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Volume 25 No. 152
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MLS Regular-Season Viewership Up For Fox Sports, Down On ESPN

MLS viewership across Univision, UniMas and Univision Deportes was at its best levels yet
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Fox Sports, Univision and ESPN Deportes saw MLS regular-season viewership rise in ’18, while English-language games on ESPN/ESPN2 fell. The combo of Fox and FS1 had its best viewership yet since Fox Sports re-acquired MLS rights prior to the ’15 season. The Fox broadcast channel averaged 988,000 viewers for its games, up 59% with a major boost from Sounders-Atlanta United on July 15. The broadcast immediately followed the FIFA World Cup final and averaged 1.59 million viewers, the best figure for any MLS game ever on Fox Sports and best for any MLS match since ’04. That helped lift FS1, as the cable net saw viewership on its own decline 15% (148,000 vs. 175,000). Meanwhile, MLS viewership across Univision, UniMas and Univision Deportes was at its best levels yet, aided by a record 14 games alone on Univision. The nets combined to average 289,000 viewers, up from 244,000 last year and marking four straight seasons of growth. Spanish-language MLS games on ESPN Deportes also were at their highest levels since ’11. The net averaged 42,000 viewers, up from 24,000 last season. Across all U.S.-based networks, MLS regular-season games delivered 27.8 million gross viewers, up 6% from ’17. North of the border, TSN saw a 27% increase in MLS viewership, while French-language partner TVA was up 11%.

LOWEST ESPN AUDIENCE SINCE '14: ESPN and ESPN2 in ’18 had their lowest audience for MLS games since ’14, as the nets were unable to capitalize on or promote members of the USMNT in the World Cup with the team missing the event in Russia. The nets combined to averaged 241,000 viewers, down from 261,000 in ’17. Data does show that ESPN/ESPN are seeing nearly a 13% uptick to regular viewership when out-of-home numbers are factored in. 

POSITIVE STEPS: MLS Senior VP/Media Seth Bacon said '18 was a “very positive story for us on the viewership front." Bacon: "We continue to see growth, and we continue to be bullish on how we’re engaging new fans and attracting new viewers across the U.S. and Canada.” Bacon said the league's viewership increase year-over-year is proof that “more people are sampling, watching and taking part in watching MLS across our broadcast partners.” As the league saw growth on Fox broadcasts linked to World Cup matches, Bacon said the league is continuing to work with its partners to find opportunities in their respective schedules to align MLS alongside other big soccer rights. In ’19, Fox will air the Women’s World Cup, while both Fox and Univision will broadcast the CONCACAF Gold Cup. “We work with (our broadcast partners) to experiment with new windows and identifying the best possible places to put our matches to maximize viewership,” Bacon said. “We’ll continue to put a real emphasis on that as we’re focused on continuing the narrative of growth in as many metrics as possible.”

MLS REGULAR-SEASON VIEWERSHIP TREND
NETWORK(S)
'18 (000)
'17 (000)
% +/-
Fox/FS1
296
236
25%
Univision/UniMas/Univision Deportes
289
244
18%
ESPN/ESPN2
241
261
-8%
ESPN Deportes
42
24
75%
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Chart