According to MLSSoccer.com, the first weekend of MLS soccer’s 20th season was a modest hit on national TV, with Sunday’s match between Orlando and New York City on ESPN2 raking in 539,000 average viewers, which was 100,000 viewers higher than any regular season game broadcast on ESPN2 last year. In addition to this success, UniMas‘s Friday broadcast drew an average of 341,000 viewers, while the Sunday doubleheader of games on Fox Sports 1 drew 268,000 and 289,000 viewers respectively.
Last year’s final average viewership for games on NBC Sports Network was 142,000 while the combined average viewership for games on ESPN and ESPN2 was 240,000, making this season’s start look considerably optimistic. Comparing these numbers to where MLS was in 2008, the league averaged just 30,000 TV viewers per game for the last four games of the season when the games were televised nationally on Fox Soccer Channel.
Since this was just opening weekend, the impressive viewership ratings are expected to go down, but it will be interesting to see if they can beat last year’s viewership due to the many changes in place like standardized weekly game times for nationalized televised games on ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1, as well as a new television deal that more than tripled the value of their old TV deal from $30 million to $90 million.
TV viewership is a key source of revenue, publicity, and popularity for the NFL, MLB, the NBA, and the NHL. While MLS has seen huge improvements in attendance over the past decade, the league will need to generate a consistently high base of TV viewership week after week if it hopes to compete at the financially successful level of the more established leagues in American sports.