MLS scores in key metrics in 2018
Highlighted by the successful debuts of LAFC, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Wayne Rooney, the 2018 MLS season will set new high-water marks for the league across several metrics.
U.S. broadcast viewership for the 2018 season, which concluded on Sunday, is up 6 percent year-over-year, reaching more than 26 million viewers across all networks. Viewership on the Fox network, which televised five games, many of which were tied to World Cup coverage, was up 59 percent year-over-year, averaging 988,000 viewers. Univision saw a 14 percent growth in total viewers, averaging 287,000, marking its most-watched season to date.
For ESPN, viewership in the 25-54 demographic is up 5 percent, and ESPN Deportes saw its best-ever viewership for MLS. In Canada, viewership on TSN and TVA both saw increases as well, up 29 percent and 6 percent year-over-year, respectively.
This season also marked the third consecutive year that ad inventory for MLS matches was sold out. ESPN, Fox and Univision are also sold out for the playoffs, which start Wednesday, and for the MLS Cup, which is scheduled for Dec. 8.
We’ve really tried to elevate the content. … There are a lot of storylines that we think people are excited about.
MLS’s investment in digital and social media also paid off, with the league setting all-time highs in video creation and seeing an increase in social followers of 10 percent since the end of 2017. The league had 613 million video views across all platforms in 2018 to date, a 75 percent increase in the number of views compared to September 2017.
“We’ve really tried to elevate the content we put out on our league channels while also finding new ways to work with our media partners,” said Seth Bacon, MLS senior vice president of media. “Whether it’s been the new clubs, long-standing ones like D.C. United or the big names coming into the league, there are a lot of storylines that we think people are excited about.”
Without the boon of a new expansion team in an above-league-average-sized venue, such as Atlanta United and Minnesota United in 2017, attendance is expected to be slightly down year-over-year.
Prior to the last weekend of the season, average attendance in 2018 was 21,803, with the expectation that the figure will finish at around 21,900. The full 2017 season averaged 22,106, which would be a drop of about 1 percent if that number is reached. The two new venues in MLS this year, for LAFC and D.C. United, both seat fewer fans (22,000 and 20,000, respectively) than the league average attendance last year.
However, the league will see its highest paid attendance in league history at 7.4 million, averaging roughly 19,000 paid tickets per game. MLS also set a new high in average ticket price across the league at $30. While not all of MLS’s 23 teams have finished their season-ticket renewal process for next season, the league is projecting that it will be its strongest renewal year in its history.
Altogether, it’s part of a long-term strategy for the league to build a more deeply engaged fan base.