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Volume 22 No. 34
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Sunday is simply too crowded for MLS championship

More people watched the LPGA Evian Masters final round in mid-September on NBC (696,000 viewers) than last month’s MLS Cup on ESPN (668,000).

About the same number of people tuned into July’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on ESPN (1.1. million) as the combined number of MLS Cup viewers on ESPN and Univision (1.2 million).

For years, the league has tried to carve out a Sunday time slot in the fall for its championship game. It’s clear that the Sunday afternoon strategy is not working — at least from a TV perspective.

It’s time for MLS to give up on its desire to stage its championship game on an NFL Sunday. TV and league executives know they need to make changes and are talking about the best options to get away from the NFL, where its championship game gets lost amid hugely popular games that dominate television ratings every Sunday.

That was the case this year, as Portland defeated Columbus in an entertaining game Dec. 6 that competed with two high-quality NFL games that dominated TV ratings: Panthers-Saints and Eagles-Patriots.

MLS will be seduced to try to compete on another NFL Sunday next season, as Fox will carry its championship game in 2016. Much as CBS carved out a 4 p.m. ET window for the U.S. Open men’s tennis final for years, it’s conceivable that MLS will push for a similar position with Fox and use the 1 p.m. ET NFL games as an effective lead-in to bring bigger audiences.

MLS should resist that temptation. I expect the league to lay claim to another day of the week. I like the idea of a midweek final — like, say, on a Tuesday — which would not have the same competition as a fall Sunday afternoon. The NBA, MLB and NHL have showed they can crown a champion to big TV numbers in the middle of the week.

More likely, I expect MLS to move its game to a Saturday night once college football’s regular season is over, perhaps the same day as the Army-Navy game. While it’s the lowest night of TV viewership, a Saturday night time slot would provide little national competition and could help draw casual sports viewers to the game.

— John Ourand