MLS Cup Final Sees Huge Increase In U.S. Viewers, Largest Viewership since 1997

IMAGE, LAGALAXY.COM

by RYAN BRISTER
Staff Writer

Thanks to big market involvement and the storylines surrounding Landon Donovan’s retirement, Sunday’s MLS Cup Final was the most watched since 1997.

As the LA Galaxy defeated the New England Revolution in extra time, an average of 1,907,000 viewers were watching across three networks in the U.S., according to Neilsen. That marks an 88% increase on the 2013 final, which was the least-viewed of all-time. LA’s victory is third-most-watched MLS Cup in league history, behind only the first two.

An average of 964,000 viewers watched the game on ESPN, which is the largest English language viewership for MLS Cup since 2011. Last year’s final between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake (two of the league’s smallest markets) drew 505,000 viewers, the smallest ever. This year’s English-language viewership is still smaller than many past audiences, particularly because the game was on ABC until 2008.

Viewership soared among those who watched the game in Spanish. A combined audience of 943,000 viewers watched the Galaxy win on UniMas and Univision Deportes. Compare that to last year’s final, which was watched by just 514,000 in Spanish. This year’s Spanish-language viewership is triple that of just three years ago, when 307,000 watched the Galaxy beat Houston on Galavision.

Those numbers should assuage some fears that MLS was making a mistake by placing its championship game against the juggernaut that is the NFL. Seventeen of the 19 MLS Cup Finals have been played Sundays, in direct competition with pro football. The only exceptions were in 2012 and 2013, both of which saw poor viewership.

To put that viewership into some perspective, here’s how it compares with other club soccer. November 29th’s Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United was the most watched in U.S. history, and drew 1.41 million viewers on NBC. The second leg of Liga MX’s final in May averaged 2.5 million viewers on UniMas.

The most watched European club soccer game of the year in the U.S. was the Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. 1.9 million watched on Fox, and an additional 1.2 million in Spanish on Fox Deportes.  The highest viewed club game in 2014 altogether was America vs. Chivas with 2.1 million viewers.

While those numbers pale in comparison to this summer’s World Cup, or the biggest events in the “big four” leagues, they provide reason for optimism about soccer’s growth in the United States.