MLS Expansion: Our summer attendance meter

With the end of the Gold Cup and International Champions Cup, it's time to take stock of how crowds have been in the 12 MLS expansion markets for Division 2 and international matches. Our summer attendance meter ranks the 12 markets.

General soccer interest is one of four pillars of MLS's evaluation of each market, along with general market (size, geography, media presence), ownership and stadium plan.

Our summer attendance meter is ultimately subjective but takes into account crowds for Division 2 and international matches -- and in the case of Detroit the extraordinary crowds for amateur Detroit City FC -- how they stack up in their leagues and in terms of other events at the summer competitions. It also considers trends -- are crowds up or down? And all things being equal, league crowds -- the week-in, week-out job of drawing fans -- take priority.

(Note: USL and NASL figures: h/t to @phat7deuce and his NASL/USL tracker.)

1. Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati continues to break new ground, drawing crowds of 32,287 and 30,160 for its Open Cup wins over MLS clubs Chicago and Columbus, respectively. Both are Open Cup records for non-finals. FC Cincinnati is on course to smash the USL average attendance record for the second year in a row, averaging a league-high 20,063, up 18 percent from 2016. The crowd of 23,114 at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium for the friendly against Valencia was down from the all-time Ohio soccer record crowd of 35,061 for the 2016 friendly against the English Premier League's Crystal Palace, but it still ranks eighth all-time among FCC crowds.

2. Sacramento. Sac Republic FC has sold out every game at Papa Murphy’s Park, averaging 11,569 fans for eight USL matches. That gives it sellouts in 52 of its last 53 games.

3. Nashville. Twice in a month, Nashville broke the Tennessee record for largest soccer crowd. First, the USA and Panama tied, 1-1, in the Gold Cup opener before 47,662 fans at Nissan Stadium. On Saturday, Manchester City beat Tottenham 3-0 in the International Champions Cup before 56,232 fans. That crowd caught the attention of Charlie Stillitano, the chairman of Relevent Sports, which operates the ICC. "I think that Nashville's demonstrated itself as one of those cities that is really a strong market for MLS," Stillitano told the Tennesseean.

4. San Antonio. San Antonio FC ranks fourth among USL teams and fourth among Division 2 MLS expansion bidders with an average of 7,281 fans a game, up 18 percent from 2016. The Mexico-Curacao Gold Cup match -- the first competitive match El Tri has played at the Alamodome -- drew 44,232 fans. That was down, though, from crowds of recent years: 64,369 for USA-Mexico in 2015 and 54,313 for Mexico-South Korea in 2014.

5. Detroit. The International Champions Cup organizers love Michigan -- Relevent Sports founder Stephen Ross is a big University of Michigan benefactor -- and crowds of 100,000-plus attended games at the Big House in Ann Arbor in 2015 and 2016. They moved this year to Detroit and the Tigers' Comerica Park, where 36,289 fans watched Roma and Paris St. Germain, not bad given that neither team has a huge following. The day before, amateur Detroit City FC (not part of MLS bid group) beat Italian minor-league club Venezia before 5,418 spectators at Keyworth Stadium. DCFC's first three NPSL playoff crowds: 6,672, 6,989 and 6,409.

6. San Diego. Gold Cup crowds for Mexico were down across the country as El Tri sent a "B" team. The crowd of 53,133 for the Mexico-El Salvador opener at Qualcomm Stadium was the largest of El Tri's five crowds. It was also the only game to draw more than 50,000.

7. Indianapolis. Indy Eleven was second in the NASL in attendance in 2016 behind Minnesota United, which has since moved to MLS, and it is first in 2017, leading after the spring season with an average of 8,110, slightly down from the 2016 average.

8. Phoenix. Mexico drew 62,910 fans for its 2015 Gold Cup first-round match at the University of Phoenix Stadium. It attracted 60,025 fans in 2016 for the Copa Centenario opener against Uruguay. The crowd was only 37,404 for the Mexico-Honduras game at the 2017 Gold Cup, the smallest of the five Mexico crowds. Phoenix Rising is averaging 6,356, up more than 300 percent from 2016.

9. Tampa. The USA-Martinique game was a midweek Gold Cup matchup, but the crowd of 23,368 fans at Raymond James Stadium has to be considered disappointing. It was the smallest of the six crowds for  U.S matches. The Rowdies are averaging 5,665 fans, down 3 percent from their 2016 average in the USL.

10. St. Louis. Saint Louis is averaging 4,645 for eight USL games, putting it seventh out of eighth among Division 2 teams associated with MLS bids.

11. Raleigh/Durham. North Carolina FC is fourth in the NASL with an average of 4,374 fans a game after 10 games, but that's down almost 10 percent from 2016. The new North Carolina Courage (relocated from Western New York) is fourth in the NWSL with an average of 4,021 fans a game at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.

12. Charlotte. The USL's Independence is not associated with the Charlotte bid, but it is averaging just 1,548 fans a game, the lowest of any independent Division 2 team.

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