MLS TV ratings are about as bad as can be imagined. ESPN2’s Thursday night rating fell this season and the telecasts averaged a 0.2 rating and was watched in an average of 251,000 homes weekly. ESPN 2 has achieved higher average ratings in prime time for such sports as Poker and Bowling in the last year. However, those sports have limited upside potential when compared with Football. But Football in the US fans clearly aren’t enamored with MLS: US National Team telecasts on ESPN and ESPN have averaged a 0.6 rating this year and the Euros averaged a 0.8 on the networks. The lack of viewership on ESPN 2 is a major concern as the network has invested a rights fee in the league for the first time. Despite the signing of David Beckham, MLS averaged less viewers in 2008 on ESPN2 than the league did in 2006 before Beckham was signed and before the new TV deal took affect. But even more worrying is that MLS games averaged according to BNet a 0.5 rating on ESPN and a 0.3 rating on ESPN 2 for the 1998 season. MLS also averaged a 0.9 rating on ABC that season, when the network broadcast 13 regular season games. The lone ABC telecast this season between the league’s two most successful clubs historically, garnered a 1.1 rating as a lead in to the Euro 2008 final which achieved a 3.2 rating.Now normally, Kartik is a bit of a worry-wort when it comes to the development of the game in America and tends to be a bit negative on some matters. He is likewise a bit negative on this matter as well.
Yes, I do believe that more American soccer fans are watch Premier League matches than MLS matches. Yes, that might be a bit of Premier League snobbery. It could also simply be a matter of choice.
ESPN Thursday night games suffer from one major and overriding fault, some that Fox Soccer does not suffer from when broadcasting EPL games--scheduling consistency.
You want to attract a good quality audience on a regular basis? You cannot have your game starting time move from 7:30 pm to 10:30pm on a week to week to week basis. Let's say for example, this week the Thursday night game is between DC United and Columbus--the game will start probably at 8:00pm Eastern or thereabouts, with pregame at 7:30 PM. The problem then is that next week, the Thursday night game might be Real Salt Lake hosting Dallas and the game will start at 9:30 pm Eastern. Simply put, you can't set a time to watch the Thursday night game for ESPN.
FSC doesnt' have that problem with EPL games. EPL used to schedule every game to be on Saturday and later Sunday at 3:00pm Local time in England. That means games would start at 10:00am Eastern time and 6:00 Pacific. It was consistent. Now EPL has games at differeing times, usually 3:00pm, 5:00pm and maybe 7:00pm England time to allow for more TV time. Not a bad idea, but the timing is consistent.
MLS has not discovered that. Right now, MLS dictates game times for Thursday night, but why not schedule games so that kick off, no matter where it is in the States, occures at 9:00pm Eastern? Ticket revenue might be a problem, but consistency builds and audience.