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MLS US ratings soar on ESPN and ABC ahead of looming Apple switch

Disney-owned networks record best regular season audiences since 2007.

14 October 2022 Josh Sim

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  • Average audience of 343k viewers per game across ABC and ESPN
  • More than 10m fans hosted at stadiums across 2022 regular season

North America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) has benefited from an increase in domestic viewership across Disney’s media networks during the 2022 regular season, with ABC and ESPN recording their best audiences since 2007.

Across both networks the 34 regular season televised games brought in an average audience of 343,000 viewers – a 16 per cent increase from last year’s average of 295,000. Disney has confirmed the 2022 regular season was the most viewed on its networks for 15 years, coming close to 2007’s average of 357,000 viewers.

The match between Minnesota United and the Portland Timbers on 30th July was the most viewed broadcast, attracting an average viewership of 593,000 people on ABC and the Spanish-language ESPN Deportes.

There were also positive figures elsewhere, with the Spanish-language pay-TV Fox Deportes channel recording a 13 per cent YoY increase in audiences for MLS games, while Canadian broadcaster TSN also saw its ratings increase eight per cent YoY.

The numbers bode well for MLS, which recently inked a ‘transformational’ ten-year global rights deal with Apple worth a reported US$250 million per year. The agreement, which begins next season, will see Apple exclusively show all MLS matches globally via the Apple TV streaming platform.

As it stands currently, Apple will be the sole MLS broadcaster in the US, but the Sports Business Journal (SBJ) has previously reported that the league is negotiating with ESPN and Fox on a domestic package of non-exclusive live matches for linear broadcast.

The Apple deal will also see MLS fans with full season tickets given access to the Apple platform. MLS will hope that this helps maintain the record attendance levels seen during the 2022 regular season, with more than ten million fans coming through the gates. The figure eclipses the previous record of 8.6 million from 2019, with Atlanta United topping the league’s average attendance with 47,116 fans.

For the first time, the league had three clubs average more than 30,000 fans per game, with Atlanta joined by Seattle Sounders and Charlotte FC. Charlotte also smashed the single-match attendance record, with 74,479 supporters attending their home debut defeat against the Los Angeles Galaxy in March.

MLS also saw an increase in merchandise revenue, with jersey sales on MLSstore.com that were introduced in 2022 going up by ten per cent from the previous year. The soccer league also gained 600,000 net followers on its social media platforms, which represents a 65 per cent year-over-year (YoY) increase.

Speaking to Forbes, David Bruce, MLS senior vice-president of brand and integrated marketing spoke of the increasing ‘momentum’ gathering behind the competition, and hopes the league continues to grow its audience ahead of the 2026 Fifa World Cup held in the US, Canada and Mexico.

“I think the world is looking at MLS and is really intrigued by some of the things we’re doing here,” said Bruce. “It’s this creation of our culture, of our version of the global game that proudly exists here in North American and in MLS.

“It’s all with a view to the 2026 World Cup being here, Canada and Mexico, and the ability to really draft off that incredible moment which will be the biggest sporting event the world’s ever seen at that point.”

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