2016 MLS TV Ratings So Far

mlsWe are currently three months into the MLS’s 21st season, on the heels of a successfully hosted Copa America Centenario, and now seems like as good as time as any to have a status report on how things are going.  After all, if MLS was a living, breathing human being, it’s finally old enough to buy a beer now.  Could this be a sign of more lucrative beer sponsorships to come? And can MLS finally get over the heavily coveted TV ratings hump that has been dogging the league for years?

Back in March, this year’s MLS opener featuring defending champion Portland Timbers and defending runner-up Columbus Crew on ESPN averaged 362,000 viewers. The following nationally televised matchup between Seattle Sounders FC and Sporting KC on FS1 averaged 267,000 viewers.   Since both ESPN and FOX Sports are continuing a Sunday afternoon/night doubleheader that was put in place last year, comparing viewers becomes much easier.  Last year’s MLS opener featuring Orlando City and NYCFC averaged 539,000 viewers, 33% higher than 2016.  But last year’s New York Red Bulls vs. Sporting KC matchup on FS1 drew virtually the same amount of viewers as 2016. At best, these figures suggest that MLS has found a small but steady niche audience.

The “newness” element of having two expansion teams playing in their first ever competitive match was clearly a contributing factor to the higher than normal average viewership for the opening match in 2015.  But MLS cannot keep expanding so that wow factor will soon become unavailable.  Other factors such as star power, team loyalty, and must-see TV will be more paramount as the league moves toward this next phase in its history.

Perhaps less surprisingly, viewership for the plethora of international soccer that has been on TV this summer is significantly higher.  ESPN has reported an average of 815,000 viewers per game as of the end of June for Euro 2016 in France.  The Saturday quarterfinal match-up between Germany and Italy, two contingents with heavy fan bases in the U.S. drew over two million viewers and a 0.8 rating among the 18-49 demographic on ESPN.  The Copa America broke TV records across the board in the tournament’s history.  MLS was even able to capitalize on the Copa, albeit for one game by featuring a doubleheader on Univision after the third place match between the U.S. and Colombia.  The following game between the San Jose Earthquakes and Los Angeles Galaxy was the largest TV audience for an MLS game since 2008, drawing an average of one million viewers.  While piggybacking off the coattails of games that are popular to mainstream audiences is a brilliant way of exposing MLS to the masses, making sure the product on the field is exciting to watch is the best way of retaining higher percentages of those audiences for future games.

One source of inspiration for MLS could be the Icelandic national soccer team.  It’s thrilling Cinderella performance in Euro 2016 captured the small nation by storm and an incredible 99.8% of Iceland’s TV viewers at the time witnessed the team’s final game in the quarterfinals against host nation France.  The NFL by comparison drew around 70% of TV viewers in the 18-49 demographic for Super Bowl 50.  Is there reason to believe an MLS game can draw the interest of 99.8% of American TV viewers? Absolutely not.  But it proves once again just how important it is to have an exciting game to watch on the field.

On July 17, MLS will hope that its nationally televised Cascadia rivalry match-up between Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers on FOX can pass the test to prove MLS Soccer deserves a steady position on broadcast TV, and not just cable.  Based on the league’s current ratings performance that probably won’t happen.  But one can dream, and the dream of MLS becoming a ratings monster lives on until it becomes a reality.

REFERENCES

http://thebiglead.com/2016/03/09/mls-opener-viewership-down-33-percent-on-espn/

http://worldsoccertalk.com/2016/05/26/mls-fails-make-positive-impression-tv-ratings-big-soccer-weekend/

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/uefa-euro-2016-staggering-998-908124

 

 

 

 

 

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The U.S.A. Could (And Should) Host Another World Cup

chile-copa_2706getty_875Last night the Copa America Centenario came to a close with Chile defeating Argentina in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw. This was almost an exact replica of Copa America 2015 when Chile defeated Argentina in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw.  The difference? The United States does it bigger, and does it better.

The predominately Argentine attendance last night in East Rutherford, New Jersey was reportedly over 82,000, a New Jersey soccer record. This comes on the heels of last week’s impressive crowd at the USA vs. Argentina semifinal in Houston, Texas that was reportedly over 70,000, a Houston soccer record.  For a country that has played host in the past to Pele, Ronaldinho, and David Beckham, there are many reasons for tournament organizers to be pleased right now.

The amount of records broken by this edition of Copa America cannot be ignored.  After last night’s final, the accumulated attendance of the 32 games played was just over 1.5 million, shattering a record held for over 25 years by over 350,000. In addition, the average attendance was nearly 46,000 fans per game, topping 5 of the last 9 World Cups (excluding the USA hosted World Cup in 1994).  Average attendance even topped the past 6 European championships despite an average ticket price of just over $100.  Using just attendance alone as a measuring stick, the U.S. has raised the bar as a host.

In terms of TV ratings, even more records were broken.  Not including the final, the first 30 matches of the Copa America Centenario drew over 100 million viewers in the U.S. from the combined broadcasts of Univision and Fox networks.  Univision reported that ratings for the tournament have been higher than average ratings for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  The USA vs. Argentina semifinal even drew 3.29 million viewers on Fox Sports 1, a network soccer record.  In terms of reach, the tournament has been broadcast in 160 countries, and 1.5 billion viewers worldwide. While the days until MLS reaches 1.5 billion viewers are still a long way off, competitive international soccer in the US has consistently proven to be record draw since the ’90s.

In short, the Copa America Centenario achieved every feat it intended and then some.  As Sunil Gulati accurately concluded, the United States Soccer Federation successfully proved that this country has the infrastructure, management system, and consumer base to thrive as an international soccer tournament host.  In many ways, the United States has everything that Brazil is missing for the Rio Olympics in less than two months.  Even with all the bribery and scandals that surround FIFA, it would be incredibly hard to avoid the potential money-making machine that the United States just displayed for a memorable, drama-filled, and lucrative three weeks.

REFERENCES

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/24/copa-america-has-been-successful-with-attendance-tv-ratings/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/sergeiklebnikov/2016/06/26/successful-copa-america-2016-smashes-records/#44766b89734b

http://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/la-sp-copa-us-argentina-tv-ratings-20160622-snap-story.html

http://www.news18.com/footballnext/news/lionel-messi-misses-penalty-as-chile-win-copa-america-2016-title-1262520.html

Empty Seats at Copa America

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This month, soccer is available to the average American soccer fan virtually all parts of the day with three European Cup games on in the morning and afternoon capped off by two Copa America games at night. It’s beautiful isn’t it? It makes you appreciate the ‘worldly’ aspect of the game. But does it provide too much convenience to the average fan? So much so that he or she would not get up off the couch and see a game in person?

As the first round of Copa America comes to a close tonight, and as the first round of Euro 2016 begins, a bit of an alarming trend has become apparent in the stands on this side of the pond. A significant number of seats are empty.

The story lines of the first round were not the problem. We witnessed a United States team with little expectations finish at the top of Group A. Colombia was handed a stunning 3-2 loss to Costa Rica setting up a potential matchup with a Brazil team that was even more stunned by a controversial goal at the hands of upstart Peru to be sent home after one measly round. We saw the spirited frustration of Luis Suarez as he could only watch from the sidelines as his countrymen from Uruguay would exit this tournament early as well. And of course, we saw Lionel Messi dazzle in the limelight with a hat trick despite entering the game as a second half substitute. In most of these cases, you could not ask for a better sequence of events.

The real problem could be a combination of factors. One could be the low expectations for this US team. In the past quarter century, the US has given the nation pride with spirited performances in the World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, possibly reaching a plateau with the heartfelt performance of Tim Howard against Belgium in the World Cup knockout round in 2014. But since 2014 most of the news surrounding the national team has been negative. They finished in fourth place on their home turf in the 2015 Gold Cup, a tournament they usually dominate. Small Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Haiti were no longer easy matchups; the island nations were highly competitive, sometimes even better. The US had gradually ascended into a North American juggernaut from 1990 to 2014. Suddenly, all progress appeared to be lost. But here we are in 2016, and as usual, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has somehow lit a fire under this team again at the most unexpected moment.

Another factor could be the lack of star power. Before Brazil flamed out of the tournament in spectacular fashion, they were playing without the face of the squad, Neymar. Talented striker, and habitual opposition biter, Luis Suarez was injured or listed as injured in all three matches for Uruguay. Even Argentine sensation Lionel Messi was used as a substitute rather than a starter due to an injury he sustained before the tournament. You could call it bad timing, but without the stars to advertise, smaller nations like Panama, Haiti, and Venezuela have never been crowd pleasers. Unfortunately, Brazil and Uruguay’s eliminations in the group stages could continue to have an adverse attendance in the more meaningful knockout round matches.

A third factor could be these over-sized stadiums hosting games. The last Copa America in Chile averaged around 25,000 fans per game, and the previous Copa America in Argentina averaged just under 35,000 fans per game. After 20 games in this year’s tournament, the US average is significantly higher at just above 40,000, with some clear outliers. Despite statistically better turnouts, hosting games in 70,000 to 80,000 seat stadiums makes for a poor aesthetic.

And finally, the biggest factor could be TV coverage. Univision is reportedy averaging 2.8 million viewers per game while Fox Sports 1 is averaging just over 800,000 viewers per game. According to Nielsen Media Research, over 2 million viewers watched the US defeat Paraguay 1-0 to advance to the next round, the most watched men’s soccer match in Fox Sports One history. Yet on TV, you could see whole swathes of sections empty in the upper tiers of Lincoln Financial Field.

In all United States sporting events, going to the game has been marketed as an experience. An experience unlike sitting at home and watching on your TV. Instead of just seeing two century long rivals face off in a battle for glory, you could feel it. Live it. But at what cost?

The price of a TV subscription is relatively low compared to the price of a premium Copa America ticket. Currently on Stubhub, the cheapest ticket to the Copa America Centenario Final in East Rutherford, NJ two weeks from now is just over $300. For almost half that price, you could enjoy a month’s subscription to the cable provider of your choice with access to every game of the tournament on your TV, on your tablet, on your computer, and on your mobile phone at all times of day, alone or with friends and family in the comfortable confines of your home. With the right sound system, and with the right TV, the experience at home could be extravagant on its own. And with all the freedom available to you of watching the game anytime, anywhere, why on Earth would you trek through traffic and parking attendants to see Jamaica play Uruguay?

The organizers of this tournament have learned some unfortunate new realities about soccer in America. Just like with regular television, fans have choice now. The capacity crowds of the 1994 World Cup didn’t have a smartphone and live stream of the event in prime-time. The skeptical “wow me” fans of 2016 do. Unless Mexico plays the US in the final, the remaining tickets at MetLife Stadium have a poor chance of being sold at face value. Welcome to the new age of international soccer in America.

REFERENCES
http://www.starsandstripesfc.com/2016/6/13/11920118/usa-paraguay-copa-america-match-breaks-tv-viewing-record

Univision leading the way in Copa America TV ratings with FOX Sports trailing behind

http://www.newsy.com/videos/don-t-get-too-worried-about-attendance-at-the-copa-america/
http://www.concordmonitor.com/Copa-America-soccer-attendance-2828093

 

What does hosting Copa America mean for US?

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Tonight marks the commencement of the Copa America Centenario tournament, the 100th anniversary of the storied South American competition.  However, all eyes will be on the United States as for the first time ever, the tournament will be held outside the Southern Hemisphere, pitting all 10 South American international teams against 6 of CONCACAF’s finest.  While there are many articles and stories out there predicting which nation will hoist the trophy, and which stars you should watch during the largest competition held in America since the 1994 World Cup, how easy is it to predict the economic implications of this event?

Before Orlando, Florida was awarded the rights to host three group stage matches, its bidding effort launched some pretty bold estimates on how much impact just one game could have on the region.  In the presentation by the Central Florida Sports Commission last March, $30 million to $50 million in revenue were projected figures depending on actual attendance.  In many ways, Orlando has realistic data to use as a reference when conjuring these estimates  based on its history as a host city during the 1994 World Cup.  Some other projections were the possibilities of 10,000 international travelers visiting the city, as well as 40,000-45,000 room reservations for at least one night stays in local hotels.  Orlando will host games on June 4, June 6, and June 8.  Time will tell if these predictions become reality.

The host city in the Bay Area of California, Santa Clara, is currently in the epicenter of American Sports with the Golden State Warriors of basketball competing in the NBA Finals, and the San Jose Sharks of hockey competing in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Tonight, Levi’s Stadium hosts the opening match between the United States and one of the favorites, Colombia.  A reported 67,000 seats have been sold as of the morning of June 3. Considering the capacity is 70,000, local businesses should be very pleased at the turnout.  Before San Francisco was awarded its bid, it projected a $139 million economic impact on the region based on the events. With the United States playing in the stadium, that number could reasonably grow even higher depending on the result.

From a sponsorship perspective, many big brands have hopped on the bandwagon to have their names associated with Copa America Centenario.   Anheuser-Busch, Delta Airlines, Nike, Coca-Cola, and Sprint will all feature prominently in this tournament.  Soccer United Marketing and IMG reportedly guaranteed the tournament organizers a minimum of $20 million for TV and sponsorship rights.  Fox Sports paid $15 million for the privilege of English language rights, while Univision reportedly paid over $60 million for the Spanish language rights. Realistically, the TV ratings for the Spanish language viewers should be tremendous given all the star power.  This proves once again that television reigns supreme in the sports world.

In short, the influx of international soccer fans, the passion of American soccer fans and the tourism revenue that will be present over the next month will be a spectacle that even the most passive sports fan can appreciate.  Copa America is normally held every other year, so the normal schedule would dictate that after the 2015 iteration, the next tournament would not be held since 2017.  To honor 100 years of the tournament (and cash in on the marketing implications of a South American competition on U.S. soil) an exception was made for 2016.  The most amazing part of all this is that the tournament almost didn’t happen after investigators uncovered a bribery scandal involving the organizers in the first place.

In case you’re curious, I predict a Mexico victory over Argentina in the final.

 

REFERENCES

http://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/blog/2015/03/big-score-if-bid-is-successfulcopa-america-could.html

Copa America Soccer Tournament Comes To South Bay

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-07/anheuser-busch-delta-to-sponsor-centenario-soccer-tournament

What Can Zlatan Do For You?

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He has over 3.5 million Twitter fans.  He has over 14 million Instagram followers. Before he played his last game with PSG at Parc de Princes, he had this to say:

“I came like a king, left like a legend.”

Amazingly, this statement is quite accurate.  The club president even announced plans to name a stand after him upon his retirement. He is arguably the most interesting man in the world. In soccer, at least.  Oozing of Scandinavian confidence, and scoring goals like there is no tomorrow, the chance of having this publicity machine play on American soil should cause casual soccer fans to rejoice.  But what else could Zlatan moving to the U.S. possibly do to change the game here?

Major League Soccer could finally have it’s own counterpart to LeBron’s coverage on ESPN.  AND to top it off, he’s European.  Okay sure, you may be thinking so what? He has a reputation, a history of being temperamental off-field, an ego the size of Greenland, and his hair is an ever-changing piece of modern art.  Big deal, David Beckham fit most of those criteria and soccer still isn’t America’s favorite sport.  Very true.  But let’s take a look at the stats. David Beckham could kick a set piece like no other, and off the field he was a tabloid sensation.  But in his 6 seasons in MLS, he scored 18 goals, averaging just 3 goals a season.  Zlatan is a different story.  He isn’t just exciting to watch on set pieces.  This past season with PSG in league play, he scored 38 goals in 31 games.  He’s 34 years old.  While many could say MLS has held on to its less than admirable reputation as a retirement league, it’s hard to deny that Zlatan still has the right stuff to be considered one of the best in the world.

He’s played with Barcelona, Inter, Juventus, PSG, and now…Philadelphia? Probably not, especially if the man with an ego has conditions to coming here.  Early reports have reported that he would be coming to the LA Galaxy, as most stars from Europe appear to do, yet the Galaxy’s current stock of talent seems to have reached its limit, financially at least.  The team already has the maximum number of Designated Players allowed, so unless MLS somehow changes the rules to allow the Galaxy to become to American soccer what Glasgow Celtic is to Scotland, it seems another destination could be necessary if Zlatan is still interested in coming to America on the next plane.

How about New York? No, not New York City FC, they have already reached the maximum amount of Designated Players as well with Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, and David Villa filling up plenty of cap space.  There is a team across the river with quite a bit less star power that could use a boost in the standings at the moment.

Yes, the Red Bulls have undergone a thorough restructuring process that most notably involved a philosophy shift from attracting aging European stars to building off of younger, more physical, homegrown talent.  Yes, this shift worked wonders last year as the Red Bulls coasted to a first place regular season finish despite an early exit from the playoffs. However, 11 games into the current season, the Red Bulls sit in 8th place out of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference, scoring a total of 13 goals in those 11 games.  Who has a reputation of scoring an unfathomable amount of goals?

zlatan22

The next step in the progress of MLS is to get more people to watch games on TV.  This guy is quality television.  Who could possibly be a better draw for soccer ratings in the U.S? Mario Balotelli, maybe.

 

REFERENCES

http://www.espnfc.us/story/2871792/zlatan-ibrahimovic-confirms-paris-saint-germain-exit-this-summer

http://www.espnfc.us/paris-saint-germain/story/2873938/psg-to-honour-zlatan-ibrahimovic-with-parc-des-princes-stand-in-his-name

https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2016/may/16/major-league-soccer-zlatan-ibrahimovic-la-galaxy

 

 

Should MLS expand to Sacramento?

sacramentoDuring a recent fan fest held in Sacramento, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced that the next round of MLS expansion would most likely occur in the year 2020 after Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United, Minnesota United, and ideally Miami Beckham United, have all entered the league.  One of the biggest potential candidates would have to be the Sacramento Republic which already draws an average of 10,000 fans per game and possibly has the backing to get a new stadium deal completed in time for 2020.  This conversation has happened since before the team started play in 2014.  Don Garber has even called Sacramento “MLS ready” multiple times as evidence of all the pieces it already has in place. But will it become a reality?

As the Republic website states, Sacramento is “committed to bringing MLS” to the region. So far they would seem to be on the right track with a solid supporters group called the Tower Bridge Battalion, a soccer specific stadium named Bonney Field, and the backing of the local government.  The region would have very little competition from other sports as well, with no football, baseball, or hockey franchises to eat into fan interest.  On top of that, Sacramento has consistently high TV ratings for marquee World Cup games compared to other U.S. cities. The team even has a shirt sponsorship deal in place with U.C. Davis Children’s Hospital.

On paper it seems like MLS in Sacramento would be a winning combination. But here are the roadblocks.

  1. The expansion fee.  One could expect the MLS to ask for over $100 million, especially after the record fees paid by NYCFC and Orlando City to join the league.  Money talks, and this could be one of the main reasons Sacramento has been bypassed thus far by cities with less concrete franchise plans in place.
  2. Location.  While the lack of competition in the area could be seen as an advantage, there is also a reason why few other major league sports franchises reside in the area.  There are bigger media markets out there to take advantage of.
  3. Commercial commitment and sponsorships.  This is more of a league-wide issue than a Sacramento issue.  In a recent interview, Garber stated that the “last piece of the puzzle” for the Republic ownership group would be to secure commercial commitment and sponsorship.  If a more lucrative shirt sponsorship can be found, and TV partners as well, Sacramento could be in business quicker than 2020.

Overall, Sacramento Republic FC is in great shape to move up to MLS.  It has the fans, the ownership group, the stadiums, and the can-do spirit necessary to take the next major step.  Sacramento has more pieces in place than Miami at present, and time will tell if the Republic can leapfrog Beckham to earn their fair place in the top tier of American soccer.

 

REFERENCES

  1. http://www.sacrepublicfc.com/community/sacramento-soccer-history/
  2. http://www.sacrepublicfc.com/football-club/built-for-mls-sacramento/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacramento_Republic_FC
  4. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/apr/21/st-louis-sacramento-among-leading-mls-expansion-ca/

2016 MLS Predictions

2015-08-05-impact-VS-NY-RedBull-CIMON-225--2The new season is already underway, and with it comes a lot of uncertainty.  Which team will surprise us the most? Can the Portland Timbers repeat their performance in 2015?  Will the LA Galaxy continue their dominance over the league? Will the Seattle Sounders finally win a well deserved title for their passionate fans?   But most importantly,  will the attendance and TV viewership continue to grow?

The most intriguing aspect of this season may be that the league won’t see any form of expansion.  In 2017,  we could see two, maybe even three new teams in Atlanta and Minnesota, possibly LA too, but for the time being, Major League Soccer remains at 20.  Since many other sports have not seen any form of expansion in the past decade, this may not seem like a big deal,  but for a league like MLS that generates a considerable amount of hype every time it grows, this temporary halt in growth could arguably affect the buzz it relies on for ticket sales.  The good news is the decrease will probably be negligible

The last time MLS came out of an expansion season without expanding again the following season was 2013, the year after the Montreal Impact became the league’s 19th franchise.  2012 was a record-setting year for MLS in total attendance with over 6,000,000 fans.  2013 only saw a decrease of 1.1%, but for a league built around growth, any move such as folding a failing franchise (ie. Chivas USA) or building a soccer specific stadium (ie. DC United) needs to be calculated with careful consideration.

But here are a few things we can reasonably expect, with a small margin of error:

Average attendance figures will increase every so slightly from 2015 numbers by the end of the year.  As usual, the first few weeks of MLS action will generate the biggest crowds, but over time attendance will fizzle.

NYCFC vs. NY Red Bulls will be bigger than ever.  The crowds last season were very ample, and combined with increased marketing buzz and better play by the Bronx sophomores rallying around a new coach, this could quickly become a ratings boon for the league almost as big as all three Cascadia rivals across the country.

TV Viewership will remain stagnant or very close to it.  Until MLS figures out a way to draw attention away from the British Premier League,  it will be awhile before American soccer sees its large payday from TV Networks in the same way that the NFL, NBA, MLB, and even the NHL see to a greater extent.

The star power express from overseas will continue to flow in like we saw in 2015.  Building off the buzz created by stars like Sebastian Giovinco, Giovanni Dos Santos,  Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, and Didier Drogba, we are already seeing slightly older stars like Ashley Cole and Antonio Nocerino travelling across the pond in 2016, and there is no reason to believe the trend will stop anytime soon.  The day an abundance of young stars from overseas want to play in the US is the day MLS can finally challenge the European juggernauts in England, Spain, and Germany.

Only time will tell what happens, but for the time being, kick back, relax, and enjoy the new season of soccer in America.

REFERENCES

http://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2015/03/25/expansion-timeline-minnesota-united-becomes-mls-newest-expansion-team

Attendance worries have quietly disappeared for Major League Soccer

http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2013/10/31/5047982/mls-attendance-2013-report