COMMENTARY | This past Wednesday's New Zealand vs. Mexico World Cup playoff match was more a formality than it was a game to determine which nation would qualify for Brazil 2014. Mexico defeated the All Whites 5-1 in Estadio Azteca in the first leg of the playoff. Nevertheless, soccer fans stayed up late to watch Mexico punch their ticket to world football's biggest party.
A total of 5.4 million viewers tuned in to Univision to watch the match that aired live from the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand. Most impressive about that stat? Coverage kicked off at 12:49 am ET on Wednesday morning, and it ended at about 3:04 am. According to the press release, that match attracted an average of 3.1 million total viewers and 1.9 million adults who fall in the 18-49 age range.
The United States played hosts to Mexico in a World Cup Qualifier back in September. An average of 2.243 million viewers watched that contest via ESPN. That same match averaged 3.5 million viewers on Univision.
Games involving the United States and/or Mexico, especially those with World Cup implications, drawing millions of viewers is no surprise. What has continued to frustrate many within the American soccer community is that the US top-flight league, Major League Soccer, cannot generate anywhere near that same amount of buzz for a Final let alone for regular season contests.
It was announced earlier this month that WNBA games that aired on the ESPN family of networks outperformed MLS matches. ESPN WNBA games averaged 231,000 viewers this past season. MLS games on ESPN averaged 220,000 viewers. Even more disheartening is that MLS games airing on NBC Sports Network attracted an average of only 112,000 viewers.
Both of those MLS values represent a drop from the 2012 campaign.
It's obviously unfair to compare a match airing on TV that features Mexico fighting for their World Cup lives with regular season MLS games that, if I'm being honest, don't matter all that much due to the fact that the league's champion is decided by a playoff format, and also that ten of the league's existing 19 clubs qualify for the postseason tournament. See it as a point of reference rather than a comparison.
People in this country will go out of the way to watch soccer. They do it on weekend mornings, and they do it late at night for the right game(s). MLS has, for whatever reasons, not yet found ways to consistently attract those individuals. Until the league does, it will continue to take beatings in the ratings on a monthly and yearly basis.
Sources: Numbers for the New Zealand-Mexico match provided by The Nielsen Company (via press release)
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo Sports since 2010.
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