Monday, August 07, 2006

Could MLS Finally Be on the Rise

There is an interesting article in MediaWeek today titled, "ESPN Reups Soccer Deal to Keep Viewers." The article noted "ESPN reupped its TV rights deal through 2014 with Soccer United Marketing—which holds the commercial and TV rights for Major League Soccer—last week and is hoping the new commitment will keep viewer interest in soccer high until next summer’s Women’s World Cup and the next men’s Cup in 2010. Under the new deal, ESPN2 will televise 26 regular season MLS matches, most of them in prime time on Thursday nights. Under the current deal, which expires after this season, most of the MLS games aired on Saturday afternoons."

ESPN and MLS may have finally started to understand US consumers and what it is going to take to gain traction and market share in the U.S. Let us analyze the following:

* Viewers now know what television stations will televise which matches. In the past, viewers had to search and guess when a match might be played. Viewers are not going to spend a lot of time searching for the soccer matches.

* Televising the matches on Thursday night is a brilliant move. In regards to sports being played on Thursday nights, MLS will only be competing with MLB for viewers. I am not a big fan of televising all the matches on Saturday since people are always out during the weekend.

* MLS is working with each of its teams to create their own stadiums and to not play in football stadiums. The intimacy of these new stadiums and the closeness to the fields will help to bring additional fans in the future.

* ESPN needs to continue to force feed soccer to US sports fans. The MediaWeek article added, "Doug Quinn, president of SUM, credited ESPN’s $20 million in promotional dollars for the World Cup as being key in raising awareness among the more casual soccer fans."

ESPN needs to put soccer highlights at the beginning of the show, make sure any soccer wrap up shows are before or after SportsCenter and continue to make the sport "top of mind" to all its different media outlets.

I believe U.S. sports fans are going to be interested soccer moving forward with the Women's World Cup since there is a chance the U.S. could win the tournament. U.S. soccer must continue to put players from the men's team in front of the public and remind everyone that a lot of the players compete in MLS. We all know it is tough to convince fans to watch soccer every four years.

These next five to 10 years are really a make or break time for the League.


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