SBJ/November 27 - December 3, 2006/This Weeks News

MLS ratings in holding pattern

The World Cup might have enjoyed record-breaking ratings this summer in the United States, but interest in televised soccer didn’t carry over to the country’s top professional league.

MLS ratings on ESPN2 dribbled along at
a 0.2 average for the third season in a row.

For the third consecutive year, Major League Soccer ratings remained flat on ESPN2, which televised 26 games. The network averaged a 0.2 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. While that equaled the average rating posted during the two preceding years, the average number of households fell 4 percent, from 195,997 in 2005 to 188,000 this year.

“To preserve your ratings from year to year is not a bad position to be in,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN vice president of programming. “From an MLS perspective, particularly, this is something we view as a longer build.”

Final ratings for MLS Cup, the league’s championship game, were also flat. The game featuring the New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo aired on ABC Nov. 12 opposite the NFL and NASCAR and finished with a 0.8 rating, the same as the two previous years.

MLS President Mark Abbott said the league believes those ratings will grow as it continues to improve its quality of play, which should be helped by the designated-player rule that allows teams to hire one player, such as Luis Figo or David Beckham, without having their salaries count against the cap.

“It’s a long-term proposition,” Abbott said. “[The World Cup] showed that there’s a large interest in soccer across the United States. We’ve captured a share of that market and plan to capture a larger share of the market in the future.”

Next year, ESPN, Univision, Fox Soccer Channel and HDNet will combine to pay more than $20 million in rights fees to the league for the first time in its 12-year history.

Guglielmino said ESPN will look to increase ratings in 2007 by adding a branded Thursday night game and enhanced graphics that can track things like a bent ball.

“We’re looking at a build that’s going to take time,” he said, “and there are many things we and the league need to do to move the meter long term.”

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