Landon Donovan and David Beckham’s boys take on Real Salt Lake for the right to hoist the MLS Cup tonight. Do you care enough to tune in?
One of the domestic circuit’s most important franchises, the LA Galaxy need to bring home the title to validate the Beckham experiment — he’s heading back to AC Milan to maintain his fitness for a final World Cup run for England — and perhaps keep the door open to importing more big-name soccer brands to MLS.
Moreover, one can argue that a win by upstart Real Salt Lake FC would further undermine MLS’s cross-conference playoff system, given that the side finished below the .500 mark, with an 11-12-7 record.
Those considerations aside, MLS hopes to cap a season of improved ratings on both ESPN2 and Fox Soccer Channel, with a strong final.
Moving away from its primary Thursday night window, ESPN2 averaged 290,000 watchers for 25 matches this past season, up from 253,000 for 26 in 2008. For its part, FSC netted 61,000 viewers on average for its MLS Game of the Week coverage on Saturday nights, up from 51,000 the prior campaign. Progress, albeit it in small strides.
The league was further encouraged by ESPN2’s performance with the Western Conference Finals on Friday Nov. 13, which drew a 0.5 rating, 538,000 homes and 700,000 viewers for the Galaxy’s 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo. Galaxy-Dynamo was the most-watched telecast MLS telecast ever on ESPN2, surpassing the Aug. 23, 2007 contest between the Galaxy and Chivas USA, which drew 532,000 homes and 658,000 viewers.
The Nov. 13 contest on ESPN Deportes picked up another 73,000 Hispanic television homes and 121,000 Latino viewers, equating to a 1.6 Hispanic coverage rating.
No doubt, the numbers would have been far greater, save, perhaps for bad luck associated with the superstitious date — the lights went out at the Home Depot Center for an extended period. MLS commissioner Don Garber said the first half-hour of the match averaged a 1.4 rating, before play was interrupted, and didn’t finish until 3 a.m. on the East Coast.
Hopefully, there will be no such incidence on the Xbox pitch at Qwest Field in Seattle, home to the Sounders, one of MLS’s true success stories.
Unlike the last two MLS Cup Finals, the 2009 version won’t have to play footie against too much of this nation’s football. Coverage of the 2007 championship match kicked off at 12:30 p.m. (ET) on a Sunday against the NFL’s early window, while last year’s 3-1 win by the Columbus Crew over the New York Red Bulls bridged both Sunday afternoon NFL windows by starting at 3:30 p.m. The games earned 0.8 and 0.7 national ratings, respectively, on ABC.
This time, MLS ain’t counting on the Alphabet, but ESPN to deliver in primetime from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. As such, Galaxy-Real Salt Lake goes head-to-head against NBC’s Sunday Night Football, featuring the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. It’s an important, if not a truly, compelling NFC match between two big market teams.
Maybe, it will be a high-scoring contest. Maybe Becks or Donovan will deliver a match for the ages. Maybe, a hand of fate, a la Mssr. Henry, will leave an indelible, if illegal, lasting impression.
Maybe, the Nielsen light will shine brightly in primetime on MLS’s galaxy.