Happy Independence Day

I hope everyone enjoyed their 4th of July celebrations.  There was plenty of MLS action for those with access to TSN, MLS Live or DirectKick.  We are still celebrating, so here is post from the Footiebuisiness vault dating back from 2009.

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 families to games in lieu of younger, more passionate fans?  Can these families become those passionate fans?  Let us know your thoughts.

We are celebrating this holiday weekend.  I hope you did too.


One Response

  1. If what you are saying about how the hard core fans feel about families going to game is correct, I find that attitude incredibly short sighted. These are the people (families) that the MLS needs to attract for future viability of the league. What will be important t the growth of the league will not only be the fans in the stadium seats but also the fans in front of the tv in their living rooms. These fans may only come once a season to the live game but might go home and watch it on the television and maybe comeback next year for a couple of games. The game can only grow with increased revenues from television contract. It is the tv ad revenues that will increase the budgets of the MLS teams so that they can spend more money on player salaries, which will in turn bring in better talent which improves the the MLS brand. These hard core fans should be embracing these families and welcome them to the fun. And by the way, you hard core fans, you are a part of the show so sing and chant away because you also make the game an experience to be at.

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