By Ridge Mahoney
The campaign to re-elect President Barack Obama succeeded in part because its workers were able to get out the vote, and the much-maligned MLS playoffs have also succeeded in one critical area of the same ilk.
After a crunch of 12 games within 12 days that produced clunkers in a few cases but very solid crowd numbers otherwise, the run-up to MLS Cup concluded with capacity crowds – such as they are – at CenturyLink Field and RFK Stadium.
Good figures were expected with the teams given more than a week to sell tickets for the second legs, yet one might have expected sales to suffer somewhat with the home teams down by three goals and two goals, respectively, in the aggregate series.
The fans came out regardless for these Sunday games, and earlier in the playoffs their counterparts in other cities generated good numbers across the board, even for those games played on the accursed midweek dates.
Nothing, it seems, can deter the Sounders faithful, who braved the 3-0 deficit imposed by the Galaxy in the first leg as well as driving rain. The crowd of 44,735 was the largest non-MLS Cup crowd in league history and the sixth-highest postseason attendance overall.
D.C. United announced a sellout (in its limited capacity at RFK) for its second leg against Houston days before its players took the field down, 3-1. The official crowd count was 20,015, and capped off a late-season run of bouncing, boisterous crowds that conjured up memories of the team’s spectacular glory days.
Lost in the analysis of postseason crowd sales is the fact teams are impaired if enthusiasm is low. Duh. The teams that have infused that passion during the regular season and past seasons will be repaid during the playoffs. A bit of a bump in interest and media coverage sparked by the advent of playoffs can’t resuscitate a dormant market.
Remember the words of Yogi Berra, “If people don't want to come out to the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?”
So let’s do the numbers, keeping in mind that MLS reports tickets distributed, not in-stadium attendance. Also keep in mind also that some strong markets – Portland, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal – did not host a playoff game, nor did lower-attendance teams like Chivas USA, New England and FC Dallas.
Oct. 31* -- Wild-card game at Toyota Park (10,923). A cold Halloween night didn’t help, but it’s not like the Fire has been a hot ticket this season (12th in regular season attendance at 16,409).
Nov. 1* -- Wild-card game at Home Depot Center (14,703). Not a great number for the high-flying defending champ, which had known for a while it would host as the fourth-place team though normal restrictions for midweek games had been lifted.
Nov. 2 -- Western Conference semifinal at CenturyLink Field (34,941). Below the Sounders’ incredible regular-season average (43,144), yet a product of just five days’ work after they lost the season finale to the Galaxy to assure a third-place finish.
Nov. 3 -- Eastern Conference semifinal at RFK Stadium (17,556). Hurricane Sandy forced the teams to flip their home games, so D.C. did great on very short, hectic notice after a regular-season average of 13,846.
Nov. 4 -- Western Conference semifinal at Home Depot Center (27,000). There’s no judging the accuracy of crowd figures at HDC but the place was crowded.
Nov. 4 -- Eastern Conference semifinal at BBVA Compass Stadium (20,689). Announced sellout just a few days after Dynamo’s victory in wild-card game at Chicago indicates a hell of an effort, and fan response.
Nov. 7* -- Eastern Conference semifinal at Livestrong Sporting Park (20,894). Top seed packed the place as it should, even on a Wednesday night, with lead time to promote and sell.
Nov. 7* -- Western Conference semifinal at Buck Shaw Stadium (10,744). Cozy capacity guaranteed a sellout, but still, tickets were gone more than a week before the end of the regular season.
Nov. 8* -- Eastern Conference semifinal at Red Bull Arena (14,035). This crowd was a disappointment, but factors such as a populace lashed by a superstorm and a rescheduled game then postponed for a day by heavy snowfall are impossible to quantify.
Nov. 8* -- Western Conference semifinal at Rio Tinto Stadium (19,657). The crowds have been good for most games since the stadium opened more than four years ago.
Nov. 11 -- Eastern Conference final at BBVA Compass Stadium (22,101). Another coup for team president Chris Canetti and his staff, not to mention the Orange Army.
Nov. 11 -- Western Conference final at Home Depot Center(27,000). Big crowd went bonkers as the Galaxy romped past the Sounders. Regardless of the actual numbers, for the past few seasons the Galaxy has been forging a following of supporters, not just observers.
Nov. 18 -- Eastern Conference final at RFK Stadium (20,015). Fans came back after a four-year playoff absence and with some very good young players and a revived fan base D.C. should be in good shape for 2013.
Nov. 18 -- Western Conference final at CenturyLink Field (44,735). Ambitious organization again failed to reach MLS Cup but is a smashing success nonetheless.