It’s been just over a month since we launched our 2023 End-of-Season survey, bookending the survey we ran before the start of the MLS season. Once again, we were blown away by the responses; over 400 people responded to the survey, giving incredibly detailed answers and a great look into the overall attitude of fans in Nashville and around MLS.
Because of the huge volume of responses we received, we’re breaking up our results into two sections: MLS first, and the Nashville-specific results later. Full data on the survey can be accessed here.
The 413 fans who responded represent 26 different states, as well as respondents from Nova Scotia, Canada and Rome, Italy.
While the majority (300+) were Nashville fans, we received responses from around MLS as well.
- Atlanta United (1)
- Charlotte FC (2)
- Chicago Fire (2)
- Columbus Crew (4)
- DC United (2)
- FC Cincinnati (2)
- FC Dallas (3)
- LA Galaxy (1)
- LAFC (1)
- Minnesota United (3)
- NYCFC (1)
- Orlando City (3)
- Philadelphia Union (4)
- Portland Timbers (2)
- New England Revolution (1)
- Real Salt Lake (1)
- Seattle Sounders (5)
- Sporting KC (1)
- St. Louis City (8)
- General MLS fan (15)
- Unidentified (60+)
70% of respondents said they watch MLS more than other soccer leagues around the world.
MLS on-field product
When asked how MLS stacks up around the top leagues from around the world, our respondents overwhelmingly had the league at a three (54.7%) or lower (28%).
Nearly 50% of respondents rated their satisfaction with Major League Soccer’s product on the field as a four out of five. 29.5% rated their satisfaction as a three, while 10.5% had theirs at a two or lower.
The results were even more positive for the first-ever Leagues Cup tournament, which saw MLS take a month-long break to compete in a World Cup-style tournament alongside Liga MX.
77.7% of fans rated their satisfaction as a five or higher, with only 5.1% at a two or lower.
Teams spending on their rosters was important to the survey respondents; 45.2% rated roster spending at a four, 30.3% at a three, and 13.2% at five out of five.
This desire to see teams spend was overwhelmingly reflected in the response to the prompt “what would you change about MLS to give it a better on-field product?”
“Increase the salary budget. Let the aggressive teams spend more to bring in more stars.”
“Add a 4th DP, create incentives for a level of minimum spend.”
“Roster construction is the biggest problem the league has. Properly observe the international windows. And with all american sports, promotion/relegation would greatly benefit but will 100% never happen.”
“Higher salary cap, way more roster spots. If they’re gonna be adding so many more games + extending the season than teams need access to more depth.”
“A steady raising of the cap should help, but I think that the biggest improvements on that field are only going to come from better choices made by coaches/GMs in roster building and better academies.”
“Change salary cap structure & provide transparency on all contracts and roster decisions.”
“Raise the salary cap. I understand wanting to keep the league competitive by keeping spending low, and that was great for when the league was starting out. As the league is growing and getting more and more people watching, it’s time to up the salary cap so we can look more like a competitive league in the world.”
“It’s more fun to watch MLS than Bayern put up nine on a Bundesliga minnow. The rise in quality in the US should be driven by domestic competition: academy spending, pro/rel structure, etc. MLS seems to be pursuing the first, obviously vehemently against the second.”
“I like that one team can’t spend a ton of money and win out. I think it’s more fun for more teams to be competitive with each other. I do think there’s room to raise roster spending and add a 4th DP.”
“The number one thing that negatively impacts MLS as a product is the officiating. It is such poor quality week to week that it borders on farce.”
“We’ve got 30 teams now. Time to lose the monopoly money system and compete with the rest of the world.”
“Expand salary cap, Designated Player, and international roster spots. League needs to stop handicapping club growth and success.”
First year of MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
2023 was the first year of MLS’s 10-year TV deal with Apple TV, a deal that saw the vast majority of games streamed on Apple’s platform, generally behind a paywall, and with few offerings on linear or cable TV.
Fans, 93.9% of whom said they subscribe to MLS Season Pass, were generally quite positive about the TV product in the first year. 42.9% of fans rated their satisfaction at four, 32.4% at five, and just 10.9% said they were satisfied at two or lower.
Responses were more mixed towards MLS 360º, Apple’s NFL Redzone-style whip around show. Only 8.2% of surveyed fans said they watched 360º every weekend. 34.4% of respondents said they didn’t watch the show at all, 29.3% said they watched it occasionally, and 28.1% said they didn’t watch it much.
Here’s what fans said when asked about MLS Season Pass:
“Got the game broadcasts right, but there was no shoulder programming & the Saturday night shows were pure vanilla.”
“Amazing to have good broadcast quality (like literally in terms of the cameras), broadcasters are mostly mediocre (but that’s nothing new), and the studio shows were a big upgrade (but should still be improved upon).”
“I want more non game content during the week or team specific shows.”
“I thought it was great, but I wish they would have provided a singular duo for announcing for each team. It would be great if you could have a home and away call where you could listen to your local commentators.”
“I can’t think of any professional sport where people living a mile from the stadium can’t watch the game on local or even national cable, but instead have to pay for Apple TV and then pay MORE for MLS games on Apple TV. One $5/month peacock subscription and I can watch teams thousands of miles away in England, but it costs five times that to watch my local team three times a month. It’s absurd and prices out prospective fans. Nashville SC will always struggle for growth and support when the sport sits behind such a high paywall. Apple TV+ should at least stream all the games without the season pass add on.”
“It was definitely an interesting season. In the first half of the season when you didn’t have to scroll past sections about Messi breathing, there were some interesting things featured.”
“I don’t want to pay for a separate subscription to watch MLS.”
“Great coverage and makes it easy to watch matches. I do feel it can limit league expansion though, with less people being able to randomly stumble across a match on TV.”
“Would love to see more post/pre game interviews with players and coaches and a picture-in-picture option to allow you to easily follow multiple games.”
“Access to every game is great, but I’d like to see a few more games on nights that aren’t Saturday. The announcing teams were uneven (some good, some not). I also worry that, by putting almost all of its games behind a pay wall, MLS has become less visible (Messi-related exposure notwithstanding) and less accessible to fans who aren’t already on board.”
“I think MLS is missing an opportunity. No casual fan will flip channels and fall in love with the game. This is a platform for hard corps fans seeking out something they want to see.”
Fans who responded had mixed feelings about the 2023 schedule. 36.7% of fans rated the schedule at a two or lower, while 31.7% gave it a three.
When asked about the schedule, here’s what fans said:
“This is absolutely my most frustrating thing about the whole season. I cannot fathom why they think that a sport that strays younger and you’re trying to grow in the states needs EVERY game to be at 7 pm local time. I have young kids and I could not take them all season until the last match because it started at 5:30. I just hate the start times and it is very fan unfriendly. You should want to pack the stadium and you could do that if you had many more afternoon games. This just has to change.”
“Some diversity on match scheduling times. The standard 730 on Saturday was very convenient as both an at-home and in stadium fan. But I would like a match or two to be placed at different times (Sunday afternoon, Friday night) for watching live soccer on other days of the week.”
“It is difficult to watch any other games with all at similar times. Needs to be more times available on Saturday and add more opportunities such as Sunday or even a Monday. Make games available almost all day Saturday and several on Sunday.”
“Put two standalone games on Friday (7:30 pm/10 pm), Sunday (7:30 pm/10 pm) and Monday (7:30 pm/10 pm), and then the rest of the games on Saturday night. The only time people care about MLS is when it’s on TV, and the only value I get from Season Pass is when MLS is on TV. So put MLS on TV more.”
“I appreciated the overall consistent scheduling, but I would appreciate if there were two time slots so that you could watch matches and attend home matches on the same day. A weekly prime time game would be nice as well.”
“STOP PUTTING EVERY EASTERN CONFERENCE GAME AT THE SAME TIME!”
Fans were overwhelmingly less positive about the new playoff format introduced this year, which saw nine teams from each conference qualify and a best-of-three series in Round One. 30% of fans rated the format at a one out of five, 26.6% gave it a two, and 25.2% gave it a three. Just 18.2% gave the new playoff format at four or higher.
When asked what they would change about the format for next season, fans didn’t hold back.
“Quit with the opening best of three series. It’s ridiculous and an obvious money grab by the MLS and owners.”
“Go back to 7 qualifiers per conference, give the top seed a bye, and make every round a 2-legged tie (home and away) with aggregate. Leave the final as a single match.”
“Home and away with aggregate scoring, until the final. Final is one game, neutral site. No more than 5 days in between series games.”
“I think the inconsistency is what is weird to me. Either have them all be best-of-three or none. I’m also not opposed to the group stage format. How it is set up right now is just confusing.”
“Return to last years model or a two-legged tie. I would love to eliminate the playoffs altogether and find a way to make the regular season matter more.”
“Go back to single elimination and the 8/9 seed playin game. Too many games. 36 for the season plus Champions league for the teams that qualify plus leagues cup plus international breaks. But owners don’t care about the players safety. More games = more tickets sold.”
“Go back to single elimination and play the playoffs over 3 weeks following the November international date.”
“Too many teams lessens the importance of regular season.”
“No gimmicks. I haven’t watched a single minute as my team did not qualify, and I have no interest in this format.”
“I think aggregate should count for something. I actually liked/didn’t mind the best of three format, but I think aggregate should be incorporated somehow.”
“Best of three opening round is awful, breaks in the middle for international games and holidays are terrible. How can the season go on to December? Choose between Leagues Cup and Playoffs, don’t do both.”
“You’ve GOT to make it more exclusive. Nine teams drags it out way too much.”
“I’m not against the best-of-three format like a lot of people are (it is soooooooo much better than the two-leg approach), but the drawn out nature of the first round plus the long pause for the international break was pretty rough. They need to figure out how to fix that issue.”
National media coverage of MLS
Overall, fans were moderately pleased with national media coverage of MLS. 45.5% rated their satisfaction at a three out of five, but only 15.3% were at a four or higher. The numbers were even less flattering when the question was specified to traditional media coverage (TV, print, radio, etc), with 50.9% at one or two, and only 9.3% at for our higher.
When asked about the national MLS media landscape, here’s what fans said:
“I wish the guys at the Athletic actually watched and liked the league.”
“Trash coverage. The league will grow and flourish if national media gave it the attention it deserves.”
“It’s weak, I feel like national outlets have put less effort into MLS content this year.”
“What coverage? It’s kind of hard to find anything out there that isn’t behind a paywall.”
“MLS is tooting its own horn well-enough IMO (Extratime, AppleTV, etc). The Athletic coverage is fine. But there is little hope we’re going to get coverage from ESPN or FOX.”
“I don’t care about major outlets who don’t cover MLS at the level it deserves. The Athletic and MLSsoccer.com together do a great enough job to cover the content I care about sufficiently.”
“It feels like MLS is never on any of the national media networks. Or if they are, it’s super brief.”
“Way to much love for the east coast in general but especially Toronto, NY and Miami. It’s almost like any other teams don’t exist, especially according to the athletic and MLS.com.”
“Unless it’s the Athletic or maybe Backheeled (which doesn’t seem to heavily focus on MLS compared to USSF), national coverage is abysmal outside of league produced coverage.”
“Love Extratime and Morning Footy. It’s great seeing one media giant taking soccer seriously and the culture becoming mainstream through their player, staff, leadership interviews. Want to hear more from players, even if it’s not on-field related.”
“You’ve made your money on Messi. Please don’t drown us in him next year.”
“Lacks challenging articles, good way to add pressure to players and coaches. Too many stories are positive.”
“Soccer is growing but still treated like that weird communist sport by closed minded people. National coverage will get better with time.”
Independent media coverage of MLS
2023 was a weird year for media coverage of MLS with SB Nation shutting down most of their MLS sites, which were heavily relied on by fans and were major sources of local coverage for clubs, often the only source.
Fortunately, most of the sites continue to operate independently, but SB Nation’s decision showcases a wider issue of how MLS is covered. As Ian Nicholas Quillen wrote in a story for Forbes, “enormous work remains to grow the league to the point that it profiles similarly against other major North American sports in how fans consume content.”
However, fans remained bullish on independent coverage of MLS. 40.5% of fans rated their satisfaction at a four or higher, with only 14.1% responding with a two or lower.
When asked about independent coverage of their local clubs, here’s what fans said:
“It’s a shame that SB Nation and The Striker both went under on the soccer side this year. It’s a real issue and one that I’m not sure how to solve.”
“Local news outlets across the country need to recognize people are going to these games for a reason. Another season high in attendance numbers across the league, but other than Messi or new clubs, there isn’t much dedicated coverage in local markets. Look at Austin, they got lots of love in Year 1 because they were the shiny new toy, then they had a good season in Year 2 so the momentum carried forward, then it just bottomed out in Year 3. Unserious coverage.”
“Much better than traditional media.”
“Local media coverage is critically important. I immensely appreciate the independent perspectives from outside MLS control.”
“I live in Seattle and we are blessed with the best local media coverage in MLS. But I can tell that outside of Seattle, the local media coverage as a whole is pretty terrible.”
“Local TV coverage has improved for Columbus and Cincinnati, but I can’t speak to that for other teams. Dispatch and Enquirer have covered both teams well.”
“Depends on the market. I’ve seen great content for small-market teams and sometimes wonder if anyone is covering New York Red Bulls or DC United.”
“Local podcasters and media still are too biased towards local players. Afraid to point out issues.”
“Specifically with St. Louis, I think quality coverage is lacking for a soccer city! Our newspaper writer is just not experienced enough in soccer and we’re lacking culture writers. Not enough writers of color being promoted!”
“Besides the blogs who do a terrific job there is little other media coverage. You’d think that with Bruce [Arena]’s suspension and subsequent resignatatoin the media would eat that up, but nothing was really said.”
“Independent media is doing great work and they’re under appreciated.”
We left the last section open for fans to include anything we missed. Here are some of our favorites:
“Hoping for some roster rules changes ahead of 2024!”
“No one cares about Messi. He is ruining the MLS!”
“Some of the best memories I’ve had in my life, and some of the worst moments in my club’s history. Overall an unforgettable season, but I sure hope for better results next year.”
“Stop flashing lights and setting off smoke machines after goals — it’s football not Ibiza.”
“F**k Messi. All my homies hate Messi.”
“I got several friends into soccer this year—and even convinced them to get season tickets. I call that a success.”
“I hate the attempted ‘Coyotes,’ nickname with a burning passion and I generally click away from articles that use it.”
“Hell is Really Real (Playoff Edition) is a dream come true.”
“I hope next year is more about everyone else and less about Messi.”
“I love you guys and am extremely grateful for your work!”
Stay tuned for the Nashville SC-specific results later this week.