Good news for Major League Soccer fans hoping to see more games on national television in the near future: The midseason ratings are in, and they are good.
A story posted on the Sports Business Daily website on Friday is reporting that ratings for MLS games shown on ESPN networks are currently on their way to being the highest in the history of the league. According to the report, MLS games showing on ESPN and ESPN2 this season are averaging 345,000 viewers. That is a 12 percent increase from viewership average this time last year.
The news gets even better. The story also reports that the NBC Sports Network, new home of MLS since the start of the 2012 season, is thus far averaging 121,000 viewers for league matches. That is, according to SBD, a 78 percent increase from FOX Soccer's average viewership for league matches at this stage of the 2011 MLS season.
There are several things to consider regarding the increase in MLS viewers. For starters, league attendance is up, which, along with the SBD report, indicates that the league is, in fact, more popular among fans than it was one year ago. People aren't just going to one game or viewing a single match. MLS is currently getting repeat customers, which is an absolute must if the league is going to thrive in the US sports community.
Both ESPN and NBC Sports also deserve credit for strategically scheduling matches around Euro 2012. That tournament did very well in the ratings, and MLS matches airing on ESPN/ESPN2 were promoted throughout the stations' Euro 2012 coverage. While league matches airing on NBC Sports understandably didn't receive the same amount of love, it isn't crazy to assume that those who enjoyed what they saw when watching Euro 2012 went a little out of their way to find more soccer on TV.
One also shouldn't forget that NBC Sports reaches out to nearly double the audience as does FOX Soccer. I never really understood just how small FSC's outreach was until I returned home to Erie, PA this past fall. I went out to a standard sports bar to watch a Tottenham match airing on FOX Soccer, only to find that the establishment, which had NBCSN (known as Versus at the time), didn't carry the channel. For whatever reason, that same establishment did have FOX Soccer the next time my parents visited several months later.
It is, of course, far too early to get overly excited about this news. We must first wait until the end of the season, when we can see how pennant races, postseason baseball and college and pro football affected MLS viewership in September and October. Only then can such data be thoroughly analyzed. The hope back when the MLS on NBC Sports deal was announced last August was that there would be such an increase in viewers for league games that network execs would choose to put more than a couple of matches on "Big Daddy NBC" in the future, and that more MLS matches will, in time, be shown on ESPN/ESPN2 and NBCSN.
It may be early, but so far, so good.