MLS faces attendance challenge

By Paul Kennedy

Thanks to rising attendance, Major League Soccer has had a strong story to tell.

MLS averaged 18,807 fans a game in 2012 -- up 17 percent in just three years -- ranking third among American sports leagues, ahead of the NBA and NHL and behind the NFL and MLB, and sixth in the world among soccer leagues behind only the Bundesliga (Germany), Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Liga MX (Mexico) and Serie A (Italy).

(Both the Dutch Eredivisie and French Ligue 1 have both experienced decreases in 2012-13 that should drop them below MLS.)

But MLS faces perhaps its most challenging year in the last decade. For the first time since adding Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA in 2005, MLS will not welcome an expansion team or open a new stadium.

And it won't get the corresponding bump in attendance that these expansion teams and new teams have brought, especially in recent years.

Of the eight teams that averaged above the 2012 average of 18,807, seven were teams that arrived or opened a new stadium in 2009 or later. There was a difference of an average of almost 10,000 fans per game between those teams that arrived or opened a new stadium in 2009 or later and those teams that arrived or opened a new stadium before 2009.

For MLS to boost attendance this year, it will be entirely based on year-to-year jumps -- quite a challenge given that many of the best-drawing teams are at or near capacity to begin with.

More than ever, it will be back to basics for MLS clubs, making the work of ticket salespersons critical if MLS is to continue telling a positive storyline.

New teams/new stadiums (2009-12)
43,144 Seattle Sounders (2009)
22,772 Montreal Impact (2012)
21,015 Houston Dynamo (2012)
20,438 Portland Timbers (2011)
19,475 Vancouver Whitecaps (2011)
19,404 Sporting Kansas City (2011)
19,087 Real Salt Lake (2009)
18,281 New York Red Bulls (2010)
18,053 Philadelphia Union (2010)
22,512 AVERAGE

New teams/new stadiums (1996-2008)
23,146 LA Galaxy (2003)
18,155 Toronto FC (2007)
16,409 Chicago Fire (2006)
15,175 Colorado Rapids (2007)
14,397 Columbus Crew (1999)
14,199 FC Dallas (2005)
14,001 New England Revolution (2002)
13,846 D.C. United (1996)
13,293 San Jose Earthquakes (2008)
13,056 Chivas USA (2005)
15,568 AVERAGE

U.S. CENTENNIAL JERSEY UNVEILED. U.S. Soccer and Nike unveiled the new U.S. men’s and women’s national team home jersey celebrating the federation’s 100th year.

Known originally as the United States of America Foot Ball Association, the organization was officially formed on April 5, 1913. Three years later, the USA played its first international men's game against Sweden in Stockholm, winning 3-2, and the new kit is inspired by the uniform worn by those players,

The new jerseys featuring a solid white design with obsidian blue collar and sleeve detailing and a wide and deep V-neck to match the 1913 jersey are available online and in stores starting Friday.


NEW SUPPORTERS' SHIELD. The Independent Supporters Council, MLS's association of supporter groups, funded the design for a new Supporters’ Shield, awarded each season to the MLS club with the best regular-season record.

"It is unique in the landscape of American sports,’’ Sean Dane, president of Supporters' Shield Foundation and a leader in the Kansas City Cauldron, told the New York Post. “I think it highlights what makes the supporters culture in the league great. It also highlights the ability of Major League Soccer to work in partnership with its supporters in a way unseen in other sports. The effort of the ISC and its members is commendable and it helps to further the growth of supporters culture in the country. That’s a win for all involved and I am proud to be associated with all them.”

The new sterling-silver Supporters’ Shield, which weighs more than 35 pounds, was designed by Kyle Stewart and made in Toronto by Award Co.


LIGA MX ADOPTS MATCH ANALYSIS. Liga MX has reached an agreement with Match Analysis to use the video and technical analysis systems of the California-based company.

Among other Match Analysis products, Liga MX will use the K2 Plus, a market-leading system that provides corner-to-corner video and player tracking, among other things.
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3 comments about "MLS faces attendance challenge".
  1. Tom Symonds, March 1, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.

    Regarding MLS attendance: MLS lives in a fantasy land regarding its appeal. Take Seattle (and now the rest of soccer-crazy Cascadia) out of the equation and not much has changed in MLS. Most MLS markets have remained stagnant. Until the on-field quality dramatically improves and there's more national interest in the sport (such as ESPN SportsCenter actually taking the game seriously), MLS will continue to muddle along with attendance.

  2. Joey Tremone, March 2, 2013 at 3:01 p.m.

    I don't know that ill-measured rhetoric is the best way to get the point across. There's no way MLS gets away with a 17 home game schedule in 2002. Most MLS teams are followed better than they were then, it's just a question of degree.

  3. Ken Jamieson, March 4, 2013 at 10:07 p.m.

    With regards to taking Cascadia out of the equation, that was the problem with MLS prior to 2009, no teams in Cascadia. The NASL expanded to the Pacific Northwest in 1974 which also coincided with a marked increase in attendance in that league over the next four years. Teams like Columbus and New England should get their heads out of the sand and take notice of what is happening in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver and try to apply some of the lessons in their own stadia. Credit is also due to Sporting Kansas City, the rebranding of the Wizards into the new entity with one of the best venues in the league can only be seen as the biggest soccer story outside the Pacific Northwest.

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