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Change isn’t hurting ESPN’s MLS numbers

Two months into the MLS season, ESPN executives are cautiously optimistic that some of their offseason changes will pay off.

The season-opening New York-Seattle
game is the top-rated game of seven
so far on ESPN2 this season.

Through seven televised games, ESPN2’s ratings were flat with last year, averaging a 0.2 coverage-area rating/200,000 homes. That performance could be viewed as an accomplishment of sorts following ESPN’s controversial decision to cancel the league’s regular Thursday night window this season in favor of a Game of the Week on different nights. The early numbers also don’t include any games involving the league’s biggest star, David Beckham, who is set to rejoin the league next month.

“It’s still too early in the year to really compare,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN vice president of programming. “I’m not shocked by the numbers at all yet. I’d like to get a few more weekend games under our belt before I can identify any real trends.”

So far, the best ratings have come on Thursday nights, paced by the league’s Opening Night game between Seattle and New York, which earned a 0.3/254,000 households. The four Thursday telecasts have averaged a 0.23/217,000 homes. The two Saturday games have averaged a 0.2/185,500 homes, and the one Friday night game brought the poorest rating, with a 0.1/132,000 homes.

MLS ratings through May 28 ESPN2 AVG. CABLE RATING (NO. OF U.S. HHS) ESPN DEPORTES AVG. HISPANIC CABLE RATING (NO. OF U.S. HISPANIC HHS)
 
DATE (DAY) START (ET) MATCH
March 19 (Thurs.) 9 p.m. New York-Seattle
0.3 (254,000)
NA (NA)
April 2 (Thurs.) 9 p.m. Columbus-Real Salt Lake
0.2 (217,000)
0.7 (29,000)
April 11 (Sat.) 10:30 p.m. Chivas USA-Los Angeles
0.2 (214,000)
0.8 (33,000)
April 17 (Fri.) 7 p.m. New England-D.C. United
0.1 (132,000)
0.3 (15,000)
April 23 (Thurs.) 8 p.m. New York-Kansas City
0.2 (162,000)
0.5 (20,000)
May 9 (Sat.) 9:30 p.m. Dallas-Houston
0.2 (157,000)
0.4 (20,000)
May 28 (Thurs.) 10:30 p.m. Chicago-Chivas USA
0.2 (233,000)
1.3 (63,000)
NA: Not applicable; the game was not simulcast on ESPN Deportes.
Source: ESPN

“We’d like to see steady growth as we get through the season,” Guglielmino said.

The biggest growth so far has been with ESPN Deportes, which has seen its ratings increase 40 percent, to a 0.7 cable rating this year for six matches from a 0.5 rating last year for nine matches.

“We expected these numbers, given the Deportes audience and their affinity with the sport,” Guglielmino said.

As is the case with ESPN2, ESPN Deportes has seen some of its better MLS marks on Thursday nights, with a Chivas-Fire game on May 28 bringing the highest rating, at a 1.3/63,000 Hispanic homes. Its second-highest mark came on a Saturday, though, with the April 11 Chivas-Galaxy match pulling a 0.8/33,000 Hispanic homes.

ESPN is in the third year of an eight-year, $64 million rights deal for MLS and U.S. Soccer.

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