Nielsen sheds some light on MLS and sports in general

One of the highlights of the MLS off-season is the annual year in sports report from Nielsen, you know the TV ratings people.  Well they do more than just TV ratings, they also look at other factors and information and put together reports about various things including sports.

I am often a fairly harsh critic of MLS, not because I dislike the league but because I truly believe that is can be a major player in both the US sports scene as well as in worldwide soccer.  Neither of those things will come easily as some of the numbers from this years Nielsen report shows, we know the reality that the SuperBowl gets over 100 million people to watch it on TV, the NFL gets a huge amount of money for their TV rights.  MLS Cup struggles to get 1 million people and while the new MLS TV contract is rumored to be a huge jump from the current numbers, rumors say $70-75 million per year is what the new deal will provide.

So let’s take a look at some of the numbers, perhaps nothing gives us a better view of where MLS is than looking at the demographics of who watches MLS on TV:

Nielsen Demo


There are a couple things that really with 32% of MLS viewers being female being tops, that puts MLS ahead of both the NBA and MLB, tied with the NHL and trailing the NFL which has 35% of their audience being female. Surprisingly NASCAR has 37% female viewers. The next was 14% number of those under 18, which compares with 9% for the NFL and NHL, 13% for the NBA, 7% for MLB, and 5% for NASCAR.

MLS’s TV viewership is also very racially diverse with 42% being either black or hispanic, the NBA actually has more black or hispanic fans than white fans by 57% to 40%, the NFL comes in with 23%, MLB has just 18% and the NHL has 5% and NASCAR has just 4%. As racial diversity continues to increase in the US, MLS is positioned well to reach all groups of fans.

The last data I have from MLS on demographics is from 2009, which included both TV and those who attended live matches, there are a couple of things that interesting:

In the 2009 data MLS fans were 65% male, 35% female, so we have seen a slight dip in female fans, black and hispanic fans made up 39% of the fans in 2009 but have grown to be 42% now. The data in 2009 didn’t measure under 18 fans, but then 64% of fans were 18 to 44, with just 13% being over 60, in 2013 27% were over 55 and 60% were between 18 to 54.  Perhaps the biggest difference is in income, in the 2009 data 42% of MLS fans reported making more than $75K a year, that is down to 38%, and in 2009 just 7% made less than $20K, that number is up to 17% now.

The 2009 data went a bit further to look at STH’s (season ticket holders), where there are some very huge differences: 81% male to 19% female, just 10% black and hispanic with 85% being white, 54% reported making over $100K a year, and 14% reported making under $50K a year.  I would love to see more recent data to see how the STH’s look now.


Nielsen provided a great summary of MLS fans when it came to technology:

Over the past year, a young, mobile, and tech savvy audience has
embraced MLS in the U.S. Consider this: 52 percent of MLS fans who have
expressed strong interest in attending live events and viewing games on
TV are ages 18-34, the highest percentage of any pro league. Additionally,
MLS fans are far more likely to be smartphone owners, with 76 percent of
MLS fans owning a smartphone (Android & iOS) compared to 66 percent
of the general U.S. population. And 42 percent of MLS fans have viewed
mobile video in the past 30 days, compared to 21 percent nationally.

Year in Sports Media Report 2013

There was more information that just the TV viewing demographics, as the quote above stated the MLS fans are far more techie than the general population, especially when it comes to the 42% that have viewed mobile video.  This is double the general public and speaks to the potential cord cutting among those who are early adopters of mobile video, and one of the reasons why the rumored 8 year length of the pending MLS TV deals scares me a bit.

MLS hasn’t exactly been on the cutting edge when it comes to technology but they have made great progress in the last couple of years, far from the days of Don Garber saying Facebook won’t last because of a lack of revenue stream and Twitter is interesting if “they” meaning MLS could figure out how to monetize it.  The four years since the 2009 MLS Cup have been really good for both Facebook and twitter, both had multi billion dollar IPOs and created a lot more millionaires than MLS has.

It is really interesting that MLS fans are 28% more likely than the average adult to spend 3 or more hours on social networking sites per day, yes that means facebook and twitter, along with instagram and others.  I have a theory on that, it is the insatiable desire for information of the soccer fan, and the lack of transparency of MLS.  Far too often fans have to turn to various sources online to get information and I would say this is a huge area that MLS could turn to their advantage with a bit more upfront and honest conversations.  Social is a world where things move at a mile a minute, trying to delay them to fit your calendar is pointless and will only make you look like you are hiding something.  So while you may want the photo op of a big press event, understand that communicating directly with your fans first won’t hurt those, but only drive more attention to them.  I turn to this fact from Nielsen to reinforce the point:

In 2013, sports events accounted for only 1.2 percent of all TV programming, yet
conversation about sports made up nearly half of all Tweets about TV (49.7%),
an increase of 7 percent from 2012.

Perhaps nothing in the Nielsen report caused more of an uproar than did their ranking of the top 5 MLS local fan bases.  Now understand they came up with their number in a very specific way, the percentage of the local population that either watched, attended or listened to the team in the last 12 months.  Some may disagree with that measurement, but I would ask what would you replace it with?  Anyhow here are those top 5:

Nielsen Fanbase


I am trying to source the rest of the list from Nielsen, and will post it if I am able to.

Finally, for those who asked about the demographic data for the other major sports, here you go:

Non MLS Demos


I hope you enjoyed this look at some of the numbers about MLS fans.

That’s How I See It


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *