Soccer Business Bits: Attendance Worries?

mls With the first month of the season behind us,  enough games have been played to take a closer look at attendance around the League.  There have been successes (Seattle, Toronto), disappointments (Dallas, New York) and one pleasant surprise (Chivas).  Most of the teams in the League are off; some are way off.  The addition of Seattle’s big numbers mask the problem but the numbers are tracking well below those of 2008.  mls-daily.com does a great job of tracking the numbers here.

With the new stadium a season away, the Red Bulls get a pass, as do New England and Colorado with only one home date so far.  Despite its new stadium, RSL has also struggled to draw, but the weather excuse is probably most valid in Utah.  The Dynamo seem to be holding steady, and their history suggests attendance will pick up. Chicago is troubling, as are DC and San Jose.

Is it the economy?  The absence of Beckham? Bad weather?  Regardless of the reason, attendance is down for 10 franchises with some (Chicago & Colorado) down more than 30% from last year.  Perhaps most dire is the situation in Frisco, TX, where FC Dallas played before a remarkably sparse crowd (even the announced sub-7k attendance seemed very generous) in their weekend tilt against Toronto.  We have previously discussed the problems in Dallas, when this story raised some issues about the team’s pre-sale efforts.

We will keep tracking these numbers as the season rolls along and the weather warms.  However, summer is usually a low point for League attendance (especially in the South).  Let us know if you have any thoughts on the attendance issues facing MLS in 2009.

8 Responses

  1. It’s definitely a concern, and all the more frustrating because pinning down the reasons is impossible.

    I’d like to hope that Beckham doesn’t have anything to do with it, but perhaps that would be over-estimating the American soccer public.

  2. I think its economy based. all sports are struggling right now. how gate driven is MLS?

  3. With regard to Becks, I think it depends. L.A. is down this year and that is linked to his absence, and we can assume that the San Jose/Galaxy game last week would have had a much bigger crowd had Becks been there.

    Reports have long suggested that MLS depends heavily upon the gate. While there are TV deals, they are not of the magnitude of some of the other sports.

  4. I think it is the economy, and the perception of the economy. People are hanging on to their entertainment dollars, and picking and choosing what games/events/activities to go to, even if they can afford to attend most games. Unfortunately, MLS is a tad back in importance until the economy picks up.

  5. I agree with the previous comments. It’s the economy and it’s worldwide.
    Here are numbers in some Euro leagues from teams that weren’t relegated. Average attendance is down as follows from ’07-’08.

    EPL: 11 of 17
    La Liga: 10 of 17
    Ligue 1: 11 of 17
    Bundesliga: 5 of 15
    Serie A: 4 of 17
    SPL: 8 of 11

  6. That data is interesting, especially since those teams were playing games in the summer of ’08 (i.e. before the current crisis). MLS was still playing its last season when the market tanked, so they (like MLB) are the first teams to open in the new climate.

  7. I’d attribute “most” of it to the economic climate. LA is definitely down because of Beckham. Chicago surprises and worries me though. They’ve always had a good fan base, many of which travel with the team to away games. With Blanco and McBride there, you would think their numbers would be up, or at least even. But, I think people do have to keep in mind that everything is being effected by the economy, and the MLS certainly is not exempt from it’s effects.

  8. It’s the economy, for sure. NOBODY is spending. From Main Street to Wall Street and everywhere in between. People just don’t have the juice.

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