By e-mail and by comment we have had some requests to take a look at 2011 television ratings for Major League Soccer. TV money is the lifeblood of any sports league and MLS is no different. Before we get into a detailed look at the ratings and what they mean, check this link for the latest 2011 ratings. In sum, viewership appears to be up with ESPN broadcasts averaging approximately 560k viewers (with ESPN2 less than half that number). FSC is averaging 75k viewers per match. Last year, the varoius ESPN broadcasts were near 250k while FSC was near 50k. This shows great progress year over year.
Years of stagnant ratings have made fans of the American game nervous about the coming renewal of the agreement with ESPN to broadcast MLS matches. ESPN pays $8.5 million annually for MLS rights, yet that deal is part of a larger SUM/ABC/ESPN package that includes USMNT games and FIFA World Cup. However, the uptick in 2011 could portend well for the coming negotiations with the worldwide leader
The league’s other big English language partner, FSC, is on a one year deal and improved ratings could certainly help MLS with its coming negotiation. FSC and MLS re-upped their broadcast relationship for the 2011 season after MLS was reportedly talking with other suitors. Reports indicate that the deal is for slightly more than the $6 million, a significant increase over the $3.25 million FSC had been paying. Under normal circumstances, this would be viewed as a success for MLS, but after SBJ broke a story earlier in the off season that MLS was demanding $20 million per year for a long term relationship, MLS fans were disappointed. However, the one year deal affords both the league and the network maximum flexibility. From the league perspective, MLS can spend the next year searching for a long term, big money deal with the security of a significant payday from FSC.
So what does it mean? MLS is certainly still a “niche property” but expanding viewership could lead to a bigger deal with a secondary English language partner (some have expressed an interest in Versus). The WFC matches also bring eyeballs to the league which can increase the viewer base.