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Make BeLieve Soccer
September 27th, 2006 4:32PM

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The league is being called to task once again for its attendance figures and this time, the evidence is unquestioned.

San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Mark Zeigler's story appears in Wednesday's edition of the newspaper. Confirmed by sources and backed by an MLS internal document, it tells a tale of grossly inflated crowd figures.

The league uses "tickets distributed" as its official attendance figures and for years has used this as a camouflage for announced figures far in excess of the number of people in the stadium. "Tickets distributed" includes tickets sold as well as those simply given away, and whether or not they are actually used for admission.

Unused tickets aren't unique to MLS, and the league counts in its attendances season tickets and tickets sold as part of corporate packages or sponsorships as well as complimentary tickets.

Since it began operations in 1996, the league has refused to officially disclose season-ticket numbers, salaries or salary-cap data, minimum and maximum salaries, revenue details, monetary values of allocations, etc.

Accurate numbers emerge only by the diligence of legitimate journalists amid a blizzard of wild guesses and blatant errors, and as a result, whatever numbers the league does release - such as the supposed $5 million offered by Benfica last year for Eddie Johnson - must be regarded skeptically.

The league is riding on a few waves of good news: stadium projects in several cities, an exciting expansion prospect in Toronto, lucrative TV deals, increased TV ratings, partnerships with foreign teams.

But it isn't getting enough fans to its games, and whether that requires greater resources and staff at the team level and/or better players on the field, solving this dilemma must be its next objective. Scheduling regular competitions against Mexican teams, as is proposed for next season, is just putting the same old bandage on the same ugly wound.


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