Major League Soccer in the United States has definitely seen a marked increase in status over the last few years.
With huge investments from major corporations, big soccer stars from Europe playing in the league in the later stages of their careers, and American players moving over to Europe becoming ambassadors for the sport, this rise in popularity is no surprise.
But there’s still a long way to go. Many more people still watch the big five European leagues: the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, the Italian Serie A, the Spanish Liga Primera and the French Ligue 1.
In fact, more people watch the English Championship (the English second division) than they do the MLS. That gives an idea of the mountain that needs to be climbed.
But is there any chance of the MLS catching up with these leagues in years to come? We think there could be. And that’s what we’re about to analyze.
When it comes to measuring the popularity of a soccer league, a good indicator is the amount of money spent on betting on it. The MLS doesn’t quite compete with the European big leagues just yet but it’s certainly on the way.
If you like the sound of betting on the MLS, there’s a wicked MLS betting guide at World Sports Network (WSN.com) you can check out. Stay tuned to find out if it can compete with the other leagues before you do that, though!
MLS viewing figures
MLS viewership is up. That’s a fact. But as we said before, there is a long road to travel. Let’s break it down with some numbers to get a better feel for how far off the pace the MLS is right now.
In the 2021 regular season (that is, before the playoffs), 31 MLS games received an average of 276,000 viewers. That’s not bad, and it’s up substantially from previous seasons. The season before, the average was 233,000. A jump of 43,000 viewers is pretty big!
Another interesting fact about MLS viewing figures is that in December 2021, it overtook NHL as the fourth most watched sports league in the states. That’s big! Hockey is, of course, considered one of the national sports, so for soccer to overtake it is certainly a talking point.
But how do these figures look when compared to the big leagues of Europe? In 2019/20, the average viewership for English Premier League games in the UK alone, just for matches shown on Sky Sports, was 1.9 million.
Considering that the population of the UK is just 70 million, compared to over 350 million in the US, this is pretty crazy.
And on top of that, more people in the US watch the EPL than they do the MLS! The average viewership for the most recent season was 414,000 on NBC. That’s a heck of a lot more than what the MLS is currently managing.
But why is this the case? What’s going on with the MLS that needs some work done to be as good as the likes of the EPL and the Bundesliga?
What does the MLS need to do to catch up with the rest?
It’s clear that not as many people are watching the MLS as they are the other big leagues around the world. The MLS has quite a lot of work to do in order to catch up with those guys.
But what does that work look like? For a start, the quality of soccer itself will need to improve. There’s a reason big European players such as Wayne Rooney and David Beckham only come to the US in the final stages of their career. They can definitely get better soccer elsewhere.
Their arrival is big, though. It brings the MLS a little closer to the middle of the radar. But ideally, we need to see more high-quality, homegrown American players. Christian Pulisic moving to Chelsea was a good start, but one world-class player is not going to cut it.
Money doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. Sure, the MLS isn’t seeing the same level of investment as other leagues but it’s not far off the pace.
So, in our opinion, the bottom line is that better soccer equals more fans. And when more fans come, viewership improves. After this happens, club budgets rise and better soccer players begin to join. It’s a good cycle!
Hopefully, it won’t be long before that happens.