What Lies In Store for Soccer on Television?

By Noah Davis 

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This summer’s World Cup smashed all previous records for television (and Internet) viewership. Ratings for English-language telecasts in the United States jumped 41 percent from four years ago. The results, predictably, spawned a whole slew of “soccer made it” stories, filled with breathless reports from the front lines (read: bars across the country). So now what?

Well… there’s good news and bad. First, the good. ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel both report that ratings for their English Premier League telecasts are increasing. The Manchester United-Newcastle United match drew 412,000 viewers, the highest number ever for a Monday fixture. FSC saw numbers for the EPL’s opening weekend jump 46 percent and figures from October 2009 through May 2010 are up 68 percent from the same time period the previous year.

The problem?

No one wants to watch Major League Soccer on either channel. ESPN2 gets more traction from WNBA games than MLS action. FSC averages a pitiful 50,000 viewers when it shows matches from the domestic league. (And MLS games are in prime time whereas European soccer is live early in the morning.) The quality of the league is improving, but ratings aren’t growing correspondingly.

The deal with FSC ends this year, and there’s been talk of taking the league to Versus. The network has helped revive the National Hockey League and would promote MLS harder than the Fox crew that knows its money is made by televising European football. Bringing soccer on board would benefit hockey as well. Pretty much, it’s a win-win-win..