With surging national attendance numbers (strongly supported here in Seattle) the indication would be that at least one aspect of Major League Soccer's business model is strong. Positive signs go deeper as the rivalries in Cascadia and elsewhere help build relevance of the local teams in their markets local TV ratings are up as well. The strongest of these is again Seattle (a 3.0 Nielsen Rating) with markets like Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Portland also doing well.
Some of this may just be good fortune as Adrian Hanauer indicated Monday after practice, but he also recognized that people with the league and its various national and local partners know what it takes to create compelling television.
I think we've done we some things well; we have a great partner in BELO. We've done in our choice of broadcasters. I think we do well in our production on the games. So there are some tactical things. I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to know that good production and good people provide a good broadcast.
The Philadelphia Union have used a similar approach to the Sounders. They have a well-known broadcast partnership (JP Dellacamera and Taylor Twellman) and several of their games are available on the local network affiliate. They saw ratings this season double to a 1.0 average in the early season.
Positive signs aren't limited to just local TV. National ratings in the first half of the season saw a positive trend as well. While the Nielsen number didn't move the total viewers nationally is up. One can only figure that had a large part to do with the new MLS on NBC deal that starts in 2012 and runs through 2014.
Many fans are worried about what they see as a low ratings number. ESPN2 broadcasts hover around a 0.2. While viewership is in a positive trend that tiny number when compared to the big multi-digit headline grabbing ratings for the NFL and MLB there is a certain disappointment.
As Phil Schoen (GolTV announcer) pointed out on twitter. The national number isn't so bad. The NHL and NCAA basketball on ESPN and Versus range between 0.2 and a 0.4. MLS is within the range of a few "mainstream" sports when they are on the same scale of network.
Leaders within the league aren't satisfied though. They know they have strong competition with their being a globe full of options for soccer and a half-dozen famous high-quality leagues also attracting eyeballs. Hanauer sets forth the path to improvement;
The biggest challenge for MLS is to continuing to build relevance in markets, building rivalries will also help. Everyone in the league knows that. The quality of the product overall has to continue to grow and improve. Because, let's face it we're competing against the EPL, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, European Champions League and the Euros in the Summer. There's a lot of football on television.
So while the potential profile match of New York v Los Angeles in the upcoming MLS Cup Playoffs maybe a network exec is going to be quite pleased with teams that have proven local relevance like Seattle v Salt Lake, or Kansas City v Philadelphia.
With such a young league, and the way that the NASL ended, MLS fans probably pay more attention on average to business concerns than other sports fans do. They probably don't need to worry as much as they have in previous years. There are positive trends by most measures.