By KEVIN KOCZWARA
Attendance numbers for Major League Soccer have stayed strong in the last year, even with a one percent drop in average attendance around the league. But one issue MLS can’t seem to shake is the struggling television ratings, with drops for prime time matches on both ESPN and NBC.
According to a report from Sports Business Daily, audiences for the 20 matches that ESPN and ESPN2 aired this season dropped 29 percent from 2012, while broadcasts on NBCSN dropped 8 percent over same time period. The 2012 season was the league’s best since its inception in 1996.
NBCSN’s numbers didn’t drop as much as ESPN’s thanks to promotions during English Premier League games, which it started broadcasting in August. The number of average viewers jumped 20,000 after the Premier League debuted, from 112,000 to 132,000 average viewers.
What might be improve all ratings, however, is a change in the way MLS schedules games for broadcast with national partners. Producers at ESPN and NBC think its time to adopt flex-scheduling to allow for more high-profile matchups on prime time broadcasts.
“We have strongly urged MLS to consider a flex-scheduling concept. With good reason, MLS’s focus has been on attendance and getting local television deals. I think they know now that national television should be a priority,” Jon Miler, president of programming for NBCSN, told Sports Business Daily. “Hopefully, the league will work with the club owners to make something like flex scheduling a reality.”
ESPN’s senior vice president of programming, Scott Guglielmino, agrees with Miller’s assertion that flex-scheduling would be a good idea.
“As with any sport, stories develop as you get closer to the playoffs,” Guglielmino said. “As a national broadcaster, you want to provide the fans with the most important games and best stories.”
According to the report, Miller and Guglielmino said ESPN and NBC want to continue their partnerships with the league, which expire after the 2014 season.
What do you think of MLS’s TV ratings? Should the league implement flex-scheduling? What can the league do to improve its TV numbers?
Share your thoughts below.