With the MLS regular season in the books and playoffs about to gear up, the league finished play on a high note with upticks throughout its traditional markers ranging from attendance to viewership to access. Yesterday’s Decision Day clinched postseason spots for the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, with the Red Bulls and NYCFC clinching the top two seeds and a Knockout Round Bye in the Eastern Conference. Other contests will see Toronto FC/Philadelphia Union and DC United/Montreal Impact. In the Western Conference, FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids nabbed byes, while the LA Galaxy/Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders/Sporting Kansas City square off.
With the league looking for uptick trends in the postseason, Cynopsis Sports asked MLS CMO Howard Handler about the 2016 season and how the sport continues to draw eyeballs.
On 2016 goals: Our focus is on growing our fan base and 2016 continues to be a record-setting year across the board. The 21stregular season is in the books and now everybody is amped up for the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, which kick off on Wednesday night with the Knockout Round. The playoff race in both the Eastern and Western conferences came down to yesterday’s #DecisionDay, where we had all 20 Clubs kicked off at 4pm ET. It was another great day for the sport.
On growth: We had another breakout season with our media partners. We saw more games on higher-rated networks. 29 regular season matches on ESPN1, an increase from nine in 2015. FOX aired five matches on the main FOX network, a record number. Univision committed to airing all matches on over-the-air television. There were many expanded broadcast windows and pregame shows. We also had our highest rated MLS broadcast since 2004. Internationally, MLS is now available in 170 countries and territories around the world. All in all, we saw gross viewership numbers increase across all networks.
On attendance: The League works closely with all of our Clubs to share best practices, provide extra promotional resources and make sure everybody is firing on all cylinders during what is a long season. We broke another all-time attendance record. That’s 40% higher than the League’s average attendance 10 years ago. MLS now ranks 6th in average attendance for global soccer leagues, ahead of Serie A and Ligue 1.
On the playoffs: Our theme heading into the playoffs revolved around the “Red Line” underscoring all the stakes involved, trying to stay or get above the “Red Line” to make the playoffs. Now we know the Clubs who have made it. MLS Cup this year will take place Saturday, December 10 in prime time on the main FOX network, an incredible platform for MLS. Audi, who is the presenting partner of our playoffs, has been a great partner. They’ve created the Audi Player Index, which allows fans to follow their favorite players and dive into statistics and positional rankings across every MLS game in near real-time.
Another activation that we’re excited about involves two of our largest and most strategic partners, EA Sports and Coca-Cola. In 7-Eleven stores nationwide, four of MLS’ top stars NYCFC forward David Villa, LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes, Orlando City SC midfielder Kaká and Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe will be featured on Big Gulp cups, highlighting the partnership between MLS, the FIFA 17 video game and Coca-Cola. We’re talking 25 million cups featured at more than 8,000 7-Eleven stores across the United States.