Wednesday, August 15, 2007

ESPN Overdoing Promotion of MLS?

Any sports fan with a pulse over the last few weeks is aware of the ESPN hype machine orgasm over David Beckham's MLS arrival. Of course, if Becks had been playing more (or at all) during his ESPN-televised games, the ubiquitous "Beckham-cam" would have been much less annoying.

While soccer-bashers out there continue to do their thing, Jason Chung of "The Situationalist" wonders if ESPN's behavior can "save" Major League Soccer. The notion that MLS needs "saving" is, of course, debatable, with the new ownership groups (and more on the way), new stadiums (ditto), new sponsors, and new television contracts in place all before Goldenballs' arrival.

Chung's piece delves into the idea that the ESPN family of products; print, radio, broadband, mobile, and of course, television, is spending more time on MLS that the league's ratings warrant. Much has been made in the sports business press about the "decline" of the National Hockey League coinciding with the NHL's contract with the Versus network, severely shrinking the viewing audience for its games (The lockout had an impact as well, no?).

This past season was Arena Football's first on ESPN, and the network did its best to promote the AFL on SportsCenter, on its' "Bottom Line" sports ticker, on ESPNNews, and other places. Now I'm ignorant to how the AFL did ratings-wise, but I'm guessing the league drew similar ratings to MLS.

And it's those MLS ratings that are the crux of Chang's issue. Noting the league's microscopic 0.2 average rating on ESPN2 (LA-Chelsea did a 1.0), how long will ESPN put its' energy into promoting MLS? If the larger soccer-loving public continues to thumb its nose at the league (case in point: NYRB attendance) in favor of the top leagues of Europe, how long, despite the massive investment, will MLS sponsors and television networks support it? With Beckham's arrival a watershed moment for the league, how long does MLS have to show real growth in the form of increased attendances and television ratings?

Here's the link to Chung's piece. Enjoy.

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