Major League Soccer: Why the new TV broadcasting plan won’t work

With Major League Soccer unveiling their strategic plan to improve TV Ratings, It’s time to take off my Philadelphia Union hat to look at the league as a whole.

TV ratings are down in the world of Major League Soccer. According to World Soccer Talk, ratings are down eight percent, mainly due to a fall in viewership on Univision. While Univision has seen drops, both Fox and ESPN have had gains in their coverage of soccer. As the quality of the league grows, more people should be watching but as numbers show, that isn’t the case.

This conundrum has led to Major League Soccer doing an 18-month study on how to improve ratings. Here’s what they came up with (warning, it’s underwhelming):

  1. Putting cameras in the locker rooms before the game,
  2. Allowing access to team huddles,
  3. Putting microphones on coaches during games, and
  4. Increasing the number of media “car wash” tours.

Based on these changes, it seems like Major League Soccer is attempting to mimic how the NFL does their coverage. For your information Don Garber, the NFL also experienced a decline in ratings showing that they shouldn’t be the league to mimic coverage wise. With ESPN and Fox making large gains in their soccer coverage mainly due to the presence of top commentators Taylor Twellman and Alexi Lalas, change in how the game is covered isn’t a necessity.

With these changes, Major League Soccer is attempting to connect casuals to the game by giving them a sense of familiarity with the broadcasting style. While that seems progressive, it isn’t the proper approach for the league to take. Broadcasting style isn’t the reason that people aren’t watching games and making that style comfortable for the casual observer won’t make them turn on their TV either.

Speaking to Don Garber, the major point of expansion is for the league to touch as many people as it can. Digital marketing is also important as content should be easily accessible to all. While this plan and the recent revamp of MLS Live do accomplish this, changing the broadcast style doesn’t help accessibility to casual fans.

People pay to watch stars play the game and that’s why tickets for European friendlies will always be a huge draw in America. Fans will pay to watch Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi play no matter who the opposition is. Major League Soccer doesn’t have many athletes who transcend the league and until the league does, ratings will suffer.

While pro/rel helps the narrative of the season because every game is a playoff game it isn’t the proper model for the American sports landscape as is. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be implemented at all but that’s a story for another day. In each major sports league in America, there are athletes that transcend the league to take on nationwide and even global appeal. TV gimmicks may involve short-term gains in viewership but the long view has to be around acquiring top-tier athletes. Put a winning product on the field and the media deals will follow.