MLS numbers down on NBCSN, ESPN; up on UniMas

TV audiences for MLS regular-season matches this year declined on both NBC Sports Network and ESPN/ESPN2, but one network did see its MLS numbers go up from its past coverage. Spanish-language network UniMas posted an average of 229,000 viewers for its 26 matches during the year. That’s up 21 percent from 2011, the last time the league was featured on the Univision-owned network formerly known as Telefutura.

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Telefutura was re-branded as UniMas in January. Univision in 2012 showcased MLS matches on its lower-tier Galavision network instead of Telefutura/UniMas.

Representatives of both ESPN and NBCSN last week suggested that a flex-scheduling concept could help MLS, allowing it to feature prime matches as the season progresses. MLS traditionally has set its full national broadcast schedule at the start of the season, and those games slated for national broadcast are generally unchanged as the year progresses.

MLS President Mark Abbott, who was traveling last week, subsequently said via email that discussions with the league’s network partners could consider a wide range of options aimed at increasing viewership. “In the course of the discussions with our broadcast partners, we will explore a number of ways that we can work together to continue to grow our ratings,” Abbott said.

More from Abbott:
On the added promotion MLS has received from NBC and NBCSN from the network’s first year with the English Premier League: “NBC’s agreement with the Premier League has positively impacted MLS. More soccer content is a reflection of the growing popularity of the sport in this country.”

On why he is confident that MLS attendance will increase in 2014 after a 1 percent decline this year: “The World Cup always introduces the sport to new fans, and we have seen increases in attendance and other metrics following every World Cup since the league’s inception [in 1996]. The U.S. team will feature a core of MLS players such as Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi, providing a tremendous opportunity to deepen our connection with the tens of millions of soccer fans in our country. We’ll also have many players — such as Australian captain and Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill — competing for other countries in Brazil.”

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