MLS season takes off with record TV viewing, crowds and Etihad Airways renewal

By Paul Nicholson

March 8 – The growth and interest in Major League Soccer in the US continued to hit new highs with record viewing numbers. and big crowds for the opening weekend of the season. This week the league renewed official airline sponsor Etihad Airways.

The league reported that it saw its highest gross viewership for an opening weekend since 2004. Viewership hit 1.63 million with all US-based national broadcast partners reporting increases year-on-year.

Fox Sports 1’s broadcast of league debutants Atlanta United against current champions New York Red Bulls, was the most watched opening weekend match ever and the second highest MLS broadcast of all-time on the network.

The LA Galaxy vs FC Dallas match on Univision was the highest viewed MLS opening weekend Spanish-language broadcast ever. ESPN’s coverage of the Orlando City SC vs NYCFC match marked a 14% viewership increase year-over-year on the network.

The viewing figures are being matched by big crowds at the stadiums with Atlanta selling-out Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium in their inaugural MLS match on Sunday, drawing a crowd of 55,297 to their 2-1 loss to New York Red Bulls.

Orlando City sold out their new 25,500 Citrus Bowl stadium for their opening game against another MLS newcomer Minnesota United FC. Minnesota play their first home game in the MLS at the 50,805 capacity TCF Bank Stadium this weekend and are reporting more than 30,000 tickets sold and expectation to get close to the stadium capacity.

Commercially the MLS kicked off to good news with a ‘multi-year’ renewal of its partnership with Etihad Airways as the league’s official airline partner.

Etihad Airways currently operates 45 return flights each week between Abu Dhabi and six American cities – Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York JFK, San Francisco and Washington.

The sponsorship will see the ‘MLS Flight Path’ campaign, bringing competitions for fans, VIP experiences at the MLS All-Star Game, as well as flights and holidays with the Skytrax-Certified 5-Star Airline to experience its home of Abu Dhabi.

Jennifer Cramer, MLS’ Vice President of Partnership Marketing, said in a league release. “At MLS, we are dedicated to serving our global audience, which is why it is truly exciting to partner with a premium global brand whose values and approach mirror our own. Together, we will continue to build upon our commitment to global soccer and its dedicated fans.”

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