May 18, 2022

MLS must change regular season format to help TV ratings

MLS must change regular season format

Ahead of a new MLS TV deal, more eyeballs are focusing on the league. This time, however, it is the eyes of the executives of many major media companies that gauge the strength of the league. After all, Major League Soccer is about to complete what it hopes will be a historic new media rights deal. Gone are the days of making $60 million a year in TV revenue. For the new deal starting in 2023, MLS has set its sights on reaching $300 million in media rights revenue.

As media companies examine the promises of the new TV deal, they are also examining the current strength of the league. The best metric for this is still the number of viewers measured by Nielsen.

High hopes ahead of a big weekend for MLS

If MLS and media executives have always wanted a great weekend to see what the TV ratings are, this past weekend was it. As the weekend approaches, MLS has played all its cards. Want a prime-time MLS game on a Saturday night right after a US Women’s National Team game? You have it on FOX. How about a Southern Derby between Charlotte and Atlanta, live on ABC? No problem. Add to that games on ESPN, FS1 and Univision for what was a big weekend for MLS.

Yet the impressive viewing figures never materialized.

Even with all the benefits of MLS, such as broadcasting prime time matches, broadcasting live television, and selecting the teams that will play in those matches, Major League Soccer is still unable to to reach the 500,000 viewer mark for the vast majority of its regular season games on English-language television.

To grow, MLS must change its league format

Major League Soccer faces several issues that are holding back its growth. In our opinion, the league paid too much attention to the allocation of local expansion teams. At the same time, he took attention away from the ball domestically, as evidenced by poor viewership figures for nationally televised matches.

In its 27th season, MLS has still failed to change its regular season format. Most football fans are savvy enough to realize that the vast majority of regular season games are mostly meaningless. As the season drifts towards the race to qualify for the playoffs, interest grows. But for the most part, there’s little reason to watch the first few months of each new MLS season other than to see the new expansion teams and their stadiums.

For media companies interested in acquiring the rights to MLS, like Apple TV+a largely irrelevant regular season is certainly a warning sign.

MLS must look south for a solution

One solution is staring Major League Soccer in the face, and that’s the Liga MX format. The Mexican league splits its season in two, so you have a championship run for the first half of the season. And that is followed by a championship run for the second half of the season. Just like MLS, you crown your champions. Plus, you have a playoff run.

Two examples of the lack of interest in MLS regular season matches can be seen this past weekend when watching the games that weren’t shown on live TV. Inter Miami v New England Revolution on ESPN had fewer viewers (252,000) than a relegation game between Burnley and Norwich City (296,000). Meanwhile, Sunday’s prime time game on FS1 between Austin FC and Minnesota United averaged 106,000 viewers.

Unless you’re a fan of Miami, New England, Austin or Minnesota, there’s no reason to watch these games. Even when games are broadcast live on FOX and ABC, Major League Soccer isn’t moving the needle. Yes, Leagues Cup is a shiny new item, but it won’t help the regular season viewership.

Major League Soccer has a lot of good things going for it. The quality of the league has improved. But his reluctance to adopt a different format for the regular season is holding him back. Not only that, but it does so at a time when the league needs to show viewership growth to potential new rights holders.

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