News: Recent polls and stats on soccer popularity in the USA

Discussion in 'Soccer in the USA' started by Brasitusa, Jun 9, 2014.

  1. Stan Collins

    Stan Collins Member+

    Feb 26, 1999
    Silver Spring, MD
    There is plenty of reason to be concerned about MLS's share within the overall soccer market, but that has to be tempered by how much the overall market is growing. As for the ratings comparison, it's the lack of context (up 70% over last year) that is the spin, not the context (ESPN-to-ESPN comparison). You put the same game on Fox and ESPN, the Fox broadcast is going to get a better number. (As an aside, you put the same game on ESPN and Fox Sports 1, and the ESPN broadcast is going to get a better number.)

    Really, for the broadest context, the Fox game two years ago between Toronto and Seattle was most likely the best overall audience MLS has gotten to date, as Toronto brought in over a million Canadian viewers, which is far more than the lack of a US market cost the league. Sadly, the Cup Final matchup that the numbers indicate would bring the best possible audience (Atlanta-Toronto) can never happen, because both teams are in the East.

    But also in a contextual sense, MLS's audience is vastly better than in the late 90s. For those numbers you have to remember that most people had only 40 or so channels, and 90% of those channels were showing low-budget programming or reruns. Things that also didn't exist in 1997:
    * Netflix streaming
    * YouTube
    * Smart phones
    * On Demand
    * DVR
    * The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, or any of the critically acclaimed cable programs that came into being because cable channels started putting real money in their product.

    There was an enormous built-in advantage for networks in terms of viewer numbers back then. The ratings over the last 4 MLS Cups show you that an advantage still exists, but it was 10x larger in the late 90s. The fact that MLS pulls a similar viewer number from a Cup Final from back in the 90s makes the opposite point from what it was used for--anything that has held it's audience from the late 90s, the very high-water mark for network TV viewing, is 'winning.'

    ESPN must also be very happy about the age range of the viewers, since they are the most likely to drop (or never add) cable.
     
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  2. italiancbr

    italiancbr Member

    Apr 15, 2007
    I'm just wondering how figure skating, bowling, poker replays, and cornhole tournaments can have better ratings and more viewers than MLS. Typically the response will be that soccer just isn't that popular in the U.S. as a spectator sport. But it's actually tied with basketball and higher than baseball among favorite sports of those under 55. Seems to me the problem isn't soccer, its the league. Either way, it seems fishy that for a league with only 10 teams in 2004, MLS is already talking about expanding past 28 teams when the NBA and MLB only have 30 teams. The commissioner has always talked about the league not being able to sustain promotion and relegation yet he can't seem to collect expansion fees fast enough now.
     
  3. Paul Berry

    Paul Berry Member+

    Notts County and NYCFC
    England
    Apr 18, 2015
    Nr Kingston NY
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Tuesday night's Red Wings-Capitals game drew 174k on NBCSN but last week Seattle paid $650 million for a NHL team.

    Funny old world isn't it?
     
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  4. italiancbr

    italiancbr Member

    Apr 15, 2007
    I think that's just as silly as the MLS expansion fees, but if you go by league valuation, that's still a much better bargain. In 2016, the NHL brought in $3.7B in revenue, more than any soccer league except for the Premier League. MLS brought in $461M, which is little more than the J League but less than the Eredivisie. The NHL has also been around over 100 years, slightly more than MLS, so if I was an investor I'd have much more faith in that league.
     
  5. Kejsare

    Kejsare Member+

    Mar 10, 2010
    San Diego, CA
    Club:
    Portland Timbers
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Because MLS is not the measuring stick for soccer's popularity. It's a piece of the whole. Just three leagues account for the vast majority of professional soccer: MLS, EPL, LigaMX. You could toss UEFA CL in there.
     
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  6. Paul Berry

    Paul Berry Member+

    Notts County and NYCFC
    England
    Apr 18, 2015
    Nr Kingston NY
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    But revenue per team is higher than Eredivisie and Liga MX.
     
  7. EvanJ

    EvanJ Member+

    Manchester United
    United States
    Mar 30, 2004
    Nassau County, NY
    Club:
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    #607 EvanJ, Dec 15, 2018
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2018
    Skating is on NBC, NBCSN, and the Olympic Channel that is owned by NBC. I don't think any channel shows figure skating and MLS. I think ESPN shows bowling on Sunday afternoons, and if they show an MLS game that day it's not bowling over MLS. I don't know how often they show poker replays and cornhole tournament.

    It will be bad for MLS if another sport or competition becomes popular enough to be on TV like esports. I saw a website that lets you gamble on many sports, and it includes esports.

    MLS has more clubs than the Eredivisie, so if MLS has less revenue then it has less revenue per club, unless you're talking about the average per club made by that club rather than the amount made by MLS divided by 23 clubs.
     
  8. Paul Berry

    Paul Berry Member+

    Notts County and NYCFC
    England
    Apr 18, 2015
    Nr Kingston NY
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Average revenue per club 2017:

    Premier League $331 million
    Bundesliga $194 million
    La Liga $179 million
    Serie A $130 million
    Ligue 1 $103 million
    Campeonato Brasileiro $73 million
    Chinese Super League $69 million
    Russia Premier League $55 million
    Turkish Super Lig $51 million
    J-League $33 million
    MLS $32 million
    Eredivisie $31 million
    Liga MX $31 million

    The MLS number excludes the hike in Adidas revenues worth an extra $4 million per club but it includes a share of about $5 million in expansion fees which other leagues don't get.
     
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  9. bigredfutbol

    bigredfutbol Moderator
    Staff Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Woodbridge, VA
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Interesting numbers.

    I'd love to see La Liga numbers with the "big two" clubs removed. It wouldn't surprise me to see that number cut in half.

    The Bundesliga is really robust; although I'm sure Bayern Munich (and Dortmund, to a much lesser degree) also skews the total, I'd wager that the "rest of the pack" in Germany is doing much better business than Spain.

    The number that surprise me is China--I knew how much those clubs are spending but I really thought they were being propped up and subsidized in full. I really didn't think those clubs were actually generating income to any appreciable degree.

    The EPL really shows what a collective TV deal is potentially worth.
     
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  10. Paul Berry

    Paul Berry Member+

    Notts County and NYCFC
    England
    Apr 18, 2015
    Nr Kingston NY
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    A lot of clubs outside the big 5 leagues and MLS share or rent stadiums so miss out on a substantial stream of revenue.

    Revenue is more evenly spread in MLS thanks to the single-entity. Each expansion fee works out at over $5 million per club.

    Chinese clubs have huge commercial sponsorship deals but average debt is around $35 million.
     
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  11. Stan Collins

    Stan Collins Member+

    Feb 26, 1999
    Silver Spring, MD
    For figure skating, you just have a gender-biased/hetero-normative point of view. Figure skating has a large audience, and just because most of the viewers are not straight men does not mean they don't count.

    For poker, the game is 'easy access entertainment'--it's highly edited into a more entertaining package, it doesn't really matter if it was a re-run because the original airing wasn't live anyway, and you don't have to watch a season of it, or even a whole tournament. You don't need to know much about who the players are or how they've been playing lately. You can watch a few hands of poker any time you have 10 minutes to kill, because each hand is like a game.

    For most of the rest of those, it isn't actually true. You might show some unusual activity as a one-off and get a rating out of pure novelty, but if you tried to put them on every week like MLS is, it wouldn't carry over.

    Also, there's a difference in all individual sports vs team sports. Team sports fandom is divided. . . by team. But for individual sports, the general rule is that all of the talent is gathered together in the same place at the same time.

    What you're asking MLS to do is conjure tradition out of thin air and press a magic fast-forward button on league growth. MLS has probably done more in its first 23 years to grow a strong fanbase than any US league did in its first 23, and probably more than almost any of the soccer leagues. It's not surprising that the most popular soccer league in the US (Liga MX) is preferred heavily based on heritage. And if we're comparing to the English Premier League, they spend 20 times the money to get a 20% better TV rating, so it sure doesn't look like a strong economic bet for MLS to go the same way hoping enough people will watch it on TV to justify that.
     
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  12. Paul Berry

    Paul Berry Member+

    Notts County and NYCFC
    England
    Apr 18, 2015
    Nr Kingston NY
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    After 23 years NFL had 8 teams, NHL 7 and NBA 14.

    The American Soccer League also had 8 teams in it's 23rd season.
     
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  13. EvanJ

    EvanJ Member+

    Manchester United
    United States
    Mar 30, 2004
    Nassau County, NY
    Club:
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    That's a great point. Even if you could take the best 36 players to make two teams of 18 including 7 available subs, plenty of people would still be mad about some of the players who were left out. Plenty of fans of American team sports look at the Olympics, Basketball World Cup, World Baseball Classic, etc. as an interruption and source of injuries. I don't think figure skating would get as high ratings as the NBA Finals, but I could see figure skating getting a higher rating than the Men's Basketball Final when both are in the Olympics (although it might be an unfair comparison because one is Winter Olympics and one is Summer Olympics). Another thing is that even if you watched every minute of coverage of the four golf majors, that's much less time than how long most major American team sports per year. One team in the NFL, NCAA Football, or NCAA Men's Basketball could play for more hours per year than sum of coverage of the four golf majors; but the golf majors are a lot shorter than one team in MLB, NBA, or NHL.
     
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  14. Paul Berry

    Paul Berry Member+

    Notts County and NYCFC
    England
    Apr 18, 2015
    Nr Kingston NY
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Basically "events", such as the Crossfit games, the Poker World Championships and the whatever World Cup, are likely to get biggest audiences than regular season games that don't result in anyone being crowned champions.

    MLS's horrible playoff schedule doesn't do it any favors.
     
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  15. barroldinho

    barroldinho Member+

    Man Utd and LA Galaxy
    England
    Aug 13, 2007
    Ex-pat in HB, CA
    Club:
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    England
    Hopefully the change will help.
     
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  16. bigredfutbol

    bigredfutbol Moderator
    Staff Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Woodbridge, VA
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Still too many teams in the playoffs (a problem not unique to MLS) but the compressed schedule and single-game elimination might help.

    In theory I really like the current model but it did drag on too long and clearly wasn't connecting with fans.
     
  17. Paul Berry

    Paul Berry Member+

    Notts County and NYCFC
    England
    Apr 18, 2015
    Nr Kingston NY
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I foresee two conferences of 18 teams with 34 teams making the playoffs :p
     
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  18. bigredfutbol

    bigredfutbol Moderator
    Staff Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Woodbridge, VA
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    So, maybe a four-week regular season?
     
  19. italiancbr

    italiancbr Member

    Apr 15, 2007
    Team sports evoke much more emotion and are far more popular than individual sports. Typically around 80% of sports fans list a team sport as their favorite viewing option compared with less than 20% for individual sports. In fact, individual sports are most popular when the competitors are representing a country rather than playing for themselves (Olympics). TV execs and sponsors are going to go where the money is, regardless of sport. Soccer is already at a disadvantage as a broadcast revenue source due to the lack of built-in breaks which limit commercials and ads. So when that's coupled with lower total viewership numbers and higher production costs then of course TV execs prefer those other options.

    Hard to build tradition when soccer has hardly any following in the country at the high school and college levels and less than 20 American cities are represented out of over 380 metro areas in the country. If you've paid attention to the decline of baseball, the oldest of the four major US sports and America's pastime, you'll notice there isn't a large grassroots following other than Little League. Between Little League and the Major League, there's virtually no media coverage, no broadcasts, and isn't followed by casual fans. The two sports that have overtaken it, football and basketball, have grown their 30-odd team pro leagues on the popularity of those sports at the high school and college levels. Soccer can't emulate that but MLS could've built its brand through pro/rel so that any area of the country that wanted a shot at being in the league could've been represented. Many people don't realize that MLS has always been too exclusionary, especially for a sport that has long been viewed as an immigrant sport in the U.S., and that's what's turned people off, not the playoff system and other things that it's focusing on. Just like MLB isn't able to generate enough interest through the minor leagues, MLS also can't make fans interested in USL when there's little reward for winning. The problem is that MLS can never initiate pro/rel at this stage without legal problems and bankruptcy by returning expansion fees. The commissioner knows this which is why he wants to continue expanding past 28 teams and keep collecting expansion fees. How was pro/rel never sustainable but adding as many teams as the four major sports acceptable for MLS when they generate a tiny fraction of revenues of other sports and are probably still losing money as a league? The only way for soccer to organically grow in the country is for another league to forge its own path and pick up the pieces when MLS starts to contract.

    By that measure, NASL is the best league of all-time, considering it had 24 teams after only 10 years.
     
  20. Paul Berry

    Paul Berry Member+

    Notts County and NYCFC
    England
    Apr 18, 2015
    Nr Kingston NY
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Let's rule out leagues that collapsed within 20 years of formation.
     
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  21. Paul Berry

    Paul Berry Member+

    Notts County and NYCFC
    England
    Apr 18, 2015
    Nr Kingston NY
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Doesn't that go for the other major leagues too?

    Of course if you add NCAA and AAA etc more cities are represented but that's why it's so exciting to watch the rapid expansion of USL and the amateur ranks.
     
  22. owian

    owian Member+

    Liverpool FC, San Diego Loyal
    May 17, 2002
    San Diego
    Club:
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Not sure I understand this. Almost no sports anywhere in the world have large tv or media followings for youth leagues. That includes soccer. And to follow up baseball actually does have media and casual following below MLB in the form of the College World Series, which gets large audiences and media coverage every June.
     
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  23. EvanJ

    EvanJ Member+

    Manchester United
    United States
    Mar 30, 2004
    Nassau County, NY
    Club:
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    It depends on the individual sport. Gymnasts are rarely watched outside the Olympics, but golfers are watched many times a year, with the Olympics a negligible part of the popularity of golf in the USA, just like the Olympics are a negligible part of the popularity of some team sports like basketball, hockey, and Men's Soccer.
     
  24. Stan Collins

    Stan Collins Member+

    Feb 26, 1999
    Silver Spring, MD
    What I'm saying is that individual sports are gathered together in a way that team sports are not, which creates a measurement problem. I had an argument some years ago with a poster that argued that NASCAR (this was at the height of the 'NASCAR fad', if you want to call it that) was as or more popular than the National Hockey League. For evidence he could quite credibly point to the fact that a typical NASCAR race had higher TV ratings and better attendance than an NHL game. But the problem is that the NHL is playing a dozen other games at around the same time as that game in different cities across the country. No one could possibly physically attend more than a couple of them, and very few were watching more than one or two on TV. Change the focus to an entire weekend, and there were certainly many more people watching an NHL game than attending a NASCAR race, and the television contest was at the least not nearly as lopsided as it at first looked. Overall, NASCAR was probably never as popular as the NHL, but you'd have gotten the impression it was by only looking at average (not cumulative) TV and attendance numbers.

    I'm not arguing that this gathering makes individual sports more popular (you're right about the balance between the two), I'm arguing that it makes the stats you used to look at them less useful than they would be in a more apples-to-apples comparison between team/league sports.

    So this backdrop would make MLS's growth more remarkable, not less.

    I'd probably agree to an extent with the scholastic argument, but I doubt it applies to lower division pro clubs in that way. Scholastic sports in the US predictably (because the US is almost the only country to play those sports) send their best players to the professional ranks, and there's an interest in seeing your team's former players succeed at the pro level. My father is a college football fan, and his interest in the pros is driven almost entirely by the former players of his college team. That doesn't really work with lower division football, because if you pick a random League One team, few of the guys on it will ever see Premier League football--whereas the rosters of the NFL are sprinkled with former players from let's say Alabama.

    That's not to say pro/rel wouldn't have some value. I personally would argue that it would be a net gain for soccer in the US. It would destroy some value in the top tier due to relegation risk, but it would probably create more value than that at the lower tiers by promotion opportunity and by simply making lower division leagues a more exciting product with something bigger to play for.

    What I don't think happens is that the residents of Alabama watch more MLS soccer because Tuscaloosa or wherever has a solid lower-division team (or even a team that was once in the top flight 10 years ago). It would make more people watch their particular team, but it wouldn't be very likely to transfer. Most likely there's a short-term effect the other way around--there are not more people in the Manchester area watching the Manchester clubs because Bolton exists. There are probably fewer, because they are watching Bolton instead of Manchester.

    Add to this, the metro areas MLS does have a presence in total 103 million people, more than the population of Germany or close to twice the population of England. And with a handful of major exceptions (one of which, Miami, is about to be added) the league is hitting the places where there is density--meaning it doesn't matter much if there is no team in Alabama, because the metro population of Atlanta is greater than the entire population of Alabama. This general principle works across much of the country. After the current expansion, MLS will cover metro areas with about 115 million people, and with the reasonable prospects for the following round would add another 10-15 million before the league gets to 32 teams. At that point, the league would cover over 40% of the population, and the rest of it would mostly be quite dispersed.

    I mean I see what you're getting at--essentially the theory that in the long term, the reason why soccer is the most popular sport in England (and therefore the world, being that professional sport is a creation of the late Industrial Revolution and resulting expansion of international trade, phenomena which were born in England, the dominant trading nation at that time) is that it has won over the shire as well as the city. There might be a degree of truth to that, but there's a bigger reason--the other plausible contender sports (cricket and rugby) were exclusionary in a different way, that of class. Only the upper classes played them at first, and they were far too reticent to professionalize and modernize.

    The thing you should understand about the early history of MLS is that pro/rel wasn't sustainable because the league wasn't 'sustainable'--it was losing a great deal of money and was continuing on only due to the largesse of a few billionaires. If Phillip Anschutz had had a heart attack any time in the first five or six years of the league, it wouldn't be here now.

    They threw all that money into an ostensible pit on the idea that if it ever turned around (which eventually it did, due to massive capital investment in stadiums and then investment in name players) they would be able to sell franchises for enough money to compensate the losses and risk.

    Yeah, I would not use that metric, as there have been some leagues like the NASL that have pursued expansion for its own sake, and others like the NHL that have been at times absurdly conservative in their expansion policy, to the point that it gave rise to a competitor league.

    Cumulative franchise value is probably a better indicator, and by that measure, MLS franchises that you couldn't give away as recently as 2001 are now worth a quarter billion or more. The league is a success at this point, and continued league growth seems assured. That does not mean the league is broadly popular--it isn't at this point, but they are growing, and they now have literally all the time in the world to figure out how to keep growing it.
     
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  25. italiancbr

    italiancbr Member

    Apr 15, 2007
    Let's rule out any facts that counter your viewpoint. The point is that expansion does not equal success. NASL was also considered to be doing very well, until the very end when it wasn't. MLS invites speculation by being so secretive about its finances. And when the Commissioner said that MLS is still in investment mode and lost $100 million as recently as 2015, the league needs to sell a perception of success by painting an overly optimistic future.

    There's no direct comparison in the United States to the promotion and relegation system that the rest of the world uses, but the high school and college models are more comparable than the minor league system in that they enhance the pro leagues rather than being viewed as inferior competition. If soccer leagues in Europe were closed, I think you'd see a huge dropoff in interest.

    Baseball at the collegiate or high school level has nowhere near the following of basketball and football. Baseball and hockey have extensive minor league systems which haven't been able to slow the decline of those sports. While comparing American sports leagues to world soccer is obviously like apples and oranges, my point is that the amateur system in the U.S. is the backbone of American sports leagues in the same way that lower divisions in other countries are the foundation of their top leagues. As an example, for most non-Italians the only interest they have in Italian soccer is for Serie A matches. But for Italians, there is plenty of interest at all levels, one's loyalty is to local clubs more so than the bigger clubs, and a big part of the passion for soccer is in seeing small provincial clubs have a chance at promotion. For example, the teams I'm most loyal to and follow are in Serie C and Eccellenza, which is lower than Serie D. The team in Serie C was once in Serie A, so I don't see these teams as inferior, only different. They have a pathway through the pyramid. But if someone were to ask me who my team is, I'd say Fiorentina in Serie A because that's all they'd know. Similarly, any foreigners who follow American sports probably only watch the pro leagues, but for Americans the popularity of sports like football and basketball are developed at the younger levels. Minor league systems that are closed, on the other hand, are viewed as inferior and not worthy of attention.

    My point is that individual sports need the Olympics much more than team sports. Certainly there are outliers like field hockey, but virtually every team sport in the Olympics has a version of their World Cup that has a larger following than the Olympic event. And even the most popular individual sports, like golf and tennis, don't draw much interest outside of the majors.

    I'm sure there are plenty of metrics that broadcast companies use when coming up with a valuation on each sport that they can compare. The dynamics that you mentioned are already accounted for since companies know what they're getting. In the case of MLS, that includes getting U.S. National Team games, which makes it more attractive and skews the actual value of the league. Individual sports also have long seasons with several events, like the majors in golf and tennis, that are much more popular than the rest of the tournaments. Just like the playoffs are more popular than the regular season in team sports. So the size of a TV deal is a good indicator of the value of a sport.

    Having an audience of 1.5M for an MLS Cup final in the U.S. doesn't strike me as amazing. What's remarkable is that a soccer league that's still losing money after 25 years, and lost $100M collectively as recently as three years ago, is still functioning.

    As you mentioned, MLS still only represents less than half the U.S. population. College sports are only popular in the U.S., but that is the way Americans identify with sports at the lower levels, in the same way that fans in other countries identify with lower division soccer clubs. That's why NCAA football thrives while any pro football league other than the NFL continues to fold. Or why NCAA basketball brings in money and the G League is ignored. Or why ESPN broadcasts Little League, the College World Series, and the Frozen Four, while Triple A baseball and AHL hockey have miniscule followings. Your example of following individuals from college to the pros is the exception, not the rule. Most people are die hard fans of local high schools and colleges, and continue to follow the sport at the professional level due to the grassroots support that became part of the culture. If the four major American sports operated in a bubble with only their professional leagues, they would have terrible TV ratings and be ignored in sports media just like MLS is.

    MLS by its own account lost $100M as recently as 2015. How is expanding during that time sustainable? If there was no expansion fee to be collected, would MLS still be expanding? If the answer is no, then there still is no justification to increase the number of clubs, unless it truly is a Ponzi scheme.
     

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