MLS’ Best Markets See Most Time on National TV

Last week Business of Soccer took a closer look at trends and correlations between Major League Soccer’s (MLS) matchday attendance and nationally televised matches.  MLS tried to optimize their rate of return in the first year of their largest television deal in league history, broadcasting matches in markets where fans would pack the stadiums.

READ: National Broadcasts Show Small Impact on Attendance of MLS Matches

The second part of this analysis will take a closer look at how MLS’ new TV deal impacted scheduling as well as club attendance.

Any fan of the league knows well enough that there are specific markets in MLS that are booming and some that are busting, despite success on the field.  The teams with the highest average attendance in 2015 are Seattle Sounders, Orlando City SC, New York City FC, Toronto FC, LA Galaxy, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, and the Houston Dynamo.  There are other teams that often sold out their stadium but have slightly lower average attendance, such as Vancouver Whitecaps, Real Salt Lake, and Sporting Kansas City.

READ: MLS 2015 Season Average Attendance is 21,573, Smashing 2014 Record of 19,148

Between 2014 and 2015, only five of the eighteen teams saw a drop in average attendance.  The largest drop in attendance was a mere 5% decrease for D.C. United and FC Dallas.  Two teams saw no change while the other eleven teams saw an increase.

To determine if MLS TV deal had any impact on bringing more fans to the stadiums, let’s take a look at how each club’s attendance differed if their match was broadcast nationally or locally.

2015 MLS Club Attendance by Type of Broadcast

Note: San Jose’s drastic difference is caused by one locally televised match against LA where 50,000 filled Levi Stadium. This serves as an outlier.

The clubs are ranked based on their average attendance for the 2015 season.  Each market is unique and soccer fans are not all alike.  It appears that the more successful markets in MLS tend to have higher attendance for nationally televised matches.  However, this does not necessarily mean that more people come out to matches based on this factor alone.  The nationally televised matches are held on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons.  The MLS schedule is likely designed to benefit the markets that are guaranteed to fill stadiums and appear desirable on national broadcasts.

It is easy to see the general trend in MLS scheduling.  The teams that have the highest average attendance and highest attendance for nationally televised games have more matches televised on Sunday where ESPN and Fox Sports 1 broadcast two or three matches each week.  Teams that have lower attendance have much fewer national broadcasts.

2015 MLS Club Matches by Day of Week

This analysis gives insight into the logic behind creating the MLS schedule.  Obviously all marketers want to show off the best features of their product.  If MLS wants to expose their product to more people nationwide then they will show the best that their league has to offer.  The MLS schedule is extremely tight, juggling international breaks and competitions, stadium sharing conflicts for several clubs, and domestic tournaments.  Another factor MLS clearly considers in their scheduling is how to maximize their best markets for national television.

This may cause some unrest for MLS fans who feel this favoritism in scheduling gives certain teams competitive advantages on the field.  Others might feel this favoritism in scheduling ignores certain markets and does give their club as many opportunities for fans to attend matches at convenient times.  Regardless of these feelings, it is unlikely to change – at least in the near future.  MLS league officials have stated their goal is to make the league matter in the crowded professional sports landscape.  Television is the most logical way to accomplish this goal and the league will continue to lean on their cash cows.


What do you think about the MLS TV Schedule and how it impacted club attendances? Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.