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MLS Playoffs Whet Fans’ Appetite for World Cup

ABC, FOX Average 2.55 Million Viewers During 2022 MLS Postseason Coverage

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December 7, 2022
December 9, 2022
 min read

Soccer fans across the country are currently enrapt by the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but before the quadrennial event kicked off in the Middle East, domestic stars in the U.S. battled on the pitch for MLS supremacy during the league’s playoffs spanning October and early November. Fourteen teams entered the postseason with visions of winning the MLS Cup, headlined by the top seeds in each conference: Philadelphia Union and LAFC. Ultimately, Major League Soccer fans were treated to a fitting final, as the regular season’s best met at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles to decide a champion. After 120 minutes of intense action yielded a 3-3 draw, LAFC emerged victorious in penalty kicks to earn its first championship in club history. We used MVP’s broadcast platform to explore viewership stories from throughout the 2022 MLS postseason while also using recent playoffs as measuring sticks for the league’s interest. Our examination included all playoff broadcasts from the past three years on ABC, FOX, ESPN, and FS1. During the most recent campaign, postseason matches aired on network television attracted an average audience of 2.55 million household viewers, with MLS Cup Final 2022 accounting for the highest one-match total.

MLS Cup Final Nets Top Total Audience

Despite competing with a full slate of college football games on November 5 – including the highly-anticipated matchup between Tennessee and Georgia, who occupied the top two spots in the rankings that week, taking place simultaneously – the MLS Cup Final drew 2.83 million viewers on FOX. It was the highest total for any single game of the 2022 MLS playoffs, but far from the only contest with a significant audience. Of the 12 postseason games aired on English-language broadcasts, five exceeded 1 million viewers – and each broadcast partner enjoyed at least one telecast above that total. LAFC participated in three of the top four matches in terms of viewership, with their Western Conference final against Austin FC drawing 2.51M and their earlier match against crosstown rival LA Galaxy netting 1.24M on FS1 – the highest figure for a cable network in this year’s playoffs. However, the difference between network and cable broadcasts was stark, as evidenced by the Eastern Conference Final between Philadelphia Union and NYCFC. The game was a rematch of last year’s conference final, which drew 2.21 million viewers on ABC. This year, however, FS1 amassed only 356,996 viewers for the same matchup at the same stage.

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ABC, FOX Notice YoY Viewership Dips

Because the 2022 World Cup is taking place in November and December instead of the typical summer break window due to Qatar’s heat, this year’s MLS playoff calendar was adjusted. However, the number of games shown on English-language television in 2022 and 2021 was identical. In 2020, there were an additional two games aired across ABC, ESPN, FOX, and FS1 as a result of there being 16 playoff participants instead of 14. And while ESPN experienced a three-year high in average viewership with 767,460 in 2022, the other three broadcast partners noticed a dip from their 2021 peaks. FOX aired only one game in each of the past two campaigns, but this year’s final drew 61.6% fewer viewers than the Western Conference semifinal matchup between Portland Timbers and Colorado Rapids on Thanksgiving of 2021. ABC broadcast two playoff matches this season, averaging 2.42 million viewers for the pair. Last year, it was home to four MLS playoff games, which averaged 2.66 million viewers – topped by MLS Cup 2021’s total of 3.6 million on December 11. Finally, FS1’s average dipped from 611,923 across four games in 2021 to 491,583 for five games in 2022.

LA, Philly Show Support During Cup Final

Despite the overall year-over-year viewership declines, local markets demonstrated considerable passion for their teams as the 2022 MLS Playoffs progressed, highlighted by Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The cities led all DMAs in viewership during their respective Conference Final matches, and they both finished in the top three across the country during the MLS Cup. During the Western Conference Final between LAFC and Austin FC, Los Angeles accounted for 172,580 viewers – 6.9% of ABC’s total for the match. Meanwhile, Philadelphia earned a 15% share of FS1’s total viewers for the Eastern Conference Final, which was watched by 53,417 households in the City of Brotherly Love. Both cities surpassed their conference final totals during last month’s MLS Cup Final. Los Angeles was the top DMA for the championship, as 224,107 household viewers watched their hometown team win a title. Philadelphia finished third – behind Dallas-Fort Worth in second – with 159,379 household viewers, a 2.98x jump in just a week as the stakes got higher.

The only local market audience in the past three MLS Cup Finals to exceed Philadelphia and Los Angeles this year was New York in 2021, when 282,609 viewers in the Big Apple tuned in to watch NYCFC defeat Portland Timbers.

Soccer Fans Fix Their Gazes on Qatar

Major League Soccer is still growing in the U.S., with another expansion team – St. Louis City SC –  set to join the league in 2023. And as the league’s footprint expands, new brand opportunities and broader audiences will emerge. These prospects are only strengthened by viewers taking interest in the game on a global stage. Therefore, it is encouraging for soccer to remain among sports headlines in America as the World Cup crescendo continues in Qatar. MVP is maintaining a pulse on the pitch throughout the tournament, so stay connected with us for unique broadcast and social insights in the coming weeks.

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