Thursday, February 27, 2014

EPL Shoulder Charged MLS off the Ball

Google Trends is telling us that David Beckham's LA Galaxy arrival turned more US soccer fan interest to the English Prem than to MLS. On top of that bombshell, there are also early indicators that NBC's coverage of the EPL is catapulting the league even farther out in front of the top division in North America.

Since a big part of my day job reacts to what people are looking at online, every once and a while I'll swing by the Google Trends department on the world wide web to see what people are searching for. It is a very simple but effective tool that works for that.

Google Trends is hard to misread or misinterpret because it is so general. Is interest in Taylor Swift going up? How about The Grand Budapest Hotel? What it's giving me is general interest based on specific search terms. After 13 years in the internet retail business universe I can say that this relatively new free tool works pretty well.

The chart at the top of this post is simply looking at how much people in the USA are searching for "major league soccer" and "english premier league". Looking at it I can't help but think that the EPL trendline is what MLS should have been, had it had better leadership. It's almost as if the EPL took the baton from MLS to finish up the rest of the race.

I wasn't surprised to see that MLS and EPL were neck and neck in the first part of the 2000s. There was a go-go attitude to MLS in those early years, yes... but MLS also benefited here from the fact that the US was the only real player online ten years ago and content was driven by US businesses.

That landscape is changing faster than you could possibly imagine, however.

As India and China become more web mature, expect this trend to continue. The world wants to see the best in the world and have no reason to buy into the relentless rah rah USA mantra of MLS.

As a matter of fact, after daydreaming and navel gazing during a recent quarterly meeting review on global connectivity, if MLS wants to look to make a dent in the EPL and other large leagues they should set up scout shops in developing soccer countries instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars data mining unaffordable players in Argentina.


Looking at the US chart you can't help but notice last year. Fox Soccer Channel had been carrying the EPL and you could argue that that agreement was the beginning of the baton handoff from MLS to EPL but last year shows NBC's deal taking it to a higher level.

Here is the last 12 months in detail (detail of the far right of the graphs above):

Even last offseason the EPL is getting more interest online than MLS regular season in the US. With the increased exposure on NBC it looks like this year, especially in a World Cup year were many EPL players are participating, the top English league will make more gains in the US market while MLS interest drops.


MLS is expanding, but this is due more to the thirst for live sports and interest in the US men's national team. We live in a world where little league baseball and beer league softball draw all time high ratings on cable and online.

The trick for MLS going forward in the US market will be making gains against those sports online or on cable and not so much the big European soccer leagues (that ship has sailed, unless drastic USSF leadership changes are made).

NOTE: Google is working on aggregating specific search terms in to 'search related to items' as I type, it is in beta. If you want to check it out go HERE.

Lastly: I realize the Google Trends tool is not the be all end all in gauging success. I'm only using it here as a publicly available one that clues us in to what's happening in the US and the rest of the world.

Bouncing it off the tools I have within the industry, it's close enough. This is just looking at EPL, nevermind the rest of Europe and emerging markets in the East.

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