By Christopher Harris
What are the most popular soccer leagues on US television? Some of the answers may surprise you. After tabulating our research of TV ratings data over the past 12 months, we looked at each league separately to see which ones are the most popular on US television based on the average number of viewers per live game.
While we deal in concrete numbers (thanks to Sports TV Ratings and our contacts within the industry), some of the reporting of TV viewing numbers found elsewhere online is PR spin. Take, for example, the Bundesliga feeding Goal.com that the German league is the second most-watched European league on English-language television in the States. While it sounds like an impressive claim, it’s untrue. Over the course of the entire Bundesliga season, games on FOX Sports averaged fewer than 100,000 viewers per match.
The Bundesliga’s sleight of hand involved calculating the numbers from games that artificially elevated the viewing numbers, such as a tape-delayed Bayern Munich game that was sandwiched in between NFL broadcasts on a Sunday, as well as scheduling 8 games on over-the-air FOX network during the latter half of the 2015/16 season in order to juice the numbers (games involving any team from any league aired on FOX would see bigger numbers given that the over-the-air FOX network is in 116 million homes). Most of those games generated fewer than 500,000 viewers per game, which for the placement on an over-the-channel on a Saturday afternoon is poor, to say the least.
Imagine if other soccer leagues in the United States had the luxury of having their games broadcast on an over-the-air network, and how that would massively inflate their numbers.
PR spin tactics aside, here’s our dive into the most popular soccer leagues on US television (see below). First, note the number of homes that each soccer network is in (as of press time):
• FOX (116 million homes)
• FOX Sports 1 (83 million homes)
• FOX Sports 2 (51 million homes)
• FOX Deportes (22 million homes)
• beIN SPORTS (23 million homes)
• beIN SPORTS en Español (18 million homes)
• NBCSN (82 million homes)
• ESPN (89 million homes)
• ESPN2 (89 million homes)
• Univision Deportes (47 million homes)
1. LIGA MX
While it’s difficult to quantify an exact average for Liga MX games because many of them are on the free-to-air Univision where TV ratings data is harder to obtain, there’s no doubt that Liga MX is the most-watched soccer league on US television.
At the centerpiece of Liga MX on US television is Club America against Chivas de Guadalajara. Games between those two teams average between 2-3 million viewers per game.
Elsewhere games such as Club America vs. Monterrey or Club America vs. Monarcas average nearly 1.4 million viewers per match.
While the games involving Club America and/or Chivas are always watched by huge audiences, the league as a whole gets as a myriad of other viewing audience sizes due to the games being available across a variety of networks such as NBC Universo, Azteca America and Galavision. For example, NBC Universo averages approximately 170,000 viewers per Liga MX game (NBC Universo is in 44 million homes in the US). So once the numbers for these type of networks are averaged into the Liga MX total average as a whole, it would drop quite considerably. Still, Liga MX remains the number draw thanks mainly to having so many games each week on the over-the-air Univision network as well as the very popular Univision Deportes Network (which often simulcasts the same Univision games, expanding the audience even more).
2. PREMIER LEAGUE
Across all NBC networks during the 2015/16 Premier League season, NBC Sports Group averaged 514,000 viewers per match window – up 7% from last season’s then-record average (479,000). Last season’s figure was up 9% from the then-record average in NBC Sports Group’s debut Premier League season (438,000 in 2013-14). This year’s average is up 134% from the season prior to NBC Sports Group’s debut (220,000 viewers on ESPN, ESPN2 and FOX Soccer in 2012-13).
Considering that many of those games featured less popular Premier League teams than the giants such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, the average of over half a million viewers per game is very promising.
Major League Soccer, the third most popular soccer league in the United States, is making positive gains each year thanks to having many of its nationally-televised matches shown live on ESPN, FOX Sports 1 and UniMas. While the league still has a long way to go based on its average of 228,505 viewers per game in the 2015 season, the 2016 numbers should increase considerably.
4. LA LIGA
The 2015/16 season proved that Spain’s top flight league doesn’t draw big TV ratings for just Barcelona and Real Madrid matches. With wall-to-wall coverage on beIN SPORTS in the United States, games from La Liga enjoyed an impressive viewing audience of approximately 212,539 per game.
Also of note for beIN SPORTS’ coverage of La Liga was the increase in viewing figures for games featuring Atletico Madrid. For example, Atleti was watched by 363,000 (vs. Malaga), 261,000 (vs. Rayo Vallecano) and 226,000 (vs. Espanyol).
Meanwhile, el Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona delivered almost 2 million viewers across beIN SPORTS and beIN SPORTS in April.
Despite FOX Sports giving the Bundesliga plenty of chances and priority on FOX Sports 1 as well as FOX and FX, the Bundesliga viewing numbers continue to disappoint for one of the most entertaining leagues in the world.
The German league is averaging 92,205 viewers per game across the FOX networks.
With a rising number of American prodigies getting more playing time in Germany, it’s quite possible that the Bundesliga may see increased TV viewing numbers in the near future on FOX.
6. LIGUE UN
France’s top league is averaging 27,750 viewers per game on beIN SPORTS. However, most of the games featured involve Paris Saint-Germain, so the league numbers are skewed. Many of the other games from Ligue Un are shown live on beIN SPORTS Connect, which isn’t measured by Nielsen.
7. SERIE A
The decline of Serie A continues as the league is averaging 24,386 viewers on beIN SPORTS. Very few games exceed 100,000 viewers per game. And when they do, it’s teams such as Napoli against Juventus (102,000 viewers on beIN SPORTS during 2015/16, for example).
The challenge for Serie A and beIN SPORTS is that there isn’t much interest outside Juventus and Napoli. Even perennial heavyweight such as AC Milan only average between 30,000-40,000 viewers, while AS Roma average between 10,000-20,000.
Serie A continues to be an attractive league to watch for soccer connoisseurs. Outside of that, it’s difficult for the rest of us.
Last but by no means least, the English Championship averages 20,450 viewers per game on beIN SPORTS. The league, which features many entertaining games, has to compete against other leagues that kick off at around the same time (namely the Premier League and Bundesliga). But despite very little promotion and not a lot of fanfare, the league attracts a decent viewing audience.
For the 2016/17 season, the numbers should increase as viewers will be tuning in to see many of the bigger clubs such as Newcastle United and Aston Villa.
Source: World Soccer Talk