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Major League Soccer struggles on NBC Sports, while Real Salt Lake on ABC 4 is a hit

So one of the big questions heading into this Major League Soccer season was going to be TV ratings, and with two weeks of data the numbers haven't been overwhelming according to @NBCSportsPR

MLS telecast on NBC Sports Network (Phila vs. Col) nets 124k viewers up 51% from last week's game (FC Dallas vs Red Bulls, 82k).
via twitter

So if you compare those numbers to the season averages from the 2011 season:

ESPN and ESPN2 MLS regular season final avg. total viewers (311) are up 16% than 2010 MLS regular season final avg. total viewers (268)

Fox Soccer MLS regular season final avg. total viewers (70) are up 26% than 2010 MLS regular season final avg. total viewers (56)

Telefutura MLS regular season final avg. total viewers (233) are up 10% than 2010 MLS regular season final avg. total viewers (211)

Nielsen (quoted in my State of Major League Soccer Part 2)

You can see the NBC Sports numbers are trailing far behind ESPN/2's average numbers but are a significant improvement over the numbers from what Fox Soccer was delivering. Now it is still early in the year, and I actually would rate the broadcast quality of NBC Sports to be as good (and maybe better) than ESPN's and vastly better than what Fox Soccer was offering last year.

I think you will see their numbers continue to improve as the season goes along and fans become more used to watching matches on their network, also both of the first two matches were on Sunday, so it will be interesting to see how the broadcast this week on Friday night will shape up.

I also think after they put a match or two on NBC proper that the numbers could take a big bump as people find out both that NBC is covering MLS and that the quality of MLS is better than many might expect, but is unfortunate that they have chosen not to do that until late in the MLS season. The first of the three NBC matches will be September 15th, when they will feature the Seattle Sounders at the Portland Timbers, which should be a great match to showcase.

So beyond the new national TV deal, Real Salt Lake made a huge move of their own when it comes to TV rights this year as they became partners with ABC4/CW30, and after the jump I will tell you how that relationship is going:

A lot of people, like me, wondered what type of ratings could Real Salt Lake pull now that their matches are on networks that are both available easily over the air and also available on all secondary providers. With RSL handling the production, a pair of familiar faces (Bill Riley and Brian Dunseth) doing the broadcasts, and a team starting their season with two of the biggest name teams in MLS, expectations were high.

So I wanted to go directly to the source to find out how the first two weeks have gone, so I contacted Matt Jaquint, VP/GM KTVX and KUCW to ask him a couple questions about the season so far.

When asked about the partnership with Real Salt Lake and being able to bring RSL action to fans across the Salt Lake valley, Matt said "The partnership between ABC4/CW30 and RSL has been fantastic. Broadcasting live games is great for both businesses but more importantly is a huge win for RSL fans across the state. The fact that the games are live and in high definition is amazing". Indeed having watched both broadcasts, I have loved having the matches be so available and having them in high def is simply a treat to watch live or via replay.

So my next question was about the production quality of the broadcasts, something that RSL has primary responsibility for, Matt was very complimentary, " The quality of the production has been tremendous and it is compelling television.", I think a big part of the compelling statement is due to the fact that both Bill and Dunny do a great job building the connection between the team and its players and the fans, something that is a huge part of RSL's overall success as well.

So then we got down to number and while I had a source earlier in the week provide me with the following data:

2.4 overnight, 2.6 final for LA match ... 2.6 overnight for NY game

So what do those numbers mean? Well national numbers and local numbers are measured using a percentage of available televisions that watch a particular program, so nationally when MLS Cup 2012 had a 0.8 rating it means that less than 1 percent of all the TV's in the US watched the match. So what exactly does a local 2.6 rating mean? Well remember when you saw that the first national broadcast of NBC Sports which featured the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas got 82,000 viewers, well an estimated 37,500 people watched each of the first two RSL matches broadcast on ABC4.

So when you compare those numbers beyond a rating to the market share which is the percentage of homes in the market that watch the program, nationally our number often are about a 1 share, in Salt Lake City we are averaging about a 5 share.

When I asked Matt about the numbers, he responded " The ratings for the games has been very good with an estimated viewing audience of 75,000 people. This has exceeded our expectations and we look for continued success throughout the season."

Indeed I have to believe that the folks at RSL's offices at Rio Tinto are very happy about the ratings as well. So as a fan you can do your part by continuing to watch the matches, either live at Rio Tinto (then again when you get home if you record the matches like I do) or live on TV. Remember the match this week against Chivas USA will be on CW30, so if you can't make it to the match live, watch it on TV.