Nielsen Ratings: What it all Means

The Sports Business Journal (courtesy of John Ourand), tweeted that the Timbers/Sounders broadcast on NBC earned a .4 rating on Saturday afternoon.  Translated into total viewers, the rating probably equals more than 600k and less than 800k.  Overall, this is a fairly disappointing result for the first game on NBC.   Because soccer fans are especially attuned to ratings and viewership numbers, we thought it would be worth spending some time on a primer on ratings.  The numbers typically come in either total viewers or ratings.  Sometimes they get broken down into demo (e.g. age or gender).

The denizens of BigSoccer have calculated (and they do a great job tracking this) that the telecasts on NBCSN are averaging 133k viewers, while ESPN2 games just shy of 250k viewers  while the ESPN matches are a bit short of 500k.  For those interested in Spanish language numbers, the numbers are just shy of 60k.

So what does it mean? TV By the Numbers has a great chart here looking at how the figures get broken down.   The validity of the numbers are always disputed by people with a vested interest in the figures. The Nielsen system is a tried and true method of evaluating television viewership.  Nielsen typically relies upon viewer diaries and set-top boxes.  In addition to ratings, viewership is also recorded by way of a share, which is a measurement of the percentage of televisions tuned into a particular program.
Over time the company has tried to modify its metrics to account for DVR viewing and other technological advances.

However, whatever the accuracy of the ratings, there is no doubting the importance of the data when setting price points for ad buys and tracking the popularity of leagues.  MLS attendance continues to show great strength, but television money is the financial key to growing the league.

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2 Responses

  1. To add to the considerations, larger TV contracts will follow not only the audience size but also the amount of ad time. Soccer games are two hours (compare to 3+ hrs for football and baseball) with no timeouts. Aside from in-game advertising, the commercial time is limited to pre-game and halftime breaks, further limiting the value to the networks. Thus, to get the TV income equivalent to other leagues, MLS would likely need to exceed the other league’s audience size to make up for the fewer number of games (in the season) and shorter game times.

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