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Some interesting numbers about MLS and sports in the US

So Nielsen is the final word in who watches what on TV in the United States and they recently released their "Changing Face of Sports Media" report.

Here are a couple of the highlights from the report:

"The data reveal that we are living in an incredible time for sports consumption. There were over 43,700 hours of live sporting events on broadcast and cable television in 2009. And the continued growth of high definition and satellite TV – now in 33% and 29% of US homes, respectively – made it even easier for fans to follow their favorite teams in amazing clarity no matter where they might be located across the country. The DVR-proof nature of sports continued to entice commercial advertisers who, despite a down economy, spent $7.6 billion on sports programming in the past year."

"On average 81 million people in the US visited sports websites each month to keep tabs on their fantasy teams or follow any one of the captivating stories this year. Leagues have used websites, social networks, and smart phones to create a virtual sports bar for fan dialogue to help the buzz surrounding major televised sporting events. That’s why, even in an age with unlimited entertainment options, sports fans still tuned in record numbers for the big games. 2009 saw the most watched Super Bowl (98.7 million viewers) ever, the most watched Stanley Cup in 7 years (4.5 million), and the most watched World Series in 5 years (19.1 million)."

So after the jump we look at how MLS and Soccer did in the report

So MLS struggles in TV ratings continues with 62 telecasts shown in 2009 and all of them on cable the average number of viewers was 172,000 per match.  The 24 matches broadcast on Spanish Language TV had an average of 229,000 per match.  The most watched regular season matchup was June 17th when 550,000 watched the DC United match against the Seattle Sounders FC.

So lets take a look at the average numbers for the NHL a sport with similar number to MLS:

The NHL had 56 regular season matches broadcast on cable their average viewership was 311,000 and their most watched match was Toronto at Detroit with 577,000 viewers. When the NHL is on broadcast TV their numbers jump to 1.14 million average for the 10 matches on NBC. and a high was their New Years Day match held outside at Wrigley field when over 4.4 million people watched.

The numbers are better for MLS when you look at the playoffs the average for MLS playoff matches on cable were 404,000.  The MLS Cup despite a bad time slot still was able to pull in 1.141 million viewers.

However soccer does have a much larger following in the US, consider that just under 5.9 million people watched the US vs. Mexico when the two faced off last Feb. and that is just the Univision numbers.  5.385 million watched the final of the Gold Cup as the US and Mexico faced off again, and again those are just the Univision numbers.

The top markets for MLS are interesting to look at:


  • Seattle-Tacoma
  • Los Angeles
  • Houston
  • Las Vegas
  • Norfolk VA
  • Columbus OH
  • Dallas-Ft. Worth
  • Miami-Ft. Lauderdale
  • St. Louis
  • Washington DC
4 of the top 10 markets for watching MLS matches don't even have a team.  

So a while back I questioned why the NHL gets 70 million dollars from just their cable partner Versus, while MLS gets a total of about 20 million from all their TV partners.  So it really comes down to the advertising dollars, MLS had a total of $5,432,000 spent by advertisers on both cable and Spanish language TV, while the NHL had $18,760,000.  Notice how that 3 times amount paid by their partners is the same as the 3 times more spent in advertising.  


Soccer has a long way to go until they reach the top of the US TV sports, the NFL has over 20 million viewers of their programing and pulled in $1,473,996,000 in advertising dollars in 2009.  That is a staggering number.

Well one thing is clear when it comes to MLS and TV ratings everyone needs to watch more, and we need to convince those Nielsen families to watch more soccer.