The numbers are in, and they aren't nearly as high as most of us had hoped. NBC Sports Network's MLS debut drew a reported audience of just 82,000 viewers. For all the time and energy put into promoting that game, you'd like to think more people would want to watch soccer on a Sunday afternoon. Turns out, not so much if it's a match between FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls, which illustrates how regional MLS fan bases really are.
MLS (NY/DAL) on NBCS Sun=82k viewers. 9 hunting/fishing telecasts on channel that day had larger audience.— TVSportsratings (@tvsportsratings) March 13, 2012
It is worth noting, as Grant Wahl did, that these paltry numbers still represent a 21 percent increase over the audience Fox Soccer drew for an average game. Of course, the national appeal of the teams aside, this was no average game. The hope, at least from a league-wide perspective, was that the promos and hype would convince more people to give the game a shot.
Those numbers aside, there was a lot to feel good about from the MLS broadcast side. For starters, the game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact drew about 500,000 viewers in Canada, 200,000 of which were in French-speaking Quebec alone.
The actual on-air product was also massively improved from a year ago. The announcing team of Arlo White and Kyle Martino were absolutely fantastic, even if the broadcast could have used a few more spots to breathe. End-to-end commentary aside, it was at least refreshing that nearly every word that came out of White and Martino's mouth had relevance and was to make a point. There was no idle banter, the kind of which pollutes so many sports broadcasts.
Surely, those that did watch will be back for more. I have no doubt NBC is in this for the long haul, and while this was a bit of a gut punch, it really should get better.