MLS Thursday is no more


ESPN’s Primetime MLS Thursday games failed to attract the viewership hoped by the network. Today the network announced that it is shelving the Thursday Primetime package and will mix MLS games on multiple days during the week much as it did prior to paying for the MLS rights in 2006.From 1996 to 2005, MLS bought time on ESPN and ABC. The dates and times of games aired on the Disney networks in those days varied.

The network made very little effort to promote the package. As we discussed on this site a little over two months ago the ratings for MLS matches stink. No other adjective can be objectively used to describe the lack of viewership for league on prime time cable television.

However, ESPN seems to be as much a culprit in this unfortunate situation.  MLS ratings as described in our November piece have consistently declined on ESPN since 1998. The idea of placing games on Thursday night, often the most crowded date on the mainstream sports calender in the United States and also a huge night for prime-time network TV was always going to be a mistake. MLS is not established enough as a product to survive such competition.

Additionally, very little effort to promote the league was made on ESPN programs, even on soccer programs which focused on European Football particularly the English Premier League. It is little secret that ESPN plans to bid on the rights to the Premier League in Europe and possibly the UK in the upcoming round of bids, but a run at FSC and Setanta’s North American rights are also possible.

Conspiracy theorists who claim ESPN bought the MLS rights simply because SUM (the marketing arm of MLS) had shrewdly purchased the TV rights to FIFA events in North America until 2014 will continue to chatter after this revelation. However, ESPN has repeatedly stated it has high hopes for MLS, but perhaps its expectations were too high too soon.

It’s tough to sugarcoat what has happened. MLS did fail on Thursday Night’s. But the failure provides an opportunity for MLS to hone it fan base and recapture some of the TV audience it lost between 1998 and 2008. Many of these fans still support MLS and either watch games on Direct Kick or go to games themselves. But the amount of competition both from domestic sports and European Football have undermined MLS TV appeal. This may provide an opportunity for MLS to rebuilld its brand for television.

This entry was posted in ESPN, MLS Talk, TV Ratings. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
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13 Responses to MLS Thursday is no more

  1. Pingback: MLS Thursday is no more | Major League Soccer Talk |

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  3. Juan says:

    Amen, father Kartik. Keep preaching the truth about MLS.

  4. Jonathan says:

    The majority of the country can't drive within an hour or two to watch a local MLS game. How does MLS compete with TV viewing time of those with access to ESPN, GolTV, or FSC?

    Will people tune in to watch an American product just because the viewer is American? I really don't know. In motion pictures, the answer is a resounding yes. Hence all the ewws from Joe Sixpack about subtitles. On the other hand, judging FSC's ratings, soccer fans don't ewww all over a foreign product.

    I feel for MLS promoters like I feel for filmmakers & promoters abroad (who are trying to promote local films) who are crowded out by Hollywood products.

  5. Soccer Guru says:

    Face it. MLS is doomed to failure on American TV. As you pointed out previously and I've double checked, MLS actually had more viewers on ESPN's family of networks ten years ago than today.

    The competition from superior leagues abroad and lack of compelling story lines in MLS makes it difficult for even the average soccer fan to keep up.

    Oh and Kartik those of us who believe ESPN bought the MLS rights only to get the FIFA competitions from SUM are not conspiracy theorists. We are correct!

  6. Enrique says:

    Completely agree with you Kartik. I think we have a big problem trying to promote MLS, Espn did a good job with the Euro, I don't think they know how to reach people and the quality definitely needs to be better so it's easier to promote. I can see any other sport getting the kind of hatred that soccer does and that fact that ESPN allows it, it's mindboggling. I think this is good, but we need more quality so MLS is not considered minor league. I love this site by the way.

  7. Enrique says:

    Sorry, it's I can't not I can.

  8. marty says:

    The MLS lovers on other websites are saying this is a good thing and that ESPN is at fault, but you have previously pointed out the decline in ratings for MLS over ten years.

    I think this nation's soccer fans didn't know quality and that we were getting a second rate product ten years ago and now with all the exposure to european soccer, we know can differentiate between good and bad and have chosen not to patron MLS.

  9. Joe says:

    No offense to the league or its supporters but watching MLS is like watching Single A ball compared to the Premier League which is the majors.

  10. Mark says:

    It is amazing that as I search websites that cover MLS that this is the only one that has been truly objective about the league's failings. MLS fan like to act as if the league is in the top tier worldwide and that so many people should care about the league in this country. I support MLS, but realize what it is: a third or fourth tier league in world football whose venues are miles apart and which large parts of the country have no relationship to.

    If you live in the northeast, Texas or California MLS may be great, but for the rest of us, why should we bother?

  11. Joey Clams says:

    I follow MLS not because it's better than EPL or La Liga but because it's the league of my country and because I enjoy watching a sport evolve as much as I enjoy watching it at its highest level. But I don't enjoy having my intelligence insulted by idiots like Rob Stone, the gushing sagacity of Judy Foudy, the affectations of Alan Hopkins. Nor do I appreciate the cheerleading of Della Camera (who I had always respected) or the fumbling phoniness of the albeit improving John Harkes. FSC is worse, unfortunately, with the capable but unrestrained Bretos and the Sybil of Soccer, the supremely affected and very weird Chris Sullivan. Sorry, sportsfans, but it's hard to enjoy a telecast when the producers of it have such disregard for the intelligence of its audience. If it fails, it fails. I prefer silence to insults. So screw MLS if it's kept in the dark.

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