While Major League Soccer has struggled this season, the USA Men’s National Team has been a strong draw on ESPN.
ESPN has averaged an 0.8 U.S. rating and 1.3 million viewers for eight USA World Cup qualifiers this year, up 60% in ratings and 72% in viewership from comparable matches leading up to the 2010 World Cup (0.5, 758K).
The network’s three most-viewed World Cup qualifiers have aired this year alone, with the most recent match — USA/Mexico on September 10 — ranking second (1.4, 2.2M).
Keep in mind those World Cup qualifiers have also aired on Spanish-language networks. For the two USA/Mexico matches this year, the Spanish-language audience has dramatically increased the total viewership — the March 26 match earned almost 7.0 million viewers across ESPN and UniMas, while the aforementioned September 10 match earned a combined 5.8 million.
By contrast, Major League Soccer has been far less of a draw. ESPN and ESPN2 have averaged 220,000 viewers for 17 matches this year, according to Sports Business Journal, down 31% from 317,000 for 18 matches last year. MLS viewership has also declined 13% on the NBC Sports Network.
Of note, U.S. Men’s National Team matches and Major League Soccer are part of the same television package. Sports Business Journal reported this week that negotiations have already begun with incumbent rights partners ESPN, NBC Sports, and Univision.