The Eyes Have It

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Last week we looked at the attendances of Australia’s A-League versus that of the US’s Major League Soccer. It was a close call with both having no discernible advantage over the other. We now look at TV ratings and for modern sport this is the breadwinner. As much as heaving stadiums with an intense atmosphere give us the good feelings, it is TV that pays most of the bills.

Lets look at the respective TV deals for the MLS and A-League, both of which have been somewhat “boosted” by the inclusion of national team games. The latest MLS deal started from 2015 and will run until 2022 while the current A-League deal is set to expire in 2017.

The MLS deal is shared between three broadcasters; ESPN (Saturday), Fox Sports (Sunday), and Univision (Friday). It is worth around 90 million a season over 8 years. Each broadcaster is guaranteed at least 34 exclusive live games for their allotted day. Each broadcaster gets playoff games with the MLS Cup alternating between major rights holders, ESPN and Fox Sports.

The A-league deal was made involving two broadcasters showing in SBS and Foxtel. SBS, the free-to-air partner, can only show Friday night games live and finals games on delay while Foxtel can show every regular season and finals game live. The deal is worth 160 million (140 million cash, 20 million in advertising) over four years. As we can see straight away that the totals favour MLS by a large margin but it’s not so straightforward in relative terms.

It’s important to look at the sporting market in each country and see where the two leagues stack up in relation to more established competitions. The NFL is the big dog in the sporting yard of the US when it comes to TV money with the AFL and NRL in Australia sharing that honour. Looking at the TV money in these respective leagues can put things in perspective as to where they stand in the conversation.

The current NFL deal began in 2013 and runs until 2022. It is worth 3 billion dollars a year and is shared across three networks (Fox, NBC, CBS). The MLS deal is worth about 3% annually of the NFL deal.

In Australia, the AFL and NRL are the two dominant sporting leagues and command the most revenue. The new AFL deal which kicks in in 2017 and runs to 2022 is worth 418 million a year and the NRL deal is from 2018 is a 5 year deal worth 450 million annually. These deals include the free-to-air, pay TV and mobile coverage. The A-league deal is worth 9.6% of the AFL deal and 8.9% of the NRL deal which indicates it is getting a bigger piece of the pie than the MLS in regards to the other major football codes.

The MLS and A-League seasons are scheduled to avoid clashing too much with the NFL, AFL and NRL so TV ratings for the football season aren’t greatly affected by the rival domestic codes. When they do crossover it is very interesting to see what affect it has on the audience numbers and we’ll look at that later.

The 2015 average of the MLS for the regular season was 197,000 on Fox Sports, 224,000 on Unimas, and 249,000 on ESPN. In comparison to other soccer competitions, the NBC showed the Premier League to an average of 725,000, the Bundesliga averaged around 810,000 on Fox and Liga MX averaged 991,000 on Unimas.

The A-League regular season average for 2014/15 was 59,250 on Fox Sports and 122,000 on SBS. If we combine the averages from each network and assume they are all unique viewers than 0.2% of the US population watched MLS as opposed to 0.8% of the Australian population. The time difference between Australia and Europe generally makes it difficult to compare interest in the live viewing habits of the other soccer competitions. Early kick offs of “marquee” games on Saturday or Sunday nights between the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool do tend to rate well in Australia.

As touched on earlier, both leagues avoid too much schedule overlapping of the rival football codes. It is an important indicator of how many of the fans of the MLS and A-League are football first fans or how many support the other codes first. On the opening weekend of the last NFL season MLS viewership dropped off by a combined 66%. On the opening round of last season’s AFL and NRL seasons the AL viewership suffered a minimal shift. On Saturday April 4th Sydney v Adelaide drew 76,000 as opposed to the usual average of 83,000 (the Sydney Swans AFL team were playing Essendon that day); and Sunday April 5th’s matchup, Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Victory drew 52,000 which saw an increase on the 39,000 average for that time slot. The A-League was clearly the least affected by their rival codes kicking off.

Finally, the showpiece game of the respective seasons, the MLS Cup and A-League Grand Final also showed a significant gap between the interest in the two competitions. The MLS Cup shown on the three broadcast partners brought in 1.2 million viewers while on the two networks that showed the A-League Grand Final 566,000 viewers tuned in. This means that 2.4% of the Australian population watched the Championship decider as opposed to 0.4% of the US population that watched the MLS equivalent. The matchup of Melbourne versus Sydney certainly played a role in the A-League’s Grand Final numbers with the protagonists being two of the biggest teams in the league.

When talking TV neither competition would be reaching the targets they’d like to be at the moment but the A-League seems to have the advantage with the bigger share of the TV rights pie and higher audience figures relative to the population. So the A-League takes this Metrics Cup tie with a gutsy 2-1 result.

Next time we will look at the online and on-field performance of the two competitions.

 

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