Almost all of NBC's coverage of Major League Soccer was on NBC Sports Network. When the three-year contract started NBCSN was a fledgling network just starting to cover sports under the peacock brand. Every year a handful of matches were placed on the big NBC on full broadcast television. On Saturday the ratings when Seattle Sounders FC won the Supporters' Shield were incredibly strong for regular season MLS games.
NBC drew an 0.59 rating for Galaxy/Sounders, the network's highest rating ever for an MLS match.— Steve Lepore (@stevelepore) October 27, 2014
Sounders/Galaxy also outdrew its lead-in of Swansea/Leicester (0.50). Sunday's United/Chelsea draw got an 0.86.— Steve Lepore (@stevelepore) October 27, 2014
Those numbers are a strong way for MLS to leave NBC properties. A .59 is better than should be expected for any non-MLS Cup Final match, beating the EPL is gravy.
Yes, there will be a two MLS Cup Playoff games on NBCSN and two on NBC before the reigns are handed off to Fox Sports. But the regular season coverage is over and ESPN is the power behind covering the Playoffs.
NBC did some things with their coverage that deserve attention. They didn't just get good ratings on a broadcast channel (that's almost certainly not going to happen on Fox). They didn't just increase TV ratings every year of their coverage.
They changed how MLS is presented.
With a 23 minute pre-game came the feeling that every match mattered. That essentially doubles the amount of time on TV for scene setting and analysis from what ESPN does. It helps an audience feel more connected to players and the meaning of the game.
NBC also borrowed from their NHL coverage putting the color man on the sidelines working as both a sideline reporter and analyst. Kyle Martino was number one man in that role and while it took time for him to grow into it, he did. Martino and others were certainly more useful than the typical sideline reporter and the analysis was better because it was lessened. Where at times a color analyst can step on the play-by-play voice, the eventuality with this structure meant that the analyst added knowledge and context.
Lastly, the primary team that NBC trotted out for coverage was American. John Strong, Kyle Martino and pre/half/post man Russ Thaler showed that one isn't required to have a British voice to cover soccer. As America's knowledge and love of the sport expand so should its TV voices. They should be judged solely on the quality of their call, not their birthplace.
More money came to MLS through the agreement with NBC, and in 2015 even more money will come through Fox Sports. NBC should not be remembered just for the money and the ratings, but the things they did to improve the way we watched the sport.