MLS: How Can the League Improve Its TV Ratings?

Peter Galindo@@GalindoPWFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2015

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08:  Commissioner of Major League Soccer Don Garber speaks onstage at the Visionaries & Voices of NYC: NYC & Company Foundation travel and tourism awards on December 8, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for NYC & Company)
Monica Schipper/Getty Images

The 2015 MLS Cup final drew poor television ratings in both the United States and Canada. It's not surprising given the size of the markets involved but it's still a major issue for the league.

However, Major League Soccer can attract more viewers next season and beyond. It just has to go about it in a more creative and effective manner.

When MLS first began in 1996, a few marquee players were signed, including Mexico international Jorge Campos and legendary Colombian midfielder Carlos Valderrama.

The impact of Campos joining MLS was so massive that he asked for a Ferrari in order to return, per Sports Illustrated.

MLS has tried to appeal to the Latino demographic recently. Giovani dos Santos was signed by the Galaxy, and his international teammate Carlos Vela is linked with a move to the USA, according to the official league website.

It's no coincidence that MLS' best month ratings-wise coincided with Dos Santos' arrival in LA.

Orlando City SC star Kaka is another player who has boosted TV viewership internationally. MLS announced a four-year deal with Brazilian broadcaster Globosat in March.

Gary Stevenson, MLS Business Ventures president and managing director, said as much to the official league website:

This new agreement with Globosat is further illustration of the growing demand for Major League Soccer in the global media rights marketplace.

With Flavio Augusto da Silva's ownership of Orlando City SC and with over 15 Brazilian players in MLS, including Kaká, there is clearly an increased desire for MLS content in Brazil. 

We are excited to be partnered with such a powerful brand in Globosat and are confident that together we will create even greater awareness for the sport, our clubs and our stars.

It helped that the Galaxy faced three popular teams in the Seattle Sounders, New York City FC and the Portland Timbers, but whether it was on English or Spanish cable, the ratings were a success.

If Vela lands in MLS and joins a big-market team like the Chicago Fire, that's only going to help MLS on TV, at the gate and on the field. 

The Mexican demographic in the United States is huge. If MLS signs popular players who represent the national team, it will only attract more eyeballs to television screens.

However, that's just one small step. The real concern is how to keep the casual fans engaged with MLS.

Commissioner Don Garber wants the league to be among the best by 2022. That appears to be a pipe dream at this point because of the single-entity structure.

The chances of MLS succeeding without any major investment toward player salaries are slim. Targeted allocation money and designated players aren't going to cut it.

The Chinese Super League has attracted quality players from overseas and has invested wisely after just 11 years of existence.

Teams like Guangzhou Evergrande have signed the likes of Robinho and Paulinho, two Brazil internationals.
Teams like Guangzhou Evergrande have signed the likes of Robinho and Paulinho, two Brazil internationals.KAZUHIRO NOGI/Getty Images

Forbes' Chris Smith claims that six billionaires owned a minority or majority share of an MLS franchise as of 2013.

Sheikh Mansour (New York City FC) is worth £20 billion, per the Telegraph. That increases the number to at least seven billionaire owners in MLS.

If there are so many wealthy owners across the league, surely MLS can replicate the CSL model.

If MLS invested more money in player salaries, the quality on the field would improve and the product would be significantly more appealing to watch on TV.

However, the easiest solution to MLS' television problem at the moment is scheduling changes. 

The 2015 final kicked off on a Sunday afternoon in December, which directly competed with the NFL.

It would be pointless to continue clashing with football, so Saturdays also aren't an option due to the NCAA and its hoarding of TV networks, which Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald pointed out:

A Wednesday-night match beginning at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. ET would be ideal. This allows viewers in the Pacific time zone to watch the game at a decent hour, and it attracts the prime-time crowd in the East.

Shortening the playoffs may also be a wise move. This would keep fans engrossed without the international break interfering between rounds.

The strides MLS made in 2015 were positive. Univision, Fox Sports and ESPN have set TV time slots on Friday and Sunday nights for MLS games, which is a necessary step.

Now that fans know what time the nationally televised games are every week, more viewers will tune in beginning next season. 

It will be a few years until MLS eclipses Liga MX, the most-watched league in the United States. However, if Garber and his staff work with the TV networks and pitch these aforementioned resolutions, they can accelerate the process.

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