The two year experiment with turning Thursday night into soccer night in America is now over. Starting this season, ESPN will show its MLS game of the week on different nights throughout the week, depending on matchups, stadium availability and lead-ins. In what all involved say is a tacit admission that MLS is not yet strong enough to carry a night's programming on its own, ESPN decided to move the game around and give it stronger lead-in programming.
The ratings for the Thursday night game never materialized the way that MLS and ESPN had hoped. The games averaged a 0.2 rating and 289,000 viewers in 2007 and dropped to o.2 and 257,000 viewers in 2008. ESPN is entering the third year of a eight year rights deal which pays MLS $8 million annually.
I think this may turn out to be a win-win for all involved, including those few hundred thousand viewers out there who would like to watch MLS games but instead have been watching reruns of Grays Anatomy, or late in the MLS season, college football. The WWLS will be able to avoid competing with football, will give MLS better lead-ins, like baseball and football and hopefully better matchups without being tied down to some stadium restrictions. The Home Depot Center is restricted during the week as a result of an agreement with Cal State Dominguez Hills, on whose campus it was built. I imagine there are restrictions on the Dynamo's use of Robertson Stadium. Hopefully, this new arrangement will lead to better ratings and a stronger league; the ratings certainly can't get any worse.