MLS midweek crowds give cause for concern

By Ridge Mahoney

There's enough positive momentum and steady progress to believe that MLS has 'arrived,' whatever that might mean, but a look at attendances from the first heavy midweek schedule tamps down the giddiness.

Along with lagging TV ratings, midweek attendances continue to be a major issue in about half of the league’s 19 markets. While the numbers may perk up as the weather gets warmer and parents don’t have to worry about getting their children home in time for bed on a school night, a few intriguing matchups didn’t translate to good crowd figures:

New York-Montreal at Red Bull Arena: 11,892 (2013 average: 16,021). A three-game winning streak and a matchup of Eastern Conference leaders didn’t get the turnstiles spinning. Those who did show up saw a spectacular overhead winner from Thierry Henry and a late Impact flurry that nearly extracted a tie instead of a 2-1 defeat.

D.C. United-Houston at RFK Stadium: 10,116 (13,718). Last year’s United revival seems well and truly dead, and so was the D.C. crowd that witnessed a 4-0 thumping and fifth straight loss. On the field and in the stands, the outlook is grim.

New England-Real Salt Lake at Gillette Stadium: 8,040 (12,231). The Revs don’t draw well, day or night, weekend or weekday, rain or shine, and those fans that did show up saw a 1-0 lead evaporate into a 2-1 defeat and a stoppage-time penalty kick saved by Nick Rimando.

Sporting Kansas City-Seattle at Sporting Park: 18,602 (19,117). SKC is one of the league’s great success stories, and a midweek sellout confirms it is building a following just has passionate and loyal as those in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and a few other places.

FC Dallas-Portland at FC Dallas Stadium: 10,112 (14,966). A five-game home winning streak and FCD can barely tip into five figures, if that? While the league doesn’t release season-ticket figures it can be assumed FCD is lagging near the bottom, or that Frisco is still regarded as too far away on a weekday.

San Jose-Toronto FC at Buck Shaw Stadium: 10,048 (10,392). The Quakes can only fit 10,525 into their cozy little facility on the campus of Santa Clara University and their challenge comes next year, when there will be 18,500 spaces to fill 20 times a season.

The six hosting venues ran the gamut of facilities: soccer-specific in New Jersey and Kansas and Texas, big and out-of-town (Gillette), big and rundown and city-based (RFK), and stopgap (Buck Shaw).

It’s great to marvel at the consistently strong crowds drawn by the Northwest teams along with the Galaxy and RSL, but the Rapids and the Revs and even the Red Bulls just don’t seem to have found the right formula. Each has its unique stadium situation, of course, and there's no magic bullet to solve the problem.

The rundown would have been worse had Chivas USA, dead last in average attendance with 8,045 per game, played at home. Conversely, a midweek of matches hosted by the Sounders, Timbers, Whitecaps, Galaxy, etc., would generate outstanding crowd figures.

If it were possible and practical, MLS would pack as many midweek games as possible into the half-dozen cities that can draw well on those days to beef up its average attendance. But that would create an artificial image of how the league is doing with midweek games. The reality is: in some places, great; in a few, OK; in several others, not good, not good at all.

League commissioner Don Garber’s speaking gigs feature him waxing optimistic and sounding cautionary, sometimes in the same sentence. Looking at the midweek numbers in at least one-third of his cities, he's got good reason for concern, and there's not a great deal he can do about it.

11 comments about "MLS midweek crowds give cause for concern ".
  1. K.c. Mcelroy, May 10, 2013 at 9:32 a.m.

    I don't think it is fair to include San Jose, with their small facility, when C.D. Chivasusa easily makes that list.

  2. Sara Blake, May 10, 2013 at 9:38 a.m.

    The games were scheduled in the midst of the seemingly unending series of state exams. Perhaps school schedules should be considered in scheduling.

  3. Al Brad, May 10, 2013 at 10:17 a.m.

    If this article is implying that there were over 10,000 at the DC v Houston game, it is sadly mistaken.

  4. R2 Dad, May 10, 2013 at 11:01 a.m.

    When you're selling family-friendly entertainment, it's best to see how the schedule matches up with your customers other commitments. e.g how will Mother's Day attendance fair?

  5. Shaffie Pillay, May 10, 2013 at 12:10 p.m.

    If you want fans at the game play Saturday afternoon or evening. This league is not established enough to attract fans to mid-week games. The Revs crowd was under 2000.
    Management needs to understand that the way to attract fans is to have a better product on the field. In the Revs case, product is poor. All international players have been severe flops, and fans have stopped coming. Get a good coach and better players, and at least 25 000 people will show up. Location and the facility is good, all international games bring over 50 000. Revs need a better scout and the management needs to show that they really interested in supporting & keeping this MLS team.

  6. Chris Sapien , May 10, 2013 at 1:02 p.m.

    With all the NBA folks ready to close down their love afair for the season soon, why not play Friday night, Sunday early evening schedules when there needs to be a "weekday" game. The players are big boys, they can handle some travel and two games within 48 hours. Might even see some new faces given more minutes on the pitch.

  7. John Soares, May 10, 2013 at 1:39 p.m.

    No they can't all be Seattle.... or could they!? Think 38,000 mid-week for last place team. But, some of these "crowds" are an embarrassment to the teams and their communities.

  8. Glenn Maddock, May 10, 2013 at 6:36 p.m.

    Since I worked for the Mutiny in 1996 I've been focused on this issue intently. If you've been in the league for 15 seasons & you still cant draw, it aint workin! time to move. Now MLS realizes that each market is different. You may only need 8k in Columbus to break even, while you probably need 20k in NYC. You're not going to fill every stadium in MLS anytime soon, so figure out what the break even point is for each market and that's how you measure attendance success. Don't let huge figures from Seattle skew the reality of each market. Chivas has to move, but does any other club? What non-MLS cities would put in more fans & make that club more money than currently?

  9. Chris Sapien , May 10, 2013 at 8:05 p.m.

    Agreed Glen, except for the Chivas "has to move" part. Still believe LA can support two clubs, but not the disgraced branding fiasco that attempted to cater to one community. I assure you, with a name/branding and ownership change and maybe most important, affordability, a second team could succeed in the LA metropolis.

  10. beautiful game, May 12, 2013 at 12:14 p.m.

    Point well taken amici sportivi...but, if I were a coach of a talented high school or college team, I'd forbid them to attend MLS games where the simplicity, efficacy, and possession has a different meaning.

  11. George Paul, May 13, 2013 at 1:21 a.m.

    NPSL National Premier Soccer is the League of the future in America. The league is owned by the teams. Fans are fed up with over hyped MLS league and want to come watch players with skills and passion for the game.

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