When MLS signed its new rights deal with Fox and ESPN a couple of years ago, it represented a commitment to the domestic soccer league that had never been seen before. This commitment came not only in the form of increased rights fees, but in ESPN and Fox working together to cross-promote games and set consistent broadcast windows.
Now that commitment is expanding to another first for Major League Soccer – the MLS Cup Final on primetime network television.
MLS announced yesterday that Fox would air the 2016 MLS Cup Final on Saturday night December 10th at 8 PM ET on their main broadcast network. The game will also be televised on UniMas, TSN, and RDS.
Major League Soccer today announced that 2016 MLS Cup will be televised on FOX broadcast network, UniMás, TSN and RDS on Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. ET, the first time in the league’s 21-season history the championship match will be played on a Saturday evening in primetime on network television. In addition, the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs dates have been set, with postseason action kicking off October 26-27 following the close of regular season play on Sunday, Oct. 23. Postseason matches will air live in more than 175 countries worldwide.For the first time since 2008, MLS Cup will air live on English-language network television, as FOX televises the championship match for the first time. Joining FOX for MLS Cup are Spanish-language broadcast partner UniMás and UDN as well as Canadian broadcast partners TSN (English) and RDS (French). Once again, all games in the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs will be broadcast nationally across the league’s domestic partners FS1, ESPN and UniMás with select matches on the TSN and RDS family of networks. Canadian broadcast information for the playoffs will be announced at a later date.
If you’re thinking that sounds insanely late for an MLS Cup Final, it is, but the season has been growing and growing in length. The Final will come almost two months after the playoffs begin on October 26-27. There will also be ten day breaks between each leg of the conference finals and the MLS Cup Final. And there’s an international break in there for good measure as well. Perhaps more importantly though, it represents an evening that will not have competition from the NFL or college football. The only NCAA game scheduled for December 10 is Army-Navy and it’s an afternoon game.
Last year’s final between Columbus and Portland drew 1.2 million viewers throughout the United States with 668,000 viewers on ESPN, 300,000 on UniMas, and 206,000 viewers on Univision Deportes. ESPN’s rating was a record-low 0.4 overnight for an MLS Cup Final.
Those numbers should undoubtedly improve with the contest moving from an NFL Sunday to a Saturday night that’s vacant of football. And it should improve by going to Fox in primetime. The 2016 final will be the first time it’s back on broadcast television since the last 2000’s after ABC had aired the game in the league’s early years. A 1.4 rating is the highest the MLS Cup Final has ever received on television and it’ll be fascinating to see if this kind of major platform helps get the league above that mark.
MLS ratings, and the struggle to gain a foothold on the national sports scene, will always be a major story for the American soccer league. At this point though, you can’t blame MLS’s television partners for not doing everything they can to help grow the league.