TV ratings for Major League Soccer matches airing on ESPN continue to impress heading into the 2012 MLS All-Star Game.
John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported via Twitter on Tuesday afternoon ET that 611,000 people tuned in for the Saturday afternoon New York Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union MLS match. That is nearly 300,000 more viewers than the league average for games airing on either ESPN or ESPN2 (345,000) this season. That average represents a 12 percent increase from July 2011. New York dominated much of that contest en route to a 2-0 victory, a win that put the Red Bulls atop the MLS Eastern Conference until at least next weekend.
The hopes for big market teams such as New York and LA Galaxy is that they will attract a large TV audience, and that a casual viewer who tunes into the match will be so entertained that he will watch the next MLS contest that airs on either ESPN or NBCSN. The Red Bulls weren't flashy in that they didn't run away with a 5-0 victory over Philadelphia. New York took care of business against a bottom of the table team as should any contenders, and those watching who aren't Philly supporters had little to complain about. ESPN also deserves credit for showing multiple replays of the Thierry Henry wonder strike that occurred during New York's midweek match against Chicago Fire. That's the type of highlight that gets someone's attention.
Ourand also stated that the July 18 San Jose Earthquakes vs. FC Dallas match, a game that aired on the NBC Sports Network, had 60,000 viewers. That number is less than half of the 121,000 viewers NBC Sports had been averaging after 17 games had shown on the channel in 2012. MLS fans shouldn't be too concerned about that figure, though. The San Jose vs. FC Dallas game kicked off at 11:00 pm ET on a non-holiday Wednesday night. The Seattle Sounders vs. Chelsea friendly, a game that was airing on ESPN, was also still going on at the start of the SJ-FCD match. The MLS game had a thrilling conclusion, as Dallas missed a penalty that would have tied the contest in stoppage time. San Jose won 2-1, and they currently sit atop the overall MLS standings.
As Roger Bennett of ESPN stated on Tuesday, MLS building a national audience of fans who actively go out of the way to watch games both on TV and in arenas is key if the league is going to thrive, let alone survive. It must be repeated that MLS remains a baby in the US sports world, and that the "growing the league" race is a long marathon, not a sprint. What we learned this past week is that hundreds of thousands of people will tune in to watch a MLS game that has both "big name players" and also a rivalry feel to it, and that a decent amount of viewers will stay up late on a weeknight to watch a match that, unless you're a big US Soccer fan yearning to watch Chris Wondolowski or Brek Shea (Shea had himself a bad night), doesn't have names recognizable to casual sports fans.
In all, I'd call it another solid week ratings-wise for MLS.