Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Will MLS v Liga MX Work (on TV)

It was announced earlier this year by Don Garber that MLS and Liga MX will play a "March Madness" like tournament starting in 2023. The hope (for MLS) is obvious - add something interesting to the TV package that is currently being negotiated. 

At least that is the way it is sold. In reality, MLS is trying to fill a gap in their bundle because the US National Teams are now being sold separately.

So, is there any evidence that this new bloated Leagues Cup will be able to move the needle in regards to viewership and fill the hole left behind by the National Teams (Men and Women)? 

It turns out that there is already a de facto version of this tournament in the CONCACAF Champions League. Adding fuel to this, MLS and Liga MX now skip the early rounds so they play now more than ever.

To answer the question of how well this team-up between leagues might do, I simply gathered the ratings from events that MLS and Liga MX already play in.

Where I got my TV ratings:
Leagues Cup (current form, 7 games)
Concacaf Champions League (29 games)
Campeones Cup (1 game)

37 games are enough to draw some pretty good conclusions. 

"AVG 1" is Major League Soccer's season average.
"AVG 2" is the average of the CCL, Leagues Cup, Campeones Cup

NetworkAVG 1AVG 2Change

The first thing that stands out to me is that it appears as if English-speaking fans aren't interested in MLS v. Liga MX (or v. any other league), while Spanish-speaking fans are much more interested in MLS games that involve Liga MX teams. 

When looking at it this way, there isn't much incentive for English-speaking networks to really consider the new Leagues Cup in 2023 as anything more than just more content (at best).

However, there is the potential of this tournament pulling a couple good numbers towards the final. Why do I say that? Here are the top 10 games when looking at these competitions.

Top 10 Liga MX / MLS matches in 2021
000sTeam 1Team 2Event
352Seattle Sounders FCvLeónLeagues Cup
342Seattle Sounders FCvUANLLeagues Cup
327TorontovCruz AzulCCL
324Cruz AzulvTorontoCCL

Club America is a big driver of good ratings. 

Something you don't see high up the viewership list are games that will feature in the expanded Leagues Cup - MLS v MLS or Liga MX v Liga MX. Another thing to consider is that a large majority of these games will not be the best/popular teams. 

For example, nobody watched the ESPN2 airing of the Columbus v Cruz Azul Campeones Cup match - which means it didn't finish in the top 150 programs on the day. 200k turned out on TUDN. Columbus also failed to register a number in the CCL both legs on FS2 when they played Monterrey. Philly also failed to pull a number on FS1 for its matchup against America (that pulled 333k on TUDN).


Outside of simple logistical problems in setting up this tournament (getting all the Liga MX teams on board, how to distribute money, where games will be played, figuring out something for teams to do when they are knocked out early, pausing the MLS season for a month and then also another three weeks during Gold Cup and World Cup years, etc...), I don't think it's a very good replacement/add-on to a TV bundle for MLS.

Generally speaking, USMNT and USWNT average in the 250-300k viewership range on English-speaking networks (not including World Cup Qualifiers), so I don't think there is enough in the proposed "March Madness" event between MLS and Liga MX to fill the gap. 

English-speaking interest isn't there. If you pull out ESPN/2 and FS1/2 the average rating is a measly 65k average. A total of 11 out of 24 games in these tournaments didn't even pull a number. 

Finally, MLS is already struggling with TV ratings. The front half of their season is where they usually make hay before the NFL and the rest force MLS to the back burner. It doesn't make sense to chop up the season (and current CCL, which will look redundant) because it will devalue the regular season even more than it is.

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