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Portland and Seattle Score in the Ratings (and an explanation)

Good news for both he future of US Soccer and the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders rivalry as it looks like the rivalry is a success in terms of television ratings, well, for at least the first match. No telling how this might affect future games, but last Saturday's game beat the national average and was well received in both Seattle and Portland as local markets.

OregonLive broke the ratings yesterday and here is where everything stood at the end:

  • Portland's local rating: 2.2
  • Seattle's local rating: 3.0

No other local market achieved higher than a .7 rating and the national average was a .2.

So how does this translate into people? It gets a little convoluted from here so hold on.

On the national scale a single point in the Nielson ratings is supposed to be 1% of the total household televisions in the nation, or, 1,159,000 people (for 115.9 million televisions). When applying that same logic to local areas the same holds true. One point in a local market is 1% of that market's total television home groups.


Looking at Portland, according to KATU Portland there are approximately 1,197,780 television households. So 2.2% of that amount roughly translates into 26,351 households were tuned into the game. For Seattle that translates into about 56,242 households (based on a total 1,874,750 total).

At this pint you may be thinking to yourself: "Well, crap! These are low numbers!" given that both Portland and Seattle have about 2.3 million and 3.4 million people respectively. And, in reality, they are pretty low numbers, but there are a few things to consider when going into this:

First, Nielson doesn't actually track every television, or every person watching said television. In today's world full of computers, gadgets and smartphones that track so much information our television ratings system is damn near archaic. Essentially what happens is Nielson selects certain families in each area to be a "Nielson" family, providing them with all the necessary cable channels. Those families effectively decide what America is watching. So, if you've ever let your television run to "help the ratings" don't bother, because nobody is keeping track.

Second, Nielson doesn't track bars, events, or group parties that might have been watching the game (or any program). So, for example, last June when so many people "tuned" in to the USA vs England World Cup match. None of those huge groups (not the one in Portland, not the 10,000 people in San Francisco) were counted in the ratings. If you went to 442 Bar or the Bitter End last Saturday to watch the game, consider yourself uncounted.

Finally, web streaming is completely 100% not counted by Nielson. For anybody who caught the game on (or one of those illicit streams floating about) you also were not counted. Not that it's any surprise as Nielson is only for television ratings and streaming online certainly isn't television.

So, when you add it all up, the Nielson ratings system is pretty useless to actually figure out the real number of people watching any given program, much less the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders match on Saturday. The only reason why the system is still in use today is because, from what I've been told, it's that everybody is comfortable with it. Studios are happy to use it, Nielson is happy to use it, and advertisers are happy to use it.

Despite all this though, the ratings for each game were actually not too bad for what is still considered a "fringe" sport. To put it in perspective a little bit, OregonLive pointed out that the second round of the NBA play-offs averaged a 3.0 rating on TNT. While that number is national, it's at least encouraging that both Portland and Seattle's numbers were reaching that high, something that really can't be said for local Los Angeles or New York markets in respects to their MLS teams.