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Pierce: Mountain West is in better TV shape than MLS

Published December 3, 2013 11:21 pm

Sports on TV • USU-Fresno State will almost certainly draw more viewers than RSL-K.C.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For all the difficulties the Mountain West Conference has had with its TV deals, the league has scored big with its inaugural football championship game on Saturday night.

Which is great for Utah State. It's a decided contrast with Major League Soccer. The MLS Cup final will be played in relative TV obscurity on Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN).

Which is not so great for Real Salt Lake.

Since the failure of the Mountain West's sports network — The Mtn. — it has actually become easier for fans both locally and nationally to see MW football. In its first season in the league, USU inarguably had its best-ever TV schedule. Eleven games were on TV — five on the CBS Sports Network; two on ROOT; and one each on Fox Sports 1, ABC, ESPN and ESPNU. And you could watch the. Weber State game online on ESPN3.

A year ago, four Aggie games were on KMYU and three were online-only.

In terms of TV, the MWC is a much different league than the one BYU quit over its lack of exposure. (But that's the subject of another column.)

Saturday's MW championship game — Utah State vs. Fresno State — is on CBS. Not CBSSN, the broadcast network, which is available in virtually every home in America that has a TV.

Yes, the game kicks off at 8 p.m., which is 10 p.m. on the East Coast. But, realistically, USU vs. Fresno State is not a big draw east of the Mississippi. And Aggie and Bulldog fans there will stay up.

The MW game will also have the advantage of the best possible promotional platform. The SEC championship showdown will air on CBS earlier on Saturday, and you can bet that the network will advertise the heck out of the MWC game that night.

If the Aggies-Bulldogs game is close, the ratings might even go up late in the first half when the ACC and Pac-12 title games end.

Will the audience for Utah State-Fresno State be huge? Will it approach the huge ratings achieved by Auburn-Alabama on Saturday?

Absolutely not.

Will USU-FSU draw more viewers than the MLS Cup?

Almost undoubtedly.

Through a series of poorly conceived ideas and a general lack of interest from its broadcast partners, MLS ratings have been on the downhill slide this season. And there's no reason to think that will improve on Saturday.

Some will blame the fact that the game matches two teams from relatively small TV markets. Kansas City is No. 31; Salt Lake City is No. 33; combined, they are home to only about 1.6 percent of the nation's viewers.

But even games involving big-market teams like New York and Los Angeles have produced weak ratings. This is really more about lack of promotion, inconsistent times, three matches in four weeks and myriad other errors.

It won't help that what should be MLS' showcase game will be played Saturday in bad weather on a day when the sports world will be focused on college football. That it will be played opposite the SEC title game on CBS; a game that could decide the Big 12 championship on Fox; a bunch of college basketball games; and in the midst of college football coverage on ESPN. The MSL Cup is literally sandwiched between college football programming.

You can drive football fans to another football game. It's harder to drive them to a soccer match. Even MLS Cup.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.