We’ve seen it all summer; 90k in the Rose Bowl, 80k in Seattle, 80k in Dallas and more. Huge numbers tuned into the American run through the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup drew well nationwide. Yet, MLS numbers remain fairly stagnant both on television and at the gate. How can Major League Soccer tap into this multitude of soccer fans? Should they? Should the League be happy with crowds of 15k in smaller stadiums with limited TV ratings?
As announced, we are jumping into the business of MLS attendance. Over the next couple of weeks we will be taking a look at different groups of people: MLS fans, fans of the US National team, fans of European club teams, etc… We’ve been talking to people in all of these groups about MLS and what MLS needs to do to get them to games. Here are their thoughts.
Somewhat paradoxically, we are starting with the non-soccer fans. These are people that are not soccer haters, but also not soccer fans. Perhaps most interestingly, among this group, we found baseball fans most willing to give MLS a try. Those who had been to games found that they had “surprisingly” enjoyed the experience. Perhaps second among the “willing” were hockey fans. Far and away, the least interested were NFL fans.
Perhaps it’s the low scoring of these sports, but none of these people see put off by the relative low number of goals in soccer. When asked what would keep them interested in MLS, a couple of consistent themes emerged. First, they wanted atmosphere. Those who had attended games in smaller MLS stadiums or had soccer experiences with loud and noisy crowds were far more likely to go back. This was a different environment than what they had seen at other sporting events, and they liked it. At the same time, these non-soccer fans wanted someone to explain what was going on in front of them. This was true for the soccer, but more important for the “story lines” that many soccer fans hate. They wanted to know about the players, the rivalries and the back stories.
When asked about whether MLS should be shooting for 80k at all of their games, the universal answer from these non-soccer fans was “no”. They all believed that 15-20k in small stadiums was a worthy target and that bigger doesn’t equal better. Not surprisingly, these fans were not worried about the quality of play, the presence of turf or the nicknames of teams. They wanted to have fun at the games and have a plot line to remember and cheer for (or boo). In other words, they see no reason for the product to change. The status quo is sufficient for them to come back…but they won’t go on their own. They need someone to bring them to the game.
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