One of the biggest debate-inducing topics in sports media are MLS ratings and when if ever they might begin to see some upward trends. Last season brought a new television contract, a significant rise in rights fees, and (finally) consistent broadcast windows across ESPN and Fox Sports that allow soccer fans to know when games will actually be televised.
Last year the strategy worked. ESPN saw ratings increase 4%, FS1 saw a 40% increase over NBCSN, and Unimas games were up 3%.
Would the positive momentum continue in 2016? So far the answer is yes.
Around last week’s All-Star Game, ESPN announced that its MLS ratings were up an impressive 32% so far through the 2016 season:
Leading up to the 2016 MLS All-Star Game, this year’s Major League Soccer matches on ESPN and ESPN2 have delivered an average audience of 312,000 viewers (227,000 household impressions), an increase of 32 percent in viewers (235,000) and 44 percent in television homes (158,000) from the same period in 2015. On WatchESPN, the E1/E2 average minute audience to-date this season is 12,000, an increase of 127 percent increase over 5,000 in 2015.
ESPN Deportes is seeing a 44 percent audience increase with an average 46,000 Hispanic viewers year-to-date in 2016, compared to 32,000 in 2015. Spanish language telecasts on WatchESPN had an increase of 20 percent in average minute audience to-date this season vs 2015.
“As we enter the All Star break, we are delighted to see such substantial year over year gains in audience across ESPN platforms and in key demographics for Major League Soccer,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPNSenior Vice President, Programming and Acquisitions. “We look forward to continue working with Major League Soccer to keep up the momentum as we enter a very busy Fall sports calendar.”
As for the All-Star Game itself, it was actually down in ratings from last year on FS1 but rose in combined audience between ESPN and Unimas with an average of 873,000.
ESPN’s most-watched regular season telecast came on June 25 when a matchup between NYCFC and Seattle Sounders drew 616,000 viewers.
ESPN and MLS can certainly be encouraged by the decent jump in ratings. It has to be a long-term vision for the league and its television partners to continue to grow these audiences so they can compete with the big European leagues. If they can keep the consistent broadcast windows and keep showcasing the entire league to fans, then by the end of this rights deal, MLS could be in a much better position as a league and as a TV product.