Soccer on TV

MLS Primetime Thursday is gone: Good news or bad?


If the weekly ESPN broadcast of MLS Primetime Thursday was a regular part of your viewing schedule two things are clear. You are in a very small minority, and you will need to find something else to watch on Thursday nights (at least on some occasions).

The Sports Business Journal reported today that ESPN has scrapped MLS Primetime Thursday, opting instead to continue a weekly airing of MLS matches on a variety of days ranging from Wednesday to Saturday.

ESPN will still air MLS matches every week, but now only 10 out of 27 weeks will feature Thursday night matches, with matches now being shown on Saturday (eight matches), Wednesday (six matches) and Friday (three matches).

What's my take? As disappointing as it is to hear that numbers weren't great for the Primetime Thursday series, should we really be surprised? Thursday night is the toughest night on television, with several of TVs heavy hitters airing on network television. Having matches on different nights should allow us to get a better sense of what kind of audience is actually out there for MLS, and which night might wind up working better.

What do you think of this development? Glad to see Primetime MLS moving around or did you prefer the Thursday slot every week?

Share your thoughts below.

  • doug

    hmmm the office or kc v rsl 30 rock or col/la, csi or chivas v fire

    put games on tuesday. tuesday is the worst nite of TV except for scrubs


  • aristotle

    Big surprise!

    Someone needs to conduct an undercover investigation to try and find out whether ESPN is deliberately trying to sabotage soccer. I honestly believe that the only reason ESPN is involved with soccer is to help destroy it.

    Right from the beginning the ESPN crew has openly hated and trashed soccer, so when they started acting like they were trying to support it at the same time that they were trashing it, I never believed it for a moment. I believe the only reason they have “supported” it is so they can make it seem like they boosted it so that they could eventually say that even with their great “support” nobody likes soccer. As crazy as this may sound, it’s even crazier to believe that a network allows it’s network to constantly bash soccer while they were supposedly trying to promote it and make a profit from it. Besides, their “promotion” has been awful. They promote and present refrigerator racing in a much more professional and entertaining way than they do soccer. I think the hatred of soccer goes very high up in ESPN and I think they are even willing to lose money and stage phony promotion to try and keep it from breaking into mainstream American sports.

    People will say I’m crazy, but something really stinks about ESPN’s “promotion” of soccer.


  • Justin O

    Aristotle – Your not crazy, just competely and utterly irrational. This has nothing to do with soccer as a sport, and everything to do with MLS as a league. It has been clearly shown, and ESPN knows, that Americans will watch soccer on TV. MLS is simply not among the types of soccer that many people will watch on TV.

    To me this is absolutely bad news. MLS ratings are so bad that ESPN is trying to limit the damage of showing MLS matches by putting them on timeslots that get lousy ratings regardless, thereby preventing MLS from damaging a valuable night such as Thursday.

    This isn’t about finding a night that will work, it’s about limiting the losses associated with broadcasting MLS.


  • JDubs

    This is a shame. I made it a point to watch every Thursday, and now with Seattle getting a team, I (and thousands more) was (were) going to pay even more attention to the league. Guess I was one of too few. Shame on ESPN. Sign an exclusive contract with FSN and get national and regional coverage already.


  • aristotle

    Justin O:

    I couldn’t disagree with you more on it having nothing to do with soccer as a sport. It has a LOT to do with soccer as a sport. Yes, I’ll grant you that MLS is still in the stage of just being for die hard fans who want to support and keep the league alive until it can thrive and do better, but there is a stigma attached to soccer that holds it back greatly. People are actually afraid to admit they want to watch soccer. Some fans hide the fact that they are fans until around the appropriate people. I myself was extremely close to being in a fist fight at work years ago because I a guy got in my face and told me I shouldn’t support soccer! Go to a regular bar, even in a restaurant, and see if you would dare ask that they turn on a soccer game. That’s NOT about MLS. They wouldn’t care what kind of soccer you put on. ESPN has been a major leader in making it “uncool” or “effeminate” to like soccer. Then there’s the “psychotic” soccer fans angle who supposedly riot at every game. MLS is probably the most peaceful and violence free league in the world so they’re not talking about MLS. It’s all lies or absurdly exaggerated and is never reported on much when it happens in American sports, but it is quite clear that it is about the sport itself.

    I also think you may be blaming too much of the problem on MLS regarding what you are talking about. In addition to the sport itself, presentation is a HUGE part of any sport. Let’s take a sport like football, basketball, or baseball, and present it in a very boring fashion. We’ll use announcers who are clueless about the sport, boring, and who spend half the broadcast talking about something other than the sport they are announcing. Let’s make the cameramen terrible so you miss a lot of the best moments or at least spoil them to some extent. Then let’s have the sports played in over sized stadiums with soccer markings on the field. Let’s see how quickly football, baseball, and basketball decline then. (Not to mention lets have cool sports types on ESPN make fun of those sports.)

    I agree that MLS plays a part in some problems, but no league can start out and survive against already established juggernaut sports without a major struggle for a long time.

    Bottom line: You don’t seem to lay ANY of the blame at the feet of ESPN which seems pretty odd to me. The Thursday thing was NEVER going to work. It was always going to make MLS and soccer look bad. I think that was it’s major appeal to ESPN. MLS needs desperately to get away from ESPN, but I don’t think they have too many options right now.


  • Experience Dogood

    I’m sorry to learn the ratings were poor. I know MLS was hoping to make Thursday night primetime a mainstay, similar to the NFL’s Monday night football.

    I did watch Thursday night primetime most weeks. Not because it was convenient, but rather because I wanted to watch soccer and support the product. I’m glad they’re switching to a more flexible tv schedule. If the ratings were that bad, no reason to try and make it work. Besides, does it really matter that much with TIVO and DVR? I watch at least half of MLS games on my DVR. I only hope that still adds to the tv ratings!



  • me

    wdf i waited every week for thatf@^#in show the way it was filmed was so great an the way it should be.


  • Daniel F.

    I think they should have ESPN 2 games on every Friday Night. Starts the weekend, then the Saturday Games, then the Telefutura Sunday game.

    You will see better coverage and the soccer fan will watch so the NBA fan won’t have a problem on their Friday Night games on regular ESPN.


  • Brett

    I would like a stipulation that no games will be shown on TV that have the American Football lines painted on the field. It makes watching the game unbearable even for a supporter. In person it probably makes little difference but on TV the difference is huge.


  • Justin O

    Aristotle – If the people in the US who already watch soccer all watched MLS, there would be no problem whatsoever with ratings. Those people already love the sport, and aren’t staying away because ESPN tells them soccer isn’t cool. They just have no interest in MLS as a league. EPL, MFL, World Cup, Euro Championship, sure. MLS? Not so much.

    I really can’t buy into the vast conspiracy argument and can no more respond to it than I can respond to the claims made by the militia guys holed up waiting for the black helicopters to come. You’re clearly letting the personal experience outlined in your first paragraph cloud your judgement. Sure, the lack of interest in soccer on the part of many at ESPN doesn’t help, but you’ve taken that to a paranoid extreme.


  • Lot 8


    I watched probably every game on thursday in the past 2 years. I like the idea of the entire format of Primetime Thursday. Now its going to be squeeze in an MLS game when the WNBA doesn’t go into overtime. Damnit ESPN.


  • aristotle

    Justin O:

    You’re being a little insulting, to say the least. You say “You’re clearly letting the personal experience outlined in your first paragraph cloud your judgement.” That makes no sense whatsoever. I just mentioned that as an example of how extreme people can be when it comes to soccer in America. Remove that experience and it changes absolutely nothing. I have a lifetime of American anti-soccer experiences. Do you live in a cave, or is it that you’re a Eurosnob? Soccer in America is what it is, and it’s ridiculously unpopular with the vast majority of non soccer fans. There is absolutely nothing conspiratorial in that regard. Now if you’re just talking about ESPN I could understand a little bit of what you’re saying, but even then it hardly seems that much of a stretch given ESPN’s strong anti-soccer sentiment. We have newspapers willfully losing money because they want to support an ideology more than they want to just report the news and improve their circulation. Is that another conspiracy?

    I think you’re a little off in your talk about “all of the people who watch soccer” angle. What you say is true but most of these people you are describing are transplants of one kind or another. They don’t have any loyalty to America and it’s league because they don’t care that much about America period. We’ve got people here from all over the world and they can watch the soccer from wherever they came from thanks to satellite and cable. They also probably have family and friends they can relate to from those countries about their particular soccer. If you’re an American who wants an American league you may have some interest in watching other leagues from around the world but your heart and your focus is on American soccer. If an American league can’t draw major support from Americans without foreign connections to overseas leagues then MLS will NOT survive. I’ll watch EPL and other world soccer, but I am going to support MLS first and foremost until it succeeds. I’m not going to keep stating how inferior it is compared to other leagues and stop watching it because other world leagues are better. People act like sports leagues were just created and instantly successful. The mighty NFL struggled when it started and it didn’t face anywhere near the competition MLS faces. I guess it’s a good thing there were no superior overseas leagues at the time they started.

    Thursday night soccer was an ill conceived idea, and I think ESPN knew that. MLS struggles to draw support during the week especially, and when you throw in the cheesy broadcasts and games with football lines and empty stadiums, it was just a matter of time. Watching those games you could quite often hear individual fans in the crowd because there were so few fans. You can have the final word if you want.


  • JWM

    Whether or not the ESPN chief is a soccer fan, you would never know it from their broadcasts. Wynalda was the only anchor they ever had who was both knowledgeable and entertaining. They continue to air games with a focus on the casual fan as if it were 1999. The production value needs to be much, much better.


  • STX81

    I never felt that the production values were never up to ESPN’s standards. At least I won’t have to suffer through another Thursday night of commentators vomiting all over themselves calling any half decent play, ‘world class!’


  • Erik

    I’m relieved. Thursday night games were lame. had to fight for the big T.V. with my wife and daughter, i.e. me, soccer, them Grey’s Anatomy. Personally, I’m happy that ESPN is spreading the games out over Wed, Thurs, Fri, & Sat. I still think Sunday night games would be the way to go during the summer.


  • Strider

    I hope this will be an improvement. While it was nice to know that there was always a game on Thurs p.m., some of the matches were not the best for that week, to put it mildly. I hope this will allow ESPN to show the best matches each week. Although I saw almost every Thurs. match, sometimes a bit later that evening, I am good with moving the day matches are shown. It would be even better if they were willing to show MORE than 1 match per week. Even if some of them were not live. I hope it will also allow MLS to put a better foot forward as far as attendance is concerned. Those empty stadia sure look bad at times.


  • brett

    i feel ESPN need to take a larger role in promoting the MLS if they want better ratings..

    they never show highlights of the weeks games during sportscenter… but what do you expect when the announcers know little to nothing about it…perhaps they could have a 3-5 min spot during sportscenter where they have someone who knows the sport run through the highlights… that still leaves plenty of time for gossip about baseball and steroids, football and T.O., and which Pacer’s player is being arrested today (which is funny as im from indy :D )…

    Thursday worked fine for me, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia comes on at 10pm ET, but i can always watch those online…

    my question is, are they having multiple games a week or simply still 1 game a week but it can range from wed thru sunday…


  • American Dust

    I have hope that things have changed at ESPN. I wish the thursday game was left alone, but we’ll see. But I was soooo pissed at them the night I missed the first 10 minutes of a game because the WNBA went to overtime.


  • Kartik

    This may stun people, but the hand writing was on the wall months ago. ESPN reported in October than ESPN2’s ratings for MLS in 2008 were lower than ESPN/ESPN2s ratings for MLS in 1998. I think two factors were at play:

    – Thursday night with competition from network TV and college football.

    – Increased competition for MLS on TV by European and Latin Football. In 1998, only the Mexican league was readily accessible as live competition for MLS. (I’m not talking about head to head competition but simply competition for football fans viewing). Now in 2008 we have EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, etc, etc on at various times on various days making MLS less unique and less attractive.

    Look it up. MLS averaged more viewers on ESPN in 1998 than 2008.

    This actually may be a blessing in disguise as now MLS can hone its product on less competitive night and evaluate what works best on TV.


  • Frank

    I just couldn’t stay up to watch the games. I’d like to see more games from the West Coast but can’t wait around for a 10:30pm ET kick off. Hopefully, with some of the games on the weekend I’ll be able to watch more games. And no, I have no interest in watching a taped game, I’d rather watch a highlight show.


  • Pete

    Well this change doesn’t make too much of a difference for me, except for the fact I can Watch the Office without missing The Fire or MLS action. Also I think It would be nice if MLS aired at least twice a week on ESPN, but that won’t happen until the ratings are better. Now that would be awesome if There was a ESPN Soccer channel but that we can only dream of right now.


  • WeatherManNX01

    Am I disappointed? Yes. Thursday night was my night to sit down and watch and MLS match (and there was nothing else on anyway). It was a weekly routine for me.

    It is a bad thing? Well…sorta. As if the ever-changing weekly start time for the Thursday games wasn’t bad enough (is next week’s match at 7, 8, 8:30, 9…are we even going to see the first half when the WNBA goes into overtime?), finding the day of the week is going to be a real chore. The hardcore fans are going to have the listing taped onto the TV or next to the remote, but the casual fan has no way of finding it…unless ESPN actually starts promoting the games on TV (they actually had some decent promotion on ESPN Radio). But for the teams, it was win-lose. Yes, you’re on national TV. But then you’re on Thursday nights, and attendance for weeknight games is notably poor.

    My only thing (and I already mentioned this briefly), is that I hope there’s enough of a buffer between the lead-in programming and MLS. I always hated it when the WNBA or whatever would go into overtime and wipe out the first half of an MLS match (something that happened several times over the last two years).

    Finally, ESPN just needs to get a little more involved in getting an audience. The league and ESPN launched that “Football. Futbol. Soccer” campaign early last season, and I saw the ads for all of like three weeks. And always during the matches (when…duh…your hardcore fans are already watching). Open it up a little. And you’ve gotta find someone somewhere who will talk soccer elsewhere on the network. Mike and Mike, Colin Cowherd, ATH, PTI…no one else talks soccer. Talk it up, and you may just get more viewers.


  • papa bear

    while it sucks that there is no longer a ‘branded’ show for MLS on ESPN, it’s GREAT that on Saturdays and Sundays, they will conceivably be able to change which game they broadcast depending on how the seasons are going. Allowing for that in the NFL has helped their ratings immeasurably.

    There were a few games that looked great on the pre-season sked last year that ended up being real duds on Thursday night due to any number of factors that made 1 or both teams suck that year.


  • mitch

    well if I think about it, I don’t even watch MLS, sometimes I feel I can even play with those guys and be better


  • Ron


    If you don’t watch MLS, how do you know you can “play with those guys and be better”?


  • sugarfreeredbull

    ESPN is bidding on the rights to broadcast Premier League matches beginning in 2010. Word is they will rename ESPN Classic ESPN 3 and that channel will be a dedicated soccer channel broadcast in the U.S. and Europe. MLS is definitely part of this larger plan for the network.


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