Looking at MLS Attendance

2011 has been a banner year at gate across Major League Soccer.  The league is averaging  more than 17,300  fans per game in 2011.   This is the first time since the league’s inagural season that average attendance has crested the 17k figure. Perhaps even more impressive, the median attendance in 2011 is at an all time high, easily surpassing the previous high (1996) of  approximately 16,100. To put the averages in an American sports perspective, the MLS average has eclipsed both the NBA and NHL and lags only MLB and NFL among US based professional team sports.  While its true that many MLS stadiums enjoy a capacity far in excess of their indoor cousins, soccer attendance is also limited by the reduced capacity in San Jose.  Perhaps most impressively, the league is enjoying these fantastic numbers despite the presence of world soccer powers criscrossing the nation filling stadiums at a clip of more than 40k per game.

Not surprisingly, much of the credit for the fantastic attendance numbers rests in the trio of franchises in the Pacific Northwest.  Seattle is averaging more than 37k per game, Vancouver just over 20k and Portland more than 18,600.  Both Dallas and Colorado (the 2010 MLS Cup participants) have seen attendance increases well in excess of 10% while traditional attendance powers Los Angeles and New York (if tradition can be a one year run), have managed an increase in 2011.  Kansas City’s attendance has increased in dramatic fashion (more than 70%), also a significant contributing factor.  Most of the other teams (with two notable exceptions) have managed slight gains or limited drops suggesting a committed and vested base of fans.

Unfortunately, the news is not all positive.  Chicago and Columbus, two of the league’s first teams to sport soccer specfic stadiums, are also suffering at the gate. The Fire’s attendance has declined by more than 2,000 gans (about 13%) in dropping below 14,000 per game.  Yet the league’s worst performer sits about 350 miles to the South and East of Bridgeview.  The Columbus Crew, just a couple of years removed from a championship and currently sitting atop the Eastern Conference are at the bottom of the league’s attendance table.  Remarkably, the team is averaging less than 10,500 per match, more than 20% off their 2010 pace.  The numbers are even more startling, because Columbuss has typically averaged more than 15k per game. As reported by the Columbus Dispatch, the team once had a season ticket base of 9,000. As the linked article indicates, the team is  now exploringa a variety of new pricing options to reverse the trend.

Yet despite the news out of Columbus, the attendance picture in MLS is extremely positive.  The average has been trending upward steadily since 2005 (there was a quick up and down in 2008 thanks to Mr. Beckham) and has been creeping back towards the 1996 peek since 2000 (the only year below 14k).  We’ll continue to monitor these trends until the end of the 2011 campaign, but with Montreal set to kick off in 2012 and fans flocking to new stadiums around the league, the MLS future at the gate looks extremely bright.

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13 Responses

  1. my guess is that its related to the absence of GBS and to the crackdown on foul mouthed fans. I believe Columbus was one of the first cities to do so. Perhaps this totally deflated a near euro-type atmosphere

  2. Ohio is an economic wasteland. The stadium is too remotely located. The fans have been abused to the point of turning off the entire support base. Add all of the star power out the door and that’s a sure way to reduce those coming IN the door. Sad day in Columbus. The league will contract one more time after NY joins the fray. Once C-Bus, Dallas, Chivas, and New England are vaporized or moved, maybe the league will concentrate on quality over quantity. I’d be interested to know how many MLS teams are actually PROFITABLE. That’s what I’d like to really know. The Crew can’t even collect for parking. It’s not a good business set up.

  3. Other positive signs are that the median attendance has gone up while the standard deviation of attendance has gone down. The significance is that the attendances are closer clumped together and as a whole the it means that the attendance figures are not being bolstered by one or two teams skewing the results. As a whole more teams are doing better as far as attendance goes.

  4. In response to “Veneer”, Ohio’s economy is about middle of the pack in the U.S. It isn’t good, but it’s far from “an economic wasteland”. In the past, the Crew has had much better attendance than it has this year. One problem is that ticket prices are too high ($28 for the worst seats in the stadium).

  5. Move the Crew to Indy!!!

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  11. You have to wait for the season to be in full swing before you have judgement on attendance. Some of the low attendance could be could be linked to inclement weather. Just as I am a fair weather fisherman (as long as the seas aren’t choppy and the sun is shining), there are probably a substantial number fair weather soccer fans. Last year clubs like Colorado and FC Dallas had slow starts. Having said this, I think it is time to move franchises such as Chivas, New England and Columbus if they can’t improve attendance. Sport is a lot like nightclubs. People go to the night club with a line around the block not the one where you get a free drink and is empty.

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  13. […] good news for Major League Soccer is that attendance is up and the sport seems to be resonating well with a small local and dedicated fanbase. And while that […]

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