"According to the latest issue of the Sports Business Journal published by Street and Smith’s (now the parent company of the Sporting News incidentally) MLS TV ratings are about as bad as can be imagined. ESPN2’s Thursday night rating fell this season and the telecasts averaged a 0.2 rating and was watched in an average of 251,000 homes weekly. ESPN2 has achieved higher average ratings in prime time for such sports as Poker and Bowling in the last year. However, those sports have limited upside potential when compared with Football. But Football in the US fans clearly aren’t enamored with MLS: US National Team telecasts on ESPN and ESPN2 have averaged a 0.6 rating this year and the Euros averaged a 0.8 on the networks. The lack of viewership on ESPN 2 is a major concern as the network has invested a rights fee in the league for the first time. Despite the signing of David Beckham, MLS averaged less viewers in 2008 on ESPN2 than the league did in 2006 before Beckham was signed and before the new TV deal took effect. But even more worrying is that MLS games averaged according to BNet a 0.5 rating on ESPN and a 0.3 rating on ESPN 2 for the 1998 season. MLS also averaged a 0.9 rating on ABC that season, when the network broadcast 13 regular season games. The lone ABC telecast this season between the league’s two most successful clubs historically, garnered a 1.1 rating as a lead in to the Euro 2008 final which achieved a 3.2 rating. So in essence a smaller percentage of TV viewers nationally are watching MLS in 2008 than did in 1998, despite the league having more of a mainstream media presence and having two more franchises. I would note that personally I probably watched more MLS games in 1998 and 1999 than I have in 2007 and 2008 because the league despite the funny clock rules seemed to have better quality to it in those days and some teams like DC United circa 1996-1999 were in my mind as entertaining to watch as any club in the world. MLS currently does not provide that sort of entertainment and looking at these figures I am not alone in believing that."
I rest my case. The fact that the national TV ratings for Major League Soccer have actually declined over the past ten years should be the tip off. Here in New England the Revolution draw respectable crowds to Gillette Stadium. In 2008 they drew an average of 17,500 fans per game. However the team averaged more than 19,000 fans per game back in 1996. Evidently all those kids playing youth soccer has not translated into making lifelong paying customers. Is there a place for Major League Soccer in the United States? I suppose so but the leagues and TV networks should be realistic about their expectations. The truth is that soccer has never really made it in America much to the chagrin of those who love the sport. And I will argue that at least for the foreseeable future soccer will remain what it always has been in this country.....a fringe sport.
What did you think of this review?
The league comprises 15 teams, 14 in the U.S. and one in Canada. MLS represents the top tier of the American and Canadian soccer pyramids.
Major League Soccer was founded in 1993 as part of the United States' bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. The first season took place in 1996 beginning with 10 teams. Seasons run from late March or early April to November, with teams playing 30 regular season games each. Eight teams compete in the postseason MLS Cup Playoffs culminating in the championship game, MLS Cup.