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MLS finished the regular season on ESPN/ESPN2 with the league's best audience on cable TV since MLS' inception in '96. Meanwhile, the league's first season on NBC Sports Network was up significantly compared to the same package on Fox Soccer last season. ESPN/ESPN2 finished the season with an average of 311,000 viewers for its games, up 6.5% from 292,000 last year. The gains reflect a large number of games moving to ESPN this season. During past seasons, MLS games have primarily aired on ESPN2. The nets' average audience dipped during the second half of the season, as no MLS telecast on ESPN or ESPN2 averaged over 300,000 viewers. The large majority of those games began at 9:00pm ET or later. ESPN’s June 24 Timbers-Sounders FC took the top spot among game audiences with 888,000 viewers, marking the league’s third-best regular-season cable audience ever, behind only the inaugural MLS match in ’96 (DC United-Clash) and a Revolution-DC United match in ’98. The Timbers-Sounders game got a big boost from its lead-in telecast -- an Italy-England Euro 2012 quarterfinal -- which went to penalty kicks before handing off to MLS.
NEW PARTNER: NBC Sports Network aired 40 MLS regular-season games during its first year as an MLS TV partner, averaging 125,000 viewers. That figure is up 79% from Fox Soccer’s package of games last season (70,000 viewers). The net’s top telecast this season was FC Dallas-Timbers on Aug. 5, which drew 405,000 viewers. That game was boosted by the net’s lead-in coverage featuring the London Games. Meanwhile, MLS aired three regular-season games on broadcast TV this season for the first time since ‘02. However, those NBC telecasts did not draw a particularly large audience. NBC averaged a 0.4 rating and 521,000 viewers for those games.MLS REGULAR-SEASON ON ESPN/ESPN2YEARTELECASTSVIEWERS (000)'1220311'1120292'1025253'0926299
Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s David Kaplan said the reported new Dodgers TV deal worth $6-7B will be an "unbelievable advantage” for the team. The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Hersh said baseball “is a local TV product” and this deal “only emphasizes that even more." Hersh added, "What it also says is the Dodgers don’t need to put a fanny in the seats almost. What you’re saying is our TV audience -- and that’s happening in all sports -- is much more important” (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 11/27). MLB Network's Peter Gammons said, “Attendance is no longer the driving number. It’s all about how many people are watching games on televisions, on their phones, on Blackberrys, on iPads” ("Hot Stove," MLB Network, 11/27).
TAKE TWO: ESPN's Rob Parker yesterday announced on his Facebook page that he is "taking the lead role in a new Saturday edition" of "First Take." The show will begin airing on Dec. 8 and will be hosted by Cari Champion. "First Take" regulars Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith will not appear on the Saturday edition, but Parker will be paired with a "random panel of debaters" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 11/27).
SCIENCE EXPERIMENT: Google last week announced it is paying a six-figure rights fee to show NBA D-League games this season in what the NBA called an "experiment," but Horrow Sports Ventures CEO Rick Horrow said "as much of an experiment as this is for the NBA, it's equally intriguing as a test for Google." Horrow: "Live sports tend to be the primary reason consumers don't cut their cable cords and watch more shows and video online.” If the NBA-Google partnership is “successful, it could signal the entry of a new player in sports media: Google" ("Nightly Business Report," PBS, 11/27).