MLS: New York Red Bulls at Vancouver Whitecaps

Deadspin has been a-trolling lately, mostly on Major League Soccer following Billy Haisley’s snarkfest last week. As they’ve often demonstrated with their near-fanatical hatred of all things ESPN, Deadspin tends to speak as one editorial voice about anything Deadspin has once declared it doesn’t like.

And so they’ve followed up their work with a post countering an ESPN poll which claimed MLS “equals MLB in popularity with kids” in the United States of A.

Here’s the original claim:

The ESPN Sports Poll Annual Report, which is managed by Luker on Trends, interviews 1,500 Americans per month and tracks interest in 31 different sports. In 2012, the poll determined soccer was America’s second-most popular sport for those aged 12-24, ahead of NBA, MLB and college football. Respondents are asked to rank their affinity for sports (how avid a fan they are), athletes, sponsorships and other trends.

The NFL led the poll with 39 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds saying they are avid fans. The NBA, NCAA football and NCAA basketball were all over 23 percent. The current poll was released on the eve of MLS’s 19th season.

This doesn’t seem too controversial a methodology to me. You take a survey, you rank the sports you like the most. I don’t see a lot of sleight of hand here, though this is NOT the same thing as a full published methodology.

Anyhoo, Tim Marchman smelled the BS and wrote this:

According to Childstats.gov, there are around 25 million children aged 12 to 17 in the United States. This would mean that, per the poll’s findings, there are about 4.5 million American teenagers who are avid MLS fans.

In 2013, just more than 6 million spectators in total attended MLS games. Average viewership for games on ESPN—presumably the most-watched—was around 220,000, and total viewership for the MLS Cup Final on English- and Spanish-language broadcasts was around 1 million.

In other words, finger math would suggest that a majority of these alleged avid teenage MLS fans aren’t actually watching or attending MLS games. And in fact that’s true. According to Rich Luker of Luker on Trends, “Avid MLS fans between the ages of 12 and 17 are not watching much MLS on TV.”

Well, okay. Except it’s possible to be an avid fan and not be within traveling distance of a stadium, or able to afford season tickets. It’s also possible to be an avid fan and watch online via the live streaming service MLS Live (though I doubt their viewing numbers would come close to making the difference), or be an avid fan and follow stories online and stick to highlights. Lord knows even self-described “avid” baseball fans don’t watch 162 games a year, and if they say they do, they’re giant lying bags of garbage.

People absorb sports in any number of ways. Fantasy leagues. Panini stickers. Watching highlights. Reading blogs.

This isn’t to defend Luker’s lack of transparency, which leaves him prone to this kind of criticism. But I think Marchman was perhaps a little hasty in dismissing it altogether. The American kids, they like the soccer, maybe?