Wednesday, January 6, 2021

MLS '20 Viewership Averages

With 2020 in the rearview, here are the averages by cable network for Major League Soccer games for the year 2020.

In 000s: Network (Count)
251: ESPN (2)
169: ESPN2 (9)
161: FOX SPORTS 1 (32)
97: TUDN (15)

It was a topsy-turvy year for all sports. MLS managed to restart several times during the season to squeeze in, what looks like, a full schedule of cable games. Likely satisfying the networks to a good degree.

Avg (000s)League/EventCount
350CONCACAF Champs League20
222UEFA Champions League47
216FA Cup4
191Mexican NT11
155Copa por Mexico6
152UEFA Super Cup1
138UEFA Nations League20
132Copa MX12
124Soccer Friendly1
121UEFA Europa League9
112La Liga21
99Serie A23
97LigaMX - Women3
68International Friendly1
67Ligue 11

The chart below shows viewership for each match that MLS, Liga MX, and the Premier League had on cable TV in 2020 on a linear calendar (left is January 1 - far-right is December 31). Along with telling the story of Covid, it also clearly shows how MLS is becoming more and more smothered by the large volume of games on television.

MLS held the stage a bit during the "MLS is Back" bubble during the summer, but after that the league went into scheduling games in bunches, making it hard for networks to schedule games. By the time the season ended, both Liga MX and the Premier League were at viewership peaks.

2021 is looking very tricky for MLS. Fans aren't expected to return to stadiums in any real capacity until summer and the league relies more on gameday activities than all of its competitors. 

Something will have to give, it's just a matter of what.


Eddy said...

In the future I'd strongly suggest to add more accuracy to your chart (currenty inaccurate) adding the UniMas MLS viewership with the TUDN viewership because MLS games broadcast in Spanish.during normal regular seasons are often simulcast in Spanish cable. The same with Fox Deportes when those numbers come do come out. Fox doesn't always release those. But when found you should add those to get the most accurate scope of viewership.

I will add not having the much larger distributed UniMas numbers are skewing this off and could present a inaccurate reality to some that may read this. Simulcast audience is a true representation of all who were interested and watched a match. Breaking up the audience leads to a unnecessary halving of one MLS viewership window. ex 80k watched the San Jose vs Houston Match on TUDN but 175k watched on UniMas that is a total audience of 255k. The NFL matches that air on Simulcast on Nick and CBS got reported as one big viewership. More importantly why you should follow that practice the EPL numbers that NBC reports are not just TV NBC or NBCSN numbers who watch but a combination of NBC Digital watchers and streaming hence the measured term they use called TAD or Total Audience Delivered.

Larry W Johnson II said...

Thank you for the insightful comment. I understand what you are saying, but networks are competing with each other more than they work with each other. Even in the case of something like ESPN and ESPN Deportes. Numbers determine where resources are allocated. Combining numbers is more PR for a league like MLS. It doesn't tell who is watching or in what language. It'd be like combining all the Cable News shows about the inauguration into one rating.

Eddy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eddy said...

In the case of making a graph the intent is to show I'd assume league popularity if you are not listing the complete viewership per game of a audience that is simulcast for a individual match than that isn't a true reflection.

Its not about PR but even if you talk PR if we're honest the NBC EPL TAD audience is based on PR as it includes more than one method of viewership NBC TV NBC digital and NBC streaming services. So its more of evening the playing field so you can present fair non objective data. The approach taken of not counting a MLS simulcast audience for a one match doesn't make much sense and actually does the opposite of PR by lower the perception of who is really watching. The point we all agree is to show the average of the league per game viewership window hence the graph. Ex. X,Y,Z people watched this game.

Just saying specifically how you do the Univision Networks data is flawed. #1 There is no UniMas data included which has more distribution #2 Because of the nature of the Spanish TV in the US not all markets have one or both channels. Thats the whole reason MLS did the deal the way it's done in having individual matches simulcast on both channel to expand coverage (ex. you don't have one channel in one market you can watch on your other Spanish channel) IMO thats a major flaw in your graph.

All in all this is all constructive criticism not hating on you. Thanks not enough people take the time to track soccer numbers and the few that do and analyze them have a Euro bias or slant to their analysis. If you figured out by now I'm a data compiler I just don't host a snazzy website but share on soccer sites. Like Big Soccer and Reddit.

Btw the UniMas numbers for MLS aren't posted on ShowBuzzDaily website the normally just have the TUDN numbers. You have to wait a week or so and get those viewership and demo numbers from link below search Major League Soccer.

Larry W Johnson II said...

Thank you (again). I get the combined ratings, as well as the additional NBC EPL TAD number. But you are talking about a relatively small amount of viewers on streaming services (and in the case of NBC, they have transitioned games to Peacock). MLS cannot do the same because they have no numbers to speak of on streaming channels, nor do they have many local markets that can even pull over 5k. Using individual cable channel figures is a measurable and understandable apples to apples.

The landscape is changing, of course. And there are many ways to measure, but plopping ESPN Deportes and Fox Deportes numbers on a match isn't an effective way to measure. Especially since they don't normally top 100k and there were only 4 (FOUR) this year that registered a rating in the top 150 that day. MLS *wants* this because their numbers, and frankly their plan forward in this realm, are so abysmal.

They have been playing this combined number card FOR A DECADE. Ask yourself, "has it worked?" New voices, fresh ways of analyzing and understanding the data is desperately needed.

I appreciate the thoughtful comments. There are not many that look at this side of soccer in the US. It is critical going forward, however. Particularly for MLS (which is why I've picked back up on it after closing my 2012-2015 ratings book. There is no perfect way to measure interest. My measurement isn't, of course, perfect. But it will be consistent.

TV is just one way, but an important one. Looking at the cold hard numbers is the best approach. Everything else is muddy water.