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The Major League Soccer national TV schedule needs a reboot

Despite finishing second in the Supporters’ Shield race, the Colorado Rapids only appeared on national television three times. Should they feel slighted?

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Colorado Rapids
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park was home to zero national television games in the 2016 MLS regular season.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

On January 7, 2016, Major League Soccer released the 2016 national television schedule. Many Colorado Rapids' supporters were disappointed when they saw the Rapids only had two nationally televised games. They were picked up for another one on October 16 at Portland. For me, since they spent most of the season in first or second place in MLS, they should have been on national tv more.

The Rapids were on national television in week two when they traveled east to our Nation's capital to face DC United on ESPN2. They were not on national television again until August 26 when they traveled across the Rocky Mountain to face Real Salt Lake on Unimás.

This lack of coverage was evident when they travel to Portland on October 16. The announcers were quite unfamiliar with the Burgundy Boys. In fact, the Rapid did not have much respect or mention during the entire season.

Let's take a look at the full list of national television matches.

Standing Team UniMas FoxSports ESPN Total Media Markets
6 LA Galaxy 4 7 7 18 2
4 NYCFC 4 7 6 17 1
12 Portland 0 7 9 16 24
3 NY Red Bulls 4 7 5 16 2
8 Sporting KC 2 7 6 15 33
15 Orlando 4 6 5 15 19
7 Seattle 0 6 8 14 14
17 San Jose 7 2 1 10 6
10 DC United 6 1 3 10 7
19 Houston 6 1 1 8 10
5 Toronto FC 0 3 3 6 N/A
1 FC Dallas 2 2 1 5 5
9 Real Salt Lake 3 1 1 5 34
14 New England 1 1 3 5 8
20 Chicago 3 1 1 5 3
11 Montreal 0 1 3 4 N/A
2 Colorado 1 0 2 3 17
13 Philadelphia 2 1 0 3 4
16 Vancouver 1 1 1 3 N/A
18 Columbus 0 2 0 2 31

Games appearing on ESPN appeared on the ESPN family of networks, the games on Fox Sports appeared on Fox and FS1. A media market is where the population can receive the same (or similar) television and radio station offerings.

The Los Angeles Galaxy led MLS, appearing on national television 18 times throughout the season. They were followed by New York City FC (17), Portland Timbers (16), New York Red Bulls (16), and Sporting Kansas City (15).

The surprise to me was Columbus Crew SC. They only appeared on national television just two times, despite being in the MLS Cup final last season. The other lowest teams were Vancouver Whitecaps (3), Philadelphia Union (3), Colorado Rapids (3), and Montreal Impact (4).

In looking at the full table of national television games, I think the national media is in love with the LA Galaxy and the teams from New York. They are both the top two designated market areas (for Nielsen rankings) and I do not think this is by accident. But I have to say, I do not think many people outside Manhattan like NYCFC.

I do not think that the Nielsen ranking and market areas were the main reason for all of the scheduling. If that was true, Philadelphia would have been on national television more than the four times that they were.

The eventual Supporters’ Shield winners FC Dallas were only on national television five times this season. To have the top two teams in MLS only on national television eight times this season was unacceptable.

What is the solution?

For me, the solution is not to release the entire schedule for the season so early in the year. For the Rapids, they were predicted to finish near the bottom of the table. That is probably why the Rapids were on so few national television games. But the nation sure did miss out on a great match in Frisco when the Rapids went on the road and beat FC Dallas 1-0 on September 10.

Major League Soccer needs to take a page out of the Premier League on their national television games. The Premier League only releases its main television games every 2-3 months at a time. This way they ensure some good matchups. For me, that is what MLS needs to be striving for.

At least we get to enjoy the Rapids on national television in the playoffs. I hope we see them on national television more next season.

What do you think of the current national television situation, and should it be more balanced?