimas and 1.2 million total viewers for the game in the United States. The WatchESPN stream delivered 108,000 unique viewers, up from 89,000 the prior year.
In the local markets, Portland had a 7.3 rating while Columbus scored a 4.8