MLS Debut On NBC Sports Scores Disappointing 82K Viewers

NBC Sports kicked off its first season of MLS TV coverage Sunday with only 82,000 viewers and a 0.07 rating. Embarrassingly, there were nine outdoors (fishing and hunting) TV shows that day that had larger viewing audiences, according to TV Sports Ratings.

It was a case of good news and bad news for NBC Sports. Despite the bad news of poor TV ratings, the good news is that the production quality of the broadcast was quite good. Hopefully, the only way is up for the TV ratings.

NBC Sports leveraged the expertise of two Englishmen to boost its coverage of the league on Sunday. Lead commentator Arlo White and former Wimbledon and Jamaica soccer player Robbie Earle both shined during the game, sharing their knowledge and professionalism. Kyle Martino also was a breath of fresh air, and seemed much more natural and confident in front of the camera compared to his deer-in-the-headlights look that he often had on FOX Soccer.

From the excellent opening graphics and production, the entire broadcast by NBC Sports was smooth and professional. White and Martino exhibited an excellent chemistry in front of the camera, while Russ Thaler did his best to keep things together as presenter for the Dallas against New York game.

Having the team at the stadium definitely adds to the excitement and anticipation in the build-up to kick-off, as well as Robbie Earle’s excitement in his voice. The use of Arlo White, especially, adds credibility to the coverage of MLS. Clear spoken, a good communicator and with an excellent voice, White makes the game more watchable. Trying to copy the success that ESPN achieved from World Cup 2010 with an English-speaking commentator instead of FOX’s approach of using a US-born commentator like they did on their MLS coverage, the formula worked. However, the ratings must improve dramatically.

At half time, Robbie Earle added some excellent analysis to the first-half highlights. Earle was especially helpful when he pointed out how New York failed to get into open positions on the attack. Earle’s analysis was enhanced by the good graphics on-screen to illustrate his points.

Overall, the coverage of the game was well done. The camera angles were good, and there were very few flubs for an inaugural broadcast.

But what about the small TV audience? From personal experience, this was the first time I’ve watched NBC Sports in months, so not everyone knows where the channel is on their TV. Plus there was some confusion among fans. Some who thought that the game itself was going to be shown on NBC, not NBC Sports. Overall, it’s going to take some time for people to get used to watching games on the NBC Sports network.

But despite that, the viewing audience figure from the opening game is still embarrassingly low, especially when the game was shown live on a Sunday afternoon (compare that to Premier League TV audiences for a 4:45am PT/7:45am ET Saturday game, and you’ll see what a mountain that NBC Sports, and MLS, has to climb).

In comparison, MLS had an average viewing audience last season of 291,000 on ESPN/ESPN2 and 70,000 on FOX Soccer. An audience of 82,000 on NBC Sports is better than the average on FOX, but the expectations are that NBC Sports will do better than what FOX Soccer achieved.

UPDATE: Many fans of MLS, as well as the media, are spinning the news that the 82,000 viewing audience was 21% greater than FOX Soccer’s average last year for MLS. While this may be true, what the media and some MLS fans are not taking into account is that NBC Sports has more than 75 million subscribers on cable and satellite, while FOX Soccer is in 38.8 million homes. The bottom line is that NBC Sports and MLS needs to attract far more viewers than 82,000 for MLS games.

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About Christopher Harris

Publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris founded the site in 2005. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who was born and raised in Wales, has lived in Florida since 1984, and supported Swansea City since 1979. Last but not least, he got engaged during half-time of a MLS game.
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