Saturday, January 9, 2016

'16 MLS TV Schedule, Thoughts

Major League Soccer announced their national TV schedule last week. A few surprises, but for anyone close to the league it looks similar to last year. MLS is in the second year of an eight-year bundled deal with ESPN, Unimas and FOX that includes US Men's National Team games.

Four Schedule Highlights:
[1] 4 games "over the air" on Fox. First broadcast is in May, the rest are in July
[2] Sporting KC - Eleven games at Home
[3] One home match: Dallas, Columbus, New England
[4] 92 regular season games featured (15%)

It's no secret that MLS performed poorly in the first year of the current TV rights set up. How bad was it? So bad it prompted a piece in the, otherwise largely PR magazine, Sports Business Journal.

More people watched the LPGA Evian Masters final round in mid-September on NBC (696,000 viewers) than last month’s MLS Cup on ESPN (668,000). About the same number of people tuned into July’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on ESPN (1.1. million) as the combined number of MLS Cup viewers on ESPN and Univision (1.2 million). - John Ourand, "Sunday is simply too crowded for MLS championship"

Mr. Ourand goes on to offer a couple suggestions as to how to "fix" this problem - hold a mid-week Final or hold it after the College Football season has ended. Both are fine but the come from the perspective that MLS needs to fit into the casual US sports fan's schedule.

US Sports Fan's Schedule*:
January: Bowl games, NFL playoffs
February: NFL Playoffs
March: March Madness, College BB
April: NBA, NHL playoffs, Masters
May: MLB, Kentucky Derby, PGA
June: MLB, PGA
July: MLB, PGA
August: Start of NFL
September: NFL, MLB late season
October: MLB, NFL, College FB
November: NFL, College FB
December: NFL

Looking at the general list of events it is easy to see why MLS picked out the summer to hold games, but it also shows how narrow-minded and US focused they were as FIFA events are played during those summer months.

This year US sports fan will be watching either Euro 2016, Copa America or the Summer Olympics on top of their normal summer activities. Combine that with global soccer powerhouses coming over to the US to play friendlies, often between themselves, and things get messy for the league on TV.

Because of this MLS / SUM / USSF (in essence, they same corporation) is oddly competing with themselves during that time of year.

The TV problem for MLS falls into the severe issue category and the changing landscape of program consumption only compounds the issue.

There are solutions, but they require some rather large egos to humble themselves and have a come to Jesus moment. By that I mean - step back and look at it with fresh eyes. 20 teams, two conferences, unbalanced schedule and an ever-changing playoff cup competition will never get these guys to where they want to go. Nor will it energize a nation to change viewing habits.

Best case scenario for MLS is for their ratings in 2016 to look like 2015. A Challenge, though, because Euro 2016 and Copa America will blot out the league for a couple months this summer.

Right after that, it's back to club friendlies.


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