MLS: Television Ratings Are the Biggest Issue Facing the MLS Today

Brad Berry@BradBerry4Correspondent IMay 30, 2012

AVIGNON, FRANCE - MAY 30:  Gueida Fofana of France looks on, after his team lost to Turkey during the Toulon Tournament Semi Final match between France and Turkey at Parc des Sports on May 30, 2012 in Avignon, France.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

The MLS (Major League Soccer) is fast approaching a serious roadblock to growing into a sport with a truly national following. This roadblock is also related to a common criticism that the sport in general is boring.

This sentiment is best reflected in television ratings, because if a sport is truly popular, then there would be people watching it on television.

The MLS has television deals with NBC and ESPN, so just how bad are the ratings for the "world sport"? Well, for NBC's first broadcast of an MLS game, there were only 82,000 viewers. If the MLS were a sitcom, the show would have been canceled faster than you can say "Viva Laughlin."

True, the attendance figures for games on average has increased, but sports leagues don't make a majority of their money from attendance; they get revenue from television deals. Due to the lack of television ratings, it will be hard for a network broadcasting the games to generate ad revenue because of how few people watch. That is a serious problem, because networks like NBC or ESPN will drop coverage due to lackluster ratings.  

If ESPN no longer broadcasts NHL games, then they can very easily pull MLS.

There is also a perception problem with the MLS, because unlike the other sports where there is world-class talent, MLS gets the scraps from Europe. Besides, for those die-hard soccer fans out there, what would you rather watch, a Premier League match or an MLS match?

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There is a perception that the MLS is essentially a glorified Triple-A minor-league system. Even if there is great home-grown talent, those players will always go to Europe, because that's where the soccer money is. In essence, don't expect Didier Drogba to ever cross the Atlantic.

The interest of soccer in the United States is very fickle and inconsistent: Public interest peaks around the World Cup, then dies down after the United States is out of the tournament. Middle America simply doesn't care about a sport that they attribute to children and frozen orange slices after games.

In all fairness to the game of soccer, it is a very recent development in the United States and is trying to compete with the NBA playoffs, the MLB regular season, the NFL and college football. There are simply not enough people to watch.

If there was such a demand for soccer in the United States, it would be reflected in the viewers for each match, not the number of views a soccer article receives on ESPN.com.


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