Footiebusiness Archives: Bringing the Fans to MLS

Another MLS season is just a few weeks away and the league is hoping that attendance will continue to grow in 2011.  Back in 2009, we took a look at how teams were looking to increase the amount of fans coming out to the stadiums.  Part 2 of that series focused on families and their importance to the league’s efforts to grow attendance.  Here is what we said then.

They are the bane of many an MLS fan, yet they continue to represent a substantial portion of American soccer crowds.  Teams cater to them, by offering special four packs, pre-game soccer celebrations and mascots. Who are these fans?  They are families.  Kids, soccer moms minivans and more.

This is part two of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, families, store owners and acquaintances in an effort to determine what will bring more fans to MLS. We have asked these questions at soccer matches of all levels, dinner parties, social gatherings and board meetings.  We have been asking these questions with an eye towards seeking out trends about MLS fandom and what brings people to Major League Soccer League stadiums.

“Hard core” MLS fans have railed against the presence of families for years.  Complaints against these fans include: “they are too quiet”  “they don’t care about the game”  “the don’t let me have fun” “they come once a year and don’t support the team” “they get up every 20 minutes” and “the stadium doesn’t let me do x because of families.”

So we asked these families (moms and dads), what they wanted from the MLS experience.   Overwhelmingly, they want their kids to have fun.  These parents are looking for a night out, and the bounce houses, mascots and T-shirt tosses are part of that.  They are looking for affordability and fun.  Many are shocked about how “professional” the MLS experience is and that the matches are “big-time.”  They are “amused” by the supporters groups, but don’t want to sit with them. They are also very willing to purchase team gear for their kids.

But perhaps more interesting was the number of these parents who desperately wanted to both understand the game and have their children understand the game.  Like the non-soccer fans discussed earlier this week, many of these parents wanted someone to explain the nuance of a sport unfamiliar to many of them.  They wanted to know the back stories of the players and whom to cheer. For many, they wanted to comprehend the intricacies of a game their kids devote hours per week to playing and appreciate more than the distance of a goalie’s punts. They view MLS as a way to connect with their kids and enter their world, but need the information to get there.

Unlike many soccer fans, MLS is not competing with European soccer clubs for the attention of these families.  While most will not become season ticket holders right away, they will come back if they enjoy the experience and if the game means something to them.  The “quality” of the game is not that important, because the level of play is far higher than anything they have seen before. They think they can co-exist with the hard core supporters and actually appreciate the atmosphere and noise they bring.

So what do we think?  Are families an important part of the MLS fanbase?  Should the League turn away from efforts to bring familes to games in lieu of younger, more passionate fans?  Can these families become those passionate fans?  Let us know your thoughts.

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3 Responses

  1. I think one only needs to turn to Seattle to answer this question. They have not focused on families at all but they still do contribute to the 36K sellouts that Seattle enjoys. I actually fall into this category on some games when I bring one of my daughters with me and other times fall closer to the HC fan when I bring a soccer friend or wife. The families I have seen definitely appreciate the hard core fans and I have not seen any animosity from hard core fans torwards families. If anything I have seen more trouble between hard core fans and old fans that can not/do not want to stand all game.

    Anyways my point is both are important and in Seattle both exist and appreciate each other (or at least tolerate). Any other way and I do not think we would have sellouts. (or what counts for sellouts)

  2. I do like the point that most of the family based fans are not casting a wandering eye towards Euro or Mexican football.. They would be impressed with the MLS atmosphere and style of play…should make it easier to capture them long term

  3. How can families not be an important part of the fanbase when they comprise such a large part of the population? The practice of seating supporters in their own section helps keep the peace and seems to allow room for everybody.

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