Major League Soccer: Nielsen Report Shows Connected But Small Fan Base

By Douglas Smith
Major League Soccer
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Yesterday Nielsen released their 2013 Year in Sports Media Report that shows media highlights, adverting trends and consumer insights across the major sports in the United States. For MLS, the report proved a lot of what we already know. The league has a small, young audience. They want to attend matches and see the games on their television, but they are also the poorest audience of the major sports.

The promising statistic is that the audience is diverse and growing, albeit in very small increments. MLS is on the right track to continue to grow, but it’s going to take incredible patience to stick to this plan even with a new television contract.

There is a rumored television contract that is said to be around $70 million per year on the table, but MLS is hoping to make it a shorter term than ESPN and Fox Sports are suggesting. MLS fans are 10 percent more likely to own a smartphone than the general public. Only 21 percent of the American public view a mobile video in a month, while 42 percent of MLS fans use their phone for video. MLS viewers are also more likely to engage in social networking and spend at least three hours a day on the various sites.

While the television audience grew by nine percent over 2012, the upward trend is very slow. Last year, MLS expanded their offerings in MLS Live, their online system for viewing matches. They added a analytics-driven system called Golazo to allow users to view the match while sorting through key statistics, view tweets on the match, and be connected to all the matches occurring simultaneously.

It should come as no surprise that 40 percent of viewers are 34 years of age or younger. This is also why there have been murmurs about increasing the online availability and even considering going to all livestreams for viewing. That seems unlikely given the amount of money that can be gained with a television contract.

However, sticking with an emphasis on television contracts that dictate the time of kickoff and sometimes leave MLS viewers waiting for another event to end does not help with the growth of the league. The league has to capitalize on the younger, more diverse audience and continue to expand digital offerings to reach internal goals of becoming a top league in the world.

Sure, television revenue is nice, but the product and brand needs easy access and the report says go digital. That is where the fans want to live the MLS experience.

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