As it continues its expansion process and benefits from solid attendance numbers, MLS will be looking to improve its television ratings.
During the year 2017, there have been some signs of growth for MLS. The league’s ongoing expansion process has continued to unfold in a competitive fashion, while several attendance records fell during the regular season. Expansion Atlanta United FC was a major factor in the latter development, setting a record for season attendance by becoming the first MLS team to surpass 800,000 fans. In addition, with a crowd of 71.874 for its home finale, Atlanta broke its own match attendance record set last month, when 70,245 fans were at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. That played a part in helping MLS surpass 8 million fans during the regular season, a first in league history.
While some of those developments are positives, MLS wants to see a boost in its TV ratings going forward, something league commissioner Don Garber explained at a recent Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit. One challenge the league could face next year is that the United States, which had been a consistent presence in the World Cup for decades, has failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. More from The Seattle Times:
Three seasons into a new TV package with Fox Sports and ESPN, the league continues to garner audiences in the mid-200,000 range. By comparison, the No. 4 pro sports league, the NHL, averaged 475,000 on NBC and NBCSN during a down 2016-17 campaign.
The failure of the U.S. Men’s National Team to qualify for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia also means the league will lose a shot at the usual marketing blitz soccer receives every four years in this country. During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, soccer fever in U.S. cities led to overflow crowds watching games in bars or public spaces.
“It’s a missed opportunity,’’ Garber told the Yahoo conference. “And we all in our industry need to recognize that. When the U.S. is playing and they’re lining the bars … you have people that might not be followers of the game but are followers of, in this case, the men’s team being our ‘America’s team’ and it brings new people in to the sport. We’re going to miss that.’’
MLS received a 9 percent TV boost in 2014 compared to 2013 attributable to heightened soccer interest from the World Cup that likely won’t be as big next time.
Another factor, as the Times notes, is for MLS to attract and retain top-tier talent. Both the English Premier League and La Liga MX are seeing solid ratings among United States viewers, and the English Premier League has even managed to occasionally outperform the NHL.
MLS will debut at least one expansion club in 2018, as Los Angeles FC is preparing to make its debut at the new soccer-specific Banc of California Stadium. Plans for additional expansion teams are expected to be announced in December.
Photo courtesy Atlanta United FC.