Ratings Reset

espnThe first television viewership numbers of the 2013 campaign were released today.  With the preseason focus on the league’s struggle to maintain solid ratings, there was no doubt that the first numbers of 2013 would draw significant interest.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the numbers landed in close approximation to the numbers from last year.  According to the released numbers, the NBC Sports telecast of the Houston/DC game averaged 107,000 viewers.  The ESPN Sunday night game featuring Portland and New York managed an average of 221,000 viewers.

The opening number on NBCSN easily beat last year’s first game on the network which managed close to 80,000 viewers.  Conversely, last year’s first ESPN2 telecast was much higher.  That said, the 2012 last year for NBCSN was 119k and for ESPN2 was 232k.  Thus, the numbers from last weekend fall comfortably within the anticipated range.

The numbers are neither surprising nor impressive.  Viewership won’t increase overnight and the opening numbers on NBCSN suggest that some of the network’s promotion was effective.  Nevertheless, with the television deals coming up for renegotiation, the league needs the numbers to show improvement.   While the rights fees may be significantly increased by the sheer numbers of sports networks vying for live programming, a significant uptick in numbers would make MLS a much more attractive property.

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Soccer Business Bits: WPS, Transfers and Mun2 Ratings

wpsJust some quick takes today, we will be back in full tomorrow.   The inaugural WPS season ended this weekend with an upset victory for Sky Blue, FC.  From an attendance perspective, the game drew well, with over 7k in attendance at the Home Depot Center.  The game featured the League’s brightest star in Marta and was a home game for the best team (Los Angeles).   The first season is over, and we will take a business look back at WPS in the next few days.

There are multiple sources reporting that disgruntled Chicago defender Bakare Soumare has been sold to Ligue 1 team Boulgne.  These same reports are placing the transfer fee to be in excess of $2 million dollars.  Under MLS rules, the Fire will now have a substantial amount of money to spend to purchase and sign players. Previous writings suggest that the Fire will get 2/3 of the fee to spend with $500k going to new players and the rest to club development.  In a League with a salary cap under $2.5 million, 500k is a big number and should enable the fire to re-arm next season.

Finally, Mun2 hit a ratings high with its broadcast of the USA/Mexico match.  The mid-day game averaged almost 400k viewers (including DVR).  These ratings exclude public viewings like bars.  The Telemundo broadcast averaged 4.3 million viewers.

Soccer Business Bits: New MLS Expansion?

barcaOvernight English language broadcast numbers are out for the USA/Brazil match, and the numbers are instructive.  Of the top 10 markets, only three are MLS cities, and two of the top five (Miami and West Palm Beach) were home to one of the League’s failed franchises.  Other  top markets like Hartford/New Haven and Richmond scored very well, despite only a passing association with exisiting franchises.  Las Vegas was a solid #2, perhaps suggesting heavy betting action on the game.

Regardless, the real story here is the South Florida market.  Remember Barcelona’s efforts to bring a team to Miami?  Remember the short lived Miami Fusion?  We admit, we were against the idea of MLS expanding back into Florida.  South Floridians are notoriously fickle sports fans; Exhibits A-C are the Heat, Panthers and Marlins.  But as these TV numbers suggest, soccer is definitely a premier attraction in the Sunshine State (this will likely be even more evident in the Spanish language numbers).

The question for MLS is can a franchise (with or without Barca) survive in South Florida.  As we have said before, the idea of 9,000 fans snoozing through Sunday afternoon game in 110 degree Miami August heat, is a nightmare scenario for supporters of the League.  Would the popularity of top-level international football translate into numbers for MLS?  As the US marched through the Confederations Cup, it became clear that soccer is plenty popular, just not MLS.

There are three levels of soccer fans in the US.  There are the MLS fans who cheer on their local team and their national team.  There are the “Euro” fans who follow the big European teams (or South American teams) and their national teams, but have little interest in MLS.  Finally, there are the “event” fans, who get caught up in the hype of a big event and/or will follow the US in any sporting event. The first group is small (but growing), and these are the fans that MLS needs to capture, especially in a market like South Florida, where soccer is king, but MLS is not.

One final expansion note, there was a story out recently that the Saputos are again announcing an effort to bring an MLS team to Montreal. Montreal has shown an ability to support soccer (remember that big Canada Cup crowd) and is close to securing a 21k soccer specific stadium. A third Canadian team would create a nice rivalry and Saputo is solid potential owner.  However, with Philly, Vancouver and Portland right around the corrner, there is a question whether the League can handle another franchise so quickly.  The dilution of the talent pool is a big concern.  That said, Montreal would be a great venue for MLS.