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NBC Sports Network continues growth, ESPN drops sharply

NBC Sports posted it's best quarter ever in the Spring, while ESPN was down significantly year to year. The NBC growth could pay off for MLS when contracts are renegotiated.


The facts are these: NBC Sports Network posted it's most-watched primetime quarter ever in Q2 (619,000 viewers), while ESPN viewership dropped sharply (32%) year to year (1,348,000 viewers in 2013). Soccer was not the driving factor in either network's growth. For NBC Sports the NHL playoffs are the tentpole in the second quarter (April-June) and for ESPN it's the NBA playoffs. Unfortunately for ESPN it's playoff coverage was down 36% from last year, while the NHL playoffs were up year to year.

In the second quarter, NBC Sports was the second most watched cable sports network in primetime, trailing only ESPN. In previous years the gap between ESPN and NBC Sports was quite large, but ESPN's drop has the gap narrowed significantly.

ESPN also saw a drop in total day viewership, down 20% and the lowest mark ESPN has posted since 2007 (715,000). ESPN2 is ahead of NBC Sports on total day viewership, but NBC Sports continues to grow while ESPN2 is on a sharp decline. NBC Sports actually had the biggest jump year to year, and had it's biggest non-Olympic quarter ever.

Fox Soccer, without MLS and with the EPL season wrapping up in May equaled it's best total in five years for total day, a measly 31,000. It's primetime numbers were the worst amongst cable sports networks which subscribe to Nielson ratings.

The most relevant point in all these numbers, from an MLS perspective, is that jumping from Fox Soccer to NBC Sports was a significant step in the right direction. The continued growth of NBC Sports means the renewal of the contract will likely be much greater than the $10 million it's worth now so long as the ratings numbers continue to improve.

It's also worth noting, as seen in this deadspin article tweeted out by Matthew Doyle, that Goldman Sachs downgraded Disney stock recently and the report stated ESPN as a huge reason. ESPN accounts for 45% of Disney's operating income and is the company's largest asset. However, there is concern Fox Sports One could go after ESPN's NBA contract (that's going to be a huge fight in two years, although NBC is likely out due to the NHL contract). There's also concern with the rising costs of sports costs, with contracts increasing in value every year.

Again from the MLS perspective, Fox Sports One means bidding for national contracts should be more competitive after the 2014 season when all three contracts are set to expire. MLS' best ratings continue to be on ESPN, so I don't expect that to go anywhere.