Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Over There is a League

MLS playoffs kick off tonight just days after the heavily hyped "Decision Day" event this past Sunday. In the East - DC (is somehow) hosting New England, kick off at 7:30 PM EST and for the nightcap we have Seattle hosting LA - two teams with the most talent, but least amount of motivation and drive all season.

Let's step back to #DecisionDay here for a second. It was frantic event (even for us at Helltown) that the league invested loads of resources into. MLS being MLS, resource allocation almost exclusively means increased social media presence. It's their comfort zone, which they've done well with.

There is a bad side to MLS's indulgence in social media, however. They invest so much that it's become their tent pole. It's how their target demo consumes their product. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Periscope. It's all the ways fans like to keep up with MLS. It's fast, it's free and you can do it whilst watching another program. Which, it appears, people do often. Therein lies the problem. Nobody watches the actual competition on the field.

This time of year MLS fans watch the NFL. Sure there is college football, NHL, MLB playoffs, BPL and the start of the MLB season but those have their own sets of loyal fans that watch even if there is a NFL game on. It's like having a recession proof business. Unfortunately, Major League Soccer is not NFL proof.

TV data that in the past was only available to industry folks is now easily available online. Which means it's never been more apparent than this season to people outside the league that Major League Soccer's courting of the NFL fan has been a complete success. In a bad way.

Here's a look at FS1 television ratings for 2015 MLS (NFL kicked off September 10th).


...and here is a look at ESPN2's TV ratings this year.


Even more worrisome for MLS is that the numbers are matching a hunch many had over the years in that the league just fades away during the most important part of the season. MLS games aren't on ESPN's "flagship" station a whole lot, but it has been enough times to notice a scary trend for the league as the season meanders into their playoff cup.


Now that this information is now publically available, will it push the league to make changes to their competitive format? For years, MLS people have defended tooth and nail the way the league handles league basics such as scheduling (Spring - Autumn) and the playoff format(s), but it's clear that there are fundamental issues if the most important part of the league calendar is the least watched.

By the measure above, the decision day promotions did little to nothing to get more people to watch the games. Did it help? Did it hurt? In my professional experience, it's a severe problem if you aren't able to answer those questions.

It's entirely possible that MLS has become a sort of "second league." One that people don't actually watch but can easily consume through tweets, vines and gifs. A post-modern ghost league, if I may. Evidenced by fans touting attendance figures that are so far off it's laughable to anyone actually watching games night in, night out.

Hey, playoff start tonight. Are you watching?

Yes, well... kinda? I bet you'll just follow along on your phone.

No comments: