"The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television."
If you don't recognize the quote, it's from the 1983 cinematic classic "Videodrome" which examines the power of television as a medium to shape culture. It's ok if you've never seen it. Most people haven't, probably because it's never on television.
While the age of on-demand streaming may be stealing away television's importance, in the world of sports, television is still king, and for a growing league like MLS, television is just about everything.
For MLS, television not only accounts for a large chunk of yearly revenue, but also represents the main avenue of growth. For all the stock we put into attendance numbers, it pales in comparison to how many viewers are watching at home and how many potential viewers are yet to be won.
Given the importance of TV numbers, there is reason to be hopeful regarding the growth of MLS.
Here are the numbers for last Sunday's round of play-off games.
Sunday MLS playoffs: ESPN: Columbus/Montreal: 259K NY Red Bulls/DC United: 242K FS1: Whitecaps/Timbers: 221K Dallas/Sounders: 339K— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) November 10, 2015
The numbers are consistent with numbers that we've seen as whole throughout the year.
ESPN MLS broadcasts averaged 249,000 viewers, which is up 4 percent from last year. The league's efforts to make Unimas broadcasts accessible to more viewers also seems to have pay off, as Unimas numbers up 3% to 224,000 viewers. The biggest growth, however, came from Fox.
When NBC lost MLS broadcasting rights to Fox, there was a great deal of whining and complaining on twitter, because, for whatever reason (read English accents), people seemed to really dig NBC sports' presentation. People really and truly believed that the notoriously low production quality of the now defunct Fox Soccer Channel would make its return. Fox, however, disappointed the complainers by completely blowing NBC's coverage out of the water.
Fox clearly put a lot of time and resources into nailing their MLS coverage, and this, combined with Fox Sports 1's greater audience reach, landed them an average viewership of 197,000, which beat NBCSN's average in 2014 by a whopping 40%.
While the numbers are encouraging, it's still good to keep reality in perspective. In 2013, Univision had an average audience of 991,000 for their Liga MX coverage, and NBC delivered an average audience of 725,000 for their EPL coverage that same year.
When you consider the size of those combined soccer watching markets in this country, MLS is still doing a dismal job when it comes to getting soccer watchers in this country to give a damn about the soccer that is going on in their own backyard.