SBD/September 9, 2013/Media

MLS TV Audience Lagging In '13 Just As League Enters Negotiations For New Deals

Dempsey's signing could be used by MLS as leverage in upcoming TV negotiations
MLS' TV ratings "won't just have to improve, they'll have to experience a Lazarus-like revival" if the league wants to "reach its oft-repeated goal of being one of the world's top leagues" by '22, according to Seth Vertelney of GOAL.com. The league has "advanced to the point where its long-term existence is no longer in doubt," but its TV audience in '13 has "taken a downturn." NBCSN is averaging 102,000 viewers this season to date, down from 125,000 last season. NBC Sports Group President of Programming Jon Miller said, "To be honest with you, I was hoping that we would maintain last year's numbers." Vertelney noted the decreased viewership "comes at an inopportune time for MLS, as this month, the league will begin negotiations with all of its network partners." Still, MLS "will have a few aces up their sleeve," including Sounders F Clint Dempsey's arrival and expansion club NYC FC. MLS Business Ventures President & Managing Dir Gary Stevenson's hiring "may have flown under the radar this June, but it could end up being the most significant move the league made all summer," as he will "take up a prominent role in TV contract negotiations." ESPN has "been a partner from the league's beginning, and seems likely to re-up," while NBC "is a much more ambiguous case." Miller insisted that NBC's recent NASCAR deal "will have little impact" on talks with MLS. However, it is clear that NBC "can afford to lose MLS and, at worst, the league's departure will help the network clear some valuable airtime." Miller said, "If you ask me today, would I like to see MLS on NBC going forward past 2014? Most definitely." Vertelney noted if NBC departs, "that leaves two likely candidates to fill the void: Fox and beIN Sport" (GOAL.com, 9/8).
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