Monday, January 19, 2009

ESPN Pulls the Plug on MLS Thursday Night

I never really liked the Thursday night match because it wasn't on at the same time every week, which as I noted here, was one of the things killing the programming.
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.
Now, ESPN will try some other nights, but there is no mention of altering the time scheduling thing which is the larger problem.
After two years of anemic ratings that started low and finished lower, ESPN executives decided to cancel the league’s regular Thursday night telecast on ESPN2 this season. In its place, ESPN2 will carry an MLS game of the week, which will air on four different nights during the season. The weekly matches will occur on Thursdays (10 times), Saturdays (eight times), Wednesdays (six times) and Fridays (three times).

“We didn’t see the kind of ratings climb we’d like to, so we’re trying something different,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN vice president of programming.

The decision to cancel the regular Thursday night game marks a stunning turnaround for a league that two years ago believed it was creating destination programming that would increase interest in MLS. But even the 2007 arrival of David Beckham couldn’t boost MLS ratings.

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