This 2018 season was a pivotal year for Major League Soccer. Stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney arrived and entertained everybody. Josef Martinez shattered the single-season MLS scoring record, obtaining 31 goals and easily winning Most Valuable Player. And on top of all that, this year’s MLS Cup final took place in Atlanta where, in just their second season, Atlanta United FC defeated the Portland Timbers 2-0 in front of 73,019 people, destroying the previous attendance record.
In addition to many more people watching at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, many more people watched at home. Nielsen reported final ratings from Saturday’s final on Fox where 1,563,000 viewers tuned in. That is the highest viewership total for an MLS Cup final since 1997, MLS’ second season, and is a 91 percent increase over last year’s final (819,000) on ESPN.
This comes off the heels of two consecutive MLS Cup finals between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC. One reason for this year’s viewership increase was due to one team being based out of Canada. Also, ratings were only measured from U.S. markets. That meant MLS missed out on having a home market to boost the numbers. Surely, Toronto FC’s involvement helped viewership in Canada.
Though having two U.S.-based markets in the final helped boost viewership for Fox, that didn’t tell the complete story. To Fox’s credit, they broadcast games on regular Fox as well as FS1 and over the previous 10 days, the network heavily promoted the final throughout their sports programming on Fox and FS1, including their NFL broadcasts. That move seemed to pay off.
While some people will still poo-poo being happy with a broadcast getting 1.5 million viewers, it’s certainly a win for MLS and Fox and they should be hopeful for future growth.