MLS Cup Overnight TV Ratings Decline 44% From Last Year

The TV ratings are in for the 2010 MLS Cup. And according to Sports Media Watch, the overnight TV rating was 0.5, the lowest overnight rating since at least the late 1990′s.

The 0.5 TV rating was down 44% from last year’s MLS Cup between Real Salt Lake and L.A. Galaxy. In the 2010 MLS Cup, Colorado Rapids defeated FC Dallas 2-1 in extra time in front of a not even sold-out crowd at Toronto’s BMO Field. The 0.5 TV rating was down 28% from the 2008 MLS Cup between Columbus and New York.

According to Sports Media Watch, this is the fifth straight year, and the seventh time in eight years, that the MLS Cup has failed to draw at least a 1.0 overnight rating.

While it’s not surprising that this year’s MLS Cup didn’t garner as high a TV viewing audience as last year, what is surprising is the degree in which it dropped. This is in the same year that ESPN suffered a 12% decrease in TV ratings for Major League Soccer compared with last season’s viewing numbers.

About The Gaffer

Founder and publisher of EPL Talk, The Gaffer (aka Christopher Harris) is a journalist who has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications as well as on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who lives in Florida, has supported Swansea City since 1979. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005. View all posts by The Gaffer →
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62 Responses to MLS Cup Overnight TV Ratings Decline 44% From Last Year

  1. Derrick says:

    It’s time to take a long hard look at what Garber has been doing and the league’s attempts to “Americanize” the sport. Your target audience is not the American football/baseball/basketball fan. It’s the fans of soccer who don’t want to watch MLS because we do things so different than what everyone else does. Quit trying to change the game! In that vein, here are some things MLS should change and announce ASAP:

    -MLS will change to a single table format in 2011.
    -MLS will change the name from the “MLS Cup Playoffs” to the “MLS Cup Tournament”
    -MLS will change the tournament format in 2011: take the top 8 teams, draw them into two groups. The groups will play home-away legs to determine the top 2 teams of each group. The top 4 teams will play two single knockout games, with the winning teams playing in the Final. The team with the higher seed will host the tournament final.
    -MLS will shift to a fall-spring schedule, starting two weeks after the Olympics in 2012.
    -MLS will implement a relegation-promotion system with USSF/USL/NASL beginning in 2015.

    • Charles says:

      So using the name Playoffs was “changing the game” of soccer ?

    • StellaWasAlwaysDown says:

      Unfortunately, I don’t think MLS can succeed in the U.S. with the fall/spring schedule - too many other major sports during that time vying for viewership. I agree that the soccer fan isn’t the typical fan, the MLS needs them to grow. Also, it would be impossible for a relegation system as the owners have too much money tied up to let their team go down. There isn’t enough interest in the sport of soccer here for a team to get relegated and still draw interest.

      • Clampdown says:

        Exactly. This whole relegation conversation is a non-starter and it’s astonishing to me that people keep proposing it. MLS does not have enough of a fan base to support it, and no new investors would be interested in the league if it existed.

        • Media Man says:

          …and the current investors would jump ship ASAP.

          All club soccer leagues generate low television ratings in America. FSC averages a 0.193 coverage area rating for the Premier League, and Serie A generates hashmarks.

    • Henry says:

      Why are you guys beating your brains out trying to think of what the MLS can do to improve ratings.

      It can’t and it won’t because watching soccer is more boring than watching the grass grow on the field, unless you are drunk or have money on the game, which is all soccer is really about anyway.

      On its own merti, soccer is a shitty tedius nonsport with no action and plenty of corruption from bad refereeing to players betting on the games.

      Forget that mindnumbing garbage and find a thinking man’s game, maybe baseball or basketball.

  2. Robert says:

    I hate to say it but I am happy to see MLS failing. I have been supporting this league for 5-7 years and every year it keeps disappointing me. Last night was the final straw when Garber announced the 10 team playoff and because of this I am boycotting MLS.

    We are soccer fans for a reason we operate differently than most American sports. We don’t like divisions and we believe in punishing mediocrity. To stick to my core beliefs I am relegating MLS out of my TV viewing habbits forever until I MLS becomes a proper league.

    • Charles says:

      Gonna be hard to post on MLS Talk then ?

    • who cares says:

      Mediocrity is not punished in Euro football. Middle of the table mediocrity is what many teams strive for. As long as they aren’t relegated, and they beat their biggest rival it’s a successful year.

  3. haha says:

    ratings for epl matches that are in the early morning hours get high ratings but mls games at primetime get low as hell ratings. Stop tryi ng to americanize the league, you have the market out there for viewers but you guys just mess it up trying to get some hick to like the sport by making it nothing like how it is in the rest of the world. I will not support a team either with childish names like other americans sports either, san jose earthquakes? new england revolution?

  4. DJ Allen says:

    I can do nothing but parrot what the others said. I hate that MLS is trying to Americanize the sport. I don’t want the sport Americanized. If they continue going down the road they are going, I’ll just stop trying to watch.

    First and foremost I’m a Manchester United supporter. If I’m forced to see a cheap knock off of the real thing, I think I’d rather just stop watching and watch the real thing. I have Man U, Celtic, Bayern Munich, Internationale, Real Madrid, and I’m still finding more teams to follow. Why suffer?

    MLS is losing people hand over fist, its time to toss the baby out with the bath water and go back to what is a proven formula: the European formula.

    • Joe says:

      What exactly is this “proven formula” that you’re referencing?

      Is it the same one that has Manchester United saddled with massive debt?

      Can you guess what would happen if an American soccer team had that kind of debt?

      I’ll give you a hint. Look up the NASL.

      • The Gaffer says:

        I’m not talking about the Premier League specifically, but take a look at the German league and other leagues around the world where clubs aren’t in debt and they have a proven model for crowning champions every year.

        The Gaffer

        • Joe says:

          The Bundesliga is a fine example, especially since the amount of parity there makes the EPL look laughable.

          But the Bundesliga is able to thrive ahead of the MLS for much better reasons than the way the league champion is decided. The tradition is longer, the talent pool is better, the attendance is better, the money is better. If MLS had a century of history, a large number of world-class home grown talent, and average attendance over 40,000, nobody would be complaining about the playoff system.

          The playoffs are not the problem.

          • The Gaffer says:

            I disagree Joe. The playoffs are the problem because it makes the regular season practically meaningless.

            The Gaffer

          • Estefan says:


            I like the Bundesliga as well, but you’re wrong about two things, the talent in Bundesliga is not largely “homegrown,” lots and lots of Slavic, Turkish, French, African and Brazilian imports there.

            Second, the playoff system is a problem. When you take 3rd and 4th place finishers and make them champions, there is a very big problem there. You can’t follow hockey and negate the regular season, and expect thinking sports fans to buy that schlock! It’s a distinctly NORTH American (not just American) problem, and it’s fully and completely driven by greedy ownership that want more ticket revenues and more television revenues, in spite of the fact that their mediocre teams don’t deserve it!

          • All Brits sound gay says:

            Then don’t watch it or write about it. Go back to your sausage-fest of phony intellectualism at your local pub, and pretend the British Empire matters.

  5. Bolacuadrada says:

    See you guys,
    Go and watch the two team leagues of Scotland and Spain and the three/four teams leagues os Italy, England and Germany. You will enjoy watching Barcelona or a team in Netherlands score 8 or 9 goals a game to non-existent competition in the Eurepean model leagues.
    MLS Talk guys, are you ever going to write something nice about the MLS?
    I suggest you change the name to Anti-MLS talk. At least you will honor that name here.
    Bye Bye.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Bola, the ratings are what they are. We’re not making them up. Read through the posts and listen to the podcasts. We offer fair and honest criticism of MLS, both positive and negative. We’re not MLS fan boys. We tell it like it is. If you don’t like that, you may want to read other sites.

      The Gaffer

      • Joe says:

        I said this in longer form below, but I really think that this might be an issue of people watching traditional TV in general. Soccer is popular among a younger demographic that may be watching in groups or on illegal internet feeds. This might be making the ratings appear lower than is the reality of the situation.

        • Bolacuadrada says:

          I do not have a problem with most of the articles in this site but honestly, I believe that there has to be good things going on that we can talk about. One of the problems with the MLS Cup ratings is that Sunday Night Footbal on NBC was taking place at the same time. Big market NY Giants against the biggest story in the NFL this year (Mickael Vick) did not help. Besides, last year game had the LA Galaxy with the Beckham-Donovan combo and that made a huge difference.

          • The Gaffer says:

            Yes, but last year also had Sunday Night Football on at the same time. Like the article said, everyone expected the TV ratings to decline this year for the final. But 44% is a massive drop.

            The Gaffer

        • The Gaffer says:

          That’s BS. The TV ratings for the World Cup and Premier League have been much higher in the United States than last tournament and last season respectively. There are huge soccer audiences out there. It’s just that the majority of them chose not to watch the MLS Cup.

          The Gaffer

  6. Christopher says:

    Interesting that people seem to feel MLS is failing because they are trying to Americanize the sport. I think they haven’t Americanized it enough. I guess this is one of those cases where you can make statistics say anything, but since Garber came onboard in 1999 and took some of the American ideas OUT of the game, like shootouts, and the scoreboard being the official clock, MLS attendance and TV ratings have dropped and with it media coverage. There was a time in those first few years, that MLS highlights and results were regularly reported both on ESPN TV and Radio.

    The concept of following the international calendar is stupid. Unless people think professional soccer in this country can survive with only “diehards”, a move to August to May is a recipe for disaster.

    I think what MLS needs to do is now they have stadiums play more midweek games, especially in the summer, and cut two months off of the season. Start at the beginning of spring, and end the season by the beginning of fall, March thru September. Yeah, midweek games may not draw as well as weekend but a lot has to do with there being no tradition of midweek games or using midweeks as a time to take advantage of European friendlies where crowds in the midweek area actually much larger than on a weekend. Plus, playing two times a week means four days of press coverage. Back in MLS first few years when then did play about three or four midweek games a year, some teams drew some crowds as big, relatively speaking, as weekends.

    One thing they should stop copying from American sports is drop the number of playoff teams instead of adding them. I’d like to see a East and West Division where ONLY the champions advance to the MLS Final plus maybe one wildcard. The Supporters Shield winner advance to the championship game, and a one off playoff game between the best second place team and the other division winner to seen who goes to the MLS Cup Final. Instead of MLS playoffs for another 7 teams, those teams can qualify for CONCACAF Champions League or Superliga

    • Derrick says:

      Follow the international calendar. It needs to happen.

      • Dave C says:

        What is the International Calendar anyway? If you mean having suitable gaps in the schedule to allow for World Cups, international friendlies and other important international dates, then fair enough. But I don’t understand people who want the season to run from Aug/Sept - May like many European countries. This is neither suitable for the US (due to weather) nor is it generally accepted as THE international calendar - plenty of other countries do not run on this schedule.

        • Estefan says:

          Good point Dave C. Many Latin leagues don’t follow the “International” schedule. There’s a lot of “Euro-Bias” in the States, and a presumption that what happens in Europe speaks for the entire world’s game.

          Besides, Soccer would be massacred by College Football in this country. There’s no way that a European League, or even the NFL could compete with that attendance or ratings!

  7. Joe says:

    With soccer still being a niche sport in America, I wonder how many viewers of the MLS Cup are not counted by the official ratings. I watched on an online feed (not counted), and I bet there were many soccer bars around the country with good turnouts (also not counted). Is the “underground” nature of soccer and its viewers making the numbers smaller than they should really be?

    • The Gaffer says:

      Joe, please stop making excuses. For any sporting event, there will always be people watching it online or in bars. But the TV ratings are the TV ratings. They’re a barometer of how many people watched the game and they’re not prejudiced against soccer games.

      The Gaffer

  8. Stern says:

    I think people were really excited to see a classy team like RSL beat LA last year. Colorado vs. Dallas? Not so much. And no interest from the TFC and Sounders fans for Sunday night’s snooze fest.

  9. bob says:

    It is what it is. MLS needs to focus on slow, steady, sustainable growth. Ratings like this should be a wake up call to anybody who thinks soccer is about to take America by storm. You could make every change that the soccer enthusiasts want, but 99% of Americans would rather watch something else on TV. You could have ManU vs Real Madrid on, but most Americans would rather watch an NFL regular season game.

    MLS is a league that survives on gate revenue, shirt sponsors, and charity from friendly billionaires. Keep costs down, keep working.

    The good thing about ratings like this is it should prevent MLS from getting cocky and pulling an NASL. The recent expansion success stories had, I think, deluded many MLS fans into thinking MLS and soccer were more popular than they really are.

    • Clampdown says:


      While the decline year over year is steep, to me it is not all that surprising. The actual number of people in the US who would watch the MLS Cup final to begin with is relatively small. Factor in a tantalizing NFL matchup that night, and two teams that did not capture the attention of anyone who is not a diehard MLS fan, and this is the result.

      I still don’t understand the move to Sunday night. I used to get together with friends and have a small party. That doesn’t happen anymore, as everyone considers work early the next morning.

  10. joejoe says:

    I didn’t watch the game. I don’t have cable, and Telefutura showed a Mexican playoff game, which I enjoyed very much. I knew about the MLS final, but unlike other years, I just didn’t care. In any case, the MLS final should be at the site of one of the finalist (highest ranked). MLS also needs to advertised better to get the word out. The MLS final also ran against Mexican playoffs and NFL football, and of course, failed miserably to attract viewership. Its Garbers’ fault. If he keeps this up (or down), the league will fail.

  11. Robert Hay says:

    There are some very simple reasons why this match failed to garner better ratings:

    1. MLS continues to see Sunday night as the highest TV viewership period, which it is, but fails to see that a Sunday night match competes with Sunday Night Football, niche shows like Desperate Housewives (don’t discount the significant other factor), and highly-rated dramas like Dexter and Walking Dead. But as the Gaffer said this was the same case last year, so…..
    2. The MLS Cup has no real buildup. As annoying as it is for sports fans to suffer through two weeks of media coverage of the Super Bowl, it drills the game into people’s head. MLS needs to find a way to market this match better than an occasional ESPN commercial.
    3. The matchup was not sexy. Nothing you can do about that.
    4. TV live viewership is down, and this is a trend all sports are seeing. A truly great matchup defies ratings, but the trend is a dip every year in viewership of championship games (save the Super Bowl).
    5. Even the MLS commissioner belittled the playoffs, so it is hard to take a championship game seriously.

    • Kevin says:

      On your #1 the WWE also had a PPV as well which averages a good number of people and bars that could have had MLS Cup on TV instead.

  12. Paulo Roberto Tellechea Sanchotene says:

    The game should never have been played on Sunday night, to begin with. Competing with NBC NFL Sunday Night game, it just doesn’t make sense. Put it Saturday night ASAP.

    PLEASE, KEEP THE PLAYOFFS. Stop to try “Europeanize” a WORLD game. Mexico has playoffs. Chile has playoffs. Colombia has playoffs. Uruguay has playoffs. And they are all just fine! Brazil had playoffs from 1995 to 2002, but we wanted to become Europeans. The result? Nothing have changed at all. We just don’t have the playoff drama anymore. Divison, Conferences and playoffs is what Americans are used to since MLB abolished its single table zilion years ago (the single table copied by the English by the way, that had only the FA Cup Playoffs. Go figure!). And divisons allows the league to expand.

    Don’t buy Relegation as a solution. It’s CRUEL. And you can get popular teams in lower divisions and got stuck with unpopular teams with rich owners in First Division, that no one like to watch be on TV or in the stadia. I see this happenening in Brazil, since we adopted relegation in 1988.


    • Scottie says:

      I don’t get the issue with Sunday night and competing against the NFL. Do people really think that NFL viewers were going to turn on MLS Cup is there wasn’t a game on NBC?

      The problem with MLS Cup is that MLS fans don’t watch it, not that other sports fans don’t watch it. We would need additional data to prove this, but I’d be shocked if MLS Cup didn’t rate lower than local games in all of the MLS markets except Colorado and Dallas.

      It’s not that non-MLS fans didn’t care, MLS fans didn’t care. Scheduling, NFL, game location…all of those are excuses that mask the fact that MLS does not have as large or as passionate of a fan-base as many believe.

  13. Charles says:

    Let’s face the facts:

    The people that are glad that MLS is failing
    The people that are saying MLS is too Americanized
    The people that are ripping on things like the team nickname,


    MLS is NOT their favorite league and MLS should NOT be targeting them in the first place. They are VERY small in numbers, will probably “convert” back if/when MLS becomes a more profitable league.

    So why would MLS go after them ? Desperation. Look at the TV number Gaffer is showing, they need all the fans they can get.

    But MLS has the model for success, it is called the Sounders. Go after more fans like that. Trust me, the fans at the Sounders games are NOT clamoring for single table, 20 teams, pro/rel league. Maybe 2-5% of them yes.
    MLS needs to do what it takes. MLS has not “changed the game” like people would like you to believe. This is not the old 35 yard line for offsides ( which I hated ) or 35 yard line shootouts ( which I loved ! ).

    The MLS haters, Euridiots would love you to believe, all you need to do is educate the people about the way soccer is, the way leagues are run around the rest of the world and then we will have huge attendance.
    Not gonna happen. People would run to the exits so fast, it would make Nyassi look slow.

    • Robert says:

      Charles, you need to stop swinging from the Sounders’ nuts. Yes, sounders are a great Franchise but they operate in a league that is toxic. Once those fat sounder fans, who have never played the game, realize how a proper soccer league needs to operate attendance figures will drop.

      Sounders Franchise Club smashed attendance records for league and cup and how does MLS reward you guys? by capping attendance to build “artificial” scarcity.

      • Charles says:

        So your arguement is the Sounder’s fans will suddenly realize, wait this league isn’t like the rest, we have been sold a bridge !
        Man, just when I thought the league was on to something…..

        Is this joined with “the NFL was trying to wreck MLS by artificially keeping attendance low arguement” or did you change your mind on why MLS is going down the tubes ?
        (By the way I never told you but the Sounder’s had already raised the cap…twice…and is on the verge of doing it a third time.)

        BTW, WAY too late to stop swinging from the Sounder’s nut. I already renewed with my ticket agent at Seattle Sounders-Seahawks (no I am not making this up, he really works for both ) !

    • Alex says:

      Charles youre very wrong. americanized soccer fans like you are small in numbers. Soccer fans who watch EPl, La liga and other major leagues are all over the country, if every real soccer fan is a mls fan, garber would retire early with a nice check. but MLS is trying to hard to dumb the sport down for dumb casual fans like you. youre saying the exact opposite of what should happen. MLS should start targeting real soccer fans. why go after the small fish? and do away with conferences, single table is the best WITH playoffs.

      • Charles says:

        Please define dumb casual fan ?

        I have season tickets, I post on soccer blogs, I coach more than one team, I played, I watched every minute of the world cup games, except where games overlapped and I watch most of both games there too…..that equals casual ? dumb sure, your opinion are genius, how can I compete ?

        My point is that there are a ton of Americanized fans, not sure how they got Americanized, didn’t they start out American ?…they are at the soccer games every Saturday by the millions, tens, probably even hundreds of millions.
        In Seattle they show up to the games, like their kids, wearing Rave Green and that is the fan MLS should target, even if they are “dumb casual fan” compared to your genius, like the Sounders are drawing.

        • Robert says:

          Where were the rest of the 30K+ fans when Sounders were in USL? Posers! Sounders didn’t gain promotion they paid to play in MLS. Posers singing their songs like good little Euro wannabes. Funny how i never hear singing at any other USA sporting event.

          Charles you’re just picking and choosing from Europe in what is “cute”. with those fashionable little scarves, singing in the aisles etc.

      • Seriously says:

        Actually I would have to say that you Alex are wrong. It is not the way the league is set up or anything like that. The problem is that MLS has no history and so you guys would rather sit and watch a team which you have no connection to and cannot go to the games in person rather than supporting your own national league (which if you are a USMNT fan is absolutely retarded because its thanks to MLS that the USMNT is doing as well as it is) and a local team like all those people in other countries are. Several leagues around the world have playoffs and their fans still come out in droves to watch their teams which have less star power than and talent than many teams in MLS. The problem is too many people only want to watch “the best” leagues which is what will prevent MLS from becoming one of the those leagues because without attendance and viewership MLS can’t make the money it needs to be able to buy those fancy players people will drool over. Now I admit I love watching any good soccer match and I love Man U, but the more I have begun to watch soccer over the years the less I follow them and the more I have MLS to the fore because it is OUR league it’s where the US’s World Cup hopes are forged its where the bright young stars of the future are cutting their teeth. Sure there are issues that need addressing and I have been bashing the recent announced changes. It always seems like with every good thing there is a bad thing that MLS does, but with the reserves coming back I have to believe that MLS is doing things better than it has in the past. Have some pride in your country and support MLS, that is the only way you will see the league grow.

        P.S. On a side note it appears that people in Sweden love MLS. There are several poster complaining about its lack of availability to them on the MLS website which they had been able to purchase before. It’s funny how those Europeans whose leagues you think are to be emulated find MLS to be compelling even without the top stars of the 2 team leagues around Europe. Go figure.

  14. Brian says:

    You start the game so it ends at 11:30 pm (would’ve been later had it gone to PKs) and wonder why ratings go into the toilet?

    MLS has apparently adopted the strategy of the brain-dead MLB in starting games so they end so late that kids can’t (and many adults won’t) stay up to watch. We’ve seen what’s happened to MLB ratings in recent years…

  15. Charles says:

    To follow up on my post from earlier.

    IF you want to know which fans are which when deciding who the MLS should be targetting…..
    just look at the posts. A great post from Robert Hay ( he really puts up good stuff ) about the huge MLS news of today and tomorrow has 5 comments.

    Put up a Landon is leaving MLS to go to EPL and see what happens. You will have never seen such excitement.

    • Clampdown says:

      or perhaps it’s because the only truly surprising name on the list is Dax.

      I would anticipate more chatter about it tomorrow when the expansion teams make their picks.

  16. Dan says:

    What do you expect!?!? Dallas v Colorado, give me a break.

    Kill the playoffs and make it a single table format you idiot Garber! If MLS doesn’t keep changing it will die

  17. Stern says:

    If fans in Colorado and Dallas don’t care about the team, why would fans in other markets give a flip?

  18. MEXICO>usa says:

    HAHAHA!!! No one watches your pitiful league. Your teams always lose in the CCL, so people know how pathetic you are. Mexican regular season games draw more in the USA than your league championship Final. HAHAHA!!!! Losers

  19. wamba says:

    People make me yawn. A single table structure and relegation system? Please. You are just as closed minded as the throwball fans who think their sport is the only real sport in the world. You both are too narrow to see anything different than what you’re used to.

    Would a single table make things more exciting? No. Playoff structures are successful in other sports precisely because playoff games are must-wins where the drama and excitement are pumped up. In a single table the games at the end of the season increase in importance, but they still don’t match the importance level of a playoff structure where every team is placed in a win-or-die situation.

    There was just nothing exciting about this year’s match. Two teams no one cared about. No star factor. Bad timeslot. Those all affected it. Absence of a single table structure? Team names? Those don’t even register on the radar of reasons viewership was down.

    The only thing the MLS really needs to concentrate on is not an easy quick-fix. We need to increase the quality on the field. MLS games have to get to the point where the quality of the soccer matches the quality of the EPL, Bundesliga, etc. That’s a long-term, huge undertaking with a million factors. But it’s the only thing that really matters.

    Personally, I’ve seen big improvements in the last few years, and I think the level of play is headed in the right direction. (the exception is the officiating where there hasn’t been any improvement)

  20. CoconutMonkey says:

    This article pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole situation.

  21. CoconutMonkey says:

    Oh, by the way, I think it’s also worth pointing out that the best rated MLS Final (2001) was the second year MLS had a 3 conference league with a properly seeded playoffs (i.e. no conference championship games).

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