A friend once gave the kind of sage advice you don’t appreciate until later in life: If you want to be treated like a regular at a restaurant, become a regular at that restaurant.
In other words, before you can expect the perks that come with being known and liked by the staff – the choice table, the extra pour, the inside joke – you should go to that restaurant, then go again, and again. There’s no need to splash out and spend big, but you do need to show up and be amiable: Sit at the bar, order a drink, get a bite, tip appropriately, repeat. It’s enjoyable work, and once you invest a little bit of time you’ll find you’re treated like the regular you wanted to be.
This brings us to why you should watch both legs of the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League Finals even if you don’t care much for Seattle Sounders or Pumas UNAM: This week and next, you should turn on FS1 or TUDN because you want MLS and the CCL to be taken seriously, and for those to be taken seriously more viewers need to tune in and drive up the ratings.
The suits and beancounters who run global soccer don’t care that the quality of play in MLS is improving every year, and that the league is now a showcase for emerging talent from Latin America, and that regional academies are producing players who can compete in Europe—they want to know how many people take the time to watch the games. They need numbers. They quantify the product through ratings, monetize that audience, and showcase the leagues and tournaments that will give them a return.
Right now, the CCL isn’t giving them much. When New York City FC faced Seattle in the first leg of the CCL Semifinals, the game averaged 152,000 viewers, or a .08 rating. The second leg averaged just 97,000 viewers, or a .04 rating. That’s appalling.
It’s even more disastrous when you consider that the average MLS game in 2021 had more than 500,000 viewers watching in English and Spanish, while English Premier League games broadcast in the early morning hours on Saturday and Sunday regularly have 300,00 viewers in the United States—and marquee EPL games will have one million viewers. Put another way, more people will wake up at 7 am on a Sunday to watch two mid-table English teams play on Matchday 12 than will watch the two most scintillating MLS teams tear up the field in order to advance to the finals of the most important tournament in North America by a factor of three.
One measure of the CCL’s lowly status is its small purse. Last month, Hudson River Blue looked at the prize money you get for winning the CCL and compared it to other Champions Leagues around the world. The CCL is second from the bottom, behind Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia. Only Oceana offers less.
If you want to be a regular, become a regular: If the CCL is to be taken seriously, we need to take the CCL seriously, and treat it as an important final with two quality teams worth watching. NYCFC’s exit might still sting – the team coulda, shoulda pulled off the second-leg win and advance – but don’t let that bitter taste stop you from doing what’s right. This is the time to turn on, and tune in. We need to show up.
Supporters of NYCFC are under no compunction to cheer on Seattle, and search through our closets to find some long-forgotten article of clothing in that shade of green to wear tomorrow night, but we and every other MLS fan should be an interested neutral, and tune in to let the suits and beancounters know that soccer matters in the United States.
Rising ratings will lift all boats: A bigger audience will mean a larger purse, and better production values, and more attention from the rest of the world, and grater prestige. It will take time. This might not be the breakthrough year for the CCL, but it’s as good time as any to start to build a viewership that will make the world take the tournament seriously.