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The MLS Numbers: How does the MLS Popularity Rank in the US?

17 August 2010 8,446 views 3 Comments

Dropping Timber took a look at the numbers in how the MLS ranks in popularity going up against the big four in the US: NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL

Average attendance: 67.5k (1st)
#1 Team: 89,756 average (1st)
Total attendance:  17.1 million (4th)
Total attendance per team:  535k (4th)

Average attendance: 30.3k (2nd)
#1 Team: 46,400 average (2nd)
Total attendance: 73.4 million (1st)
Total attendance per team:  2.44 million (1st)

Average attendance: 17.1k (3rd)
#1 Team: 20,725 (5th)
Total attendance: 21.1 million (3rd)
Total attendance per team: 703k (3rd)

Average attendance: 17.1k (4th)
#1 Team: 21,356 (4th)
Total attendance: 20.9 million (4th)
Total attendance per team: 696k  (4th)

Average attendance: 16.0k (5th)
The MLS average attendance rivals the NBA and NHL, and the numbers may get even closer with Vancouver and Portland coming into the fold, each with the possibility of selling out 20k seat stadiums.

#1 Team: 36,159 (3rd)
We threw in the #1 team average as a way to show the potential of the MLS.  The Sounders draw extremely well, and this season Philadelphia, Toronto and LA are drawing just as many fans on average as the top NBA and NHL teams.

Total attendance: 3.9 million (5th)
Total attendance per team: 237k (5th)
Friendlies, Champions play, and Open Cup matches would bring up the total attendance numbers for MLS teams, as well as the possible expansion to a 34 match schedule.  Figuring those numbers in could yield a total of close to 6 million in total attendance next season, still well below the other leagues.

TV Ratings
We used each league’s ESPN rating (if available, Versus in the case of the NHL) in order to get a somewhat fair comparison of national TV ratings.

We also added some local data on the top local markets, where it was available.

ESPN: 9.1 (#1)
The NFL is the undisputed king of TV ratings with its short schedule and widespread popularity.
Local Markets data not available.

ESPN: 2.4 (#2)

Local Markets

  • Cavs: 8.59
  • Spurs: 6.61
  • Lakers: 3.54

ESPN: 1.6 (#3)

Local Markets

  • Red Sox: 9.46
  • Cardinals: 7.97
  • Phillies: 7.13

Versus: 0.3  (#4)

Local Markets

  • Penguins: 8.05
  • Sabres: 6.45
  • Red Wings 4.21

ESPN2: 0.2 (#5)

The MLS 0.2 average rating for ESPN2 broadcasts has remained relatively flat over the past few seasons, and is a perenially disappointing number.  Still it is close to the rating the NHL gets on Versus, although Versus is carried in an estimated 20 million fewer homes. An interesting sidenote is that the MLS carries a higher average on Spanish networks than it does on ESPN.  It remains to be seen how the latest spate of Designated Player signings will affect national TV ratings.  We will take a look at this as soon as the numbers are in.

Local Markets
Unfortunately there is very little information on how the MLS does in local markets.  I was able to find one rating for one Sounders FC TV broadcast, an impressive 4.1.  Although this local rating would not quite put it at the top of any of the other leagues, it at least shows that some local MLS fans are willing to tune in to watch their local team.

Posted by Dan


  • Anonymous said:

    I always think that TV ratings are BS. How do they account for people who tivo shows or watch sports at their friends place or the local bar. If we go by TV ratings then we should all be watching every fucking american idol. Ellen might be super hot, but I don' think she's #1!!!

  • Kevin said:

    I believe the "ratings people" have a way to take Tivo/DVR's into account, that being said, TV ratings are simply a rough estimate of how many people check-out your program, and I'm sure the Nielson people would tell you themselves that its just a close approximation.

    The real importance of TV ratings is advertising. Companies pay good money to have their commercials run during the higher rated air times, so if the MLS can increase TV ratings then it means more money is generated and that's good news for everyone.

    What shocked me was just how far ahead the NFL is over the rest of the American pro sports leagues in terms of attendance and ratings. And of course, more viewership means more sponsors and ad revenue. And right or wrong, money is power.

  • Dan said:

    I did dig up some tv advertising numbers while I was looking into this, but I just didn't have enough data. Soccer will always have trouble matching tv ad buys for other sports because there are no ad breaks. It's possible that people tivoing other sports and skipping the ads will narrow the gap somewhat.

    If anyone can find some local ratings for mls broadcasts I'd love to see them.

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