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On TV Ratings, Soccer, Interpersonal Relationships, Tiki Gods, Or That Time I Lost My Mind

"So pretty, now write 2,000 more words about soccer cleats." said the Tiki god.
"So pretty, now write 2,000 more words about soccer cleats." said the Tiki god.

This one is going to be long and informal and personal and lose with grammar. So you might want to take a seat, put your feet up with a Mai Tai. Oh that's the other thing, I'm god I have a Tiki statue in my room now and I can't stop looking at it. I'm pretty sure it's going to start telling me to do things.


Good now, no I'm not going to write about my love of Landon Donovan. I am an objective soccer writer person and I need to have an objective view of Landon Donovan that is full of objectivity.

No, I'm going to write about another topic near and dear to my heart; TV ratings. I love TV ratings because they are bandied about like ping pong balls, and yet they are often misunderstood. Unlike soccer statistics, saying House pulled a x.x rating is the same thing Fox's sponsors are going to be talking about. I highly doubt Bruce Arena has ever raked a player over the coals over their shots on goal, despite those statistics being good for forming stories.

The other reason I don't like soccer statistics, while we're on the topic, is that I didn't grow up with them. While I played some soccer as a youth and have made efforts to be a skilled soccer adult, in the middle there I was mostly reading books and trying to overachieve in school. When I did go to sporting events, my dad took me to Laker games and the odd Kings game at the Forum, but mostly it was to Dodger games.

Baseball has a whole set of statistics I can't understand like xFip and WAR, but the base statistics of batting average and ERA are something any child learning math can compute. Which is why most SABERmaticians ignore them but that's another article and or book and it was already written and turned into a movie starring Brad Pitt.

My point is, statistics like team nicknames are an invention of writers. In America we make nicknames official because Americans are all about branding (and given the fact that you can buy Coke in China, more power to America) but mostly they're just shorthand for writers covering a specific beat. Los Angeles Soccer Club One is nowhere near as snazzy as the Galaxy.

Likewise, it was sportswriters who needed to quantify how frequently a batter got a hit or how many runs a pitcher is likely to surrender. It's sportswriters who need to be able to say how frequently an attempt on goal result in a goal. However, an athlete is probably fine with "man I haven't made one in awhile"

Which is all to say that TV numbers are neat because we're seeing the same thing show runners and advertisers are seeing. While a baseball player with a low batting average might be kept around because managers like his defensive ability, it's almost scientific that shows with low ratings won't be on TV very long.

Except when it comes to sports ratings. Now I've talked in the past about how DVRs have made things that must be watched live more valuable. Sports and competition shows ensure an audience who make an appointment of being in front of the television at a certain time to watch an event that loses attractiveness if you already know the conclusion.

So here's something we know. The UEFA Champions League final was last Saturday, and Fox Soccer has been sending around press releases touting it as the second most watched ever. It averaged a 1.1 rating on a Saturday afternoon. Fox Sports is ecstatic. American Soccer Fan(tm) is worried.

Now, given that Saturday nights are an epic wasteland in television programming, TV By the Numbers doesn't even bother to post the Saturday cable overnights, but we can look at a Sunday. That was Survival Sunday where MLS had the benefit of the Manchester City lead in. That Man City match did an 0.5, but was nowhere close to the only match available to watch.

Notice, however, that a 1.0 rating on that Sunday would have been astounding. The shows that do well in the wasteland that is weekend programming, are shows with fan bases. Either live sporting event fan bases, or comic con fan bases.

The lament often heard is that soccer ratings aren't improving. Big events will clock in around a 1 rating, everything else will do somewhere between a .7 and a .3. First off, that puts soccer in the same category as just about everything else on weekend television save playoff sports.

Secondly, one of the comparisons floating around is that a recent MLS on NBC Sports match was one of the lowest rated programs in a 24 hour period on the network and that included bass fishing reruns. The thing to note is that cable is a world of niches. It's only reason to explain why I watched the entire first season of The Killing. I watched The Killing, because AMC sold me Mad Men and Breaking Bad so I trust them with damn good drama.

NBC Sports is twice rebranded but each time they rebranded they kept the original programming which was outdoor sports shows. This means that the people who heard an outdoor sports channel was launching all those years ago and cheered can still see their hunting and fishing programming. When Versus launched, it took a lot of promotion to get the word out it was the place to see NHL hockey. It's going to take a lot of promotion to get the word out that there is soccer on NBC Sports now.

Which by the way, is not universally in basic cable packages. It is more-so than Fox Soccer, but not nearly on the level of ESPN. I know many LA hockey fans who couldn't watch the Kings win the Western Conference cause they simply didn't have the channel.

But Josie, HBO is a premium channel and Game of Thrones is the most watched non-sports thing on weekend TV. Yes, imaginary contrarian me, but if you are shelling out $30 a month for premium channels, you're probably going to watch them.

Let's look at it another way, if Warner Brothers rebranded Comedy Central as also featuring dramedies, they wouldn't lose their audience looking for stand up comedy. It would take them a while to gain viewers looking for Gilmore Girls. Likewise, Logo recently started airing Buffy episodes, but despite the existence of gay witches on that show, you're still hoping for crossover viewers for a horror dramedy on the channel which has RuPaul's Drag Race.

The average sports fan, or bar or whatever, will put ESPN on in the background knowing 90% of the time it's Sportscenter showing random highlights. However, if they tune in to find live sports programming and it's not a sport they like, they will complain. As seen by all the complaints on twitter about the afternoon Man City-Man Utd match who wanted to see the 10 am Sportscenter repeated one more time.

If you are still with me, my point is that soccer's audience is soccer's audience. It exists outside of television, off the computer, in the real world. That's the audience that needs to grow and every sign points to that being a thing that is happening. Given that MLS is a sport contractually obligated to be on TV and not a new sitcom that can be pulled off the air, obsessing over overnights really isn't productive. Mostly, it just makes soccer fans look neurotic.

You want to do something about MLS' ratings? Go coach an AYSO squad. Tell your kids about all the great American soccer they can see. Or show them. Ask your friends who used to play soccer if they'd be interested in forming a pub league team.

Go around your office with a Euro Cup pool. The possibility of winning $100 will surely get a few non believers to tune into a match or two. And if they like it, they might ask to come with you next time you go to an MLS match.

In other words, it's about people and conversation, not about numbers and worrying. So go meet some people, and have some conversations.