MLS attendance has risen over 60 percent since its low of 13,758 fans a game in 2000, the year before it folded its two Florida teams, leaving the young league with 10 teams.
the league attendance record for the fourth year in a row in 2017 when it averaged 22,113 fans a game. It's not likely to match that in 2018 even though Atlanta United should become the first team to
average more than 50,000 fans a game. Through Sunday's games, MLS is averaging 21,408, still good enough to rank among the top 10 leagues in the world in average attendance.
is, a number of legacy teams -- those founded in the 1990s -- are struggling at the gate. Sunday's Chicago-Orlando City -- a national television broadcast involving last-place teams -- shined a
spotlight on the Fire's situation.
Largest MLS attendance drops: PCT.
TEAM (2018 YTD vs. 2017 FINAL) -24.9% Columbus (11,597 vs. 15,439) -18.0% Chicago (14,253 vs. 17,383) -14.5% NY Red Bulls (18,100 vs. 21,175) -11.9% New
England (17,064 vs. 19,367) -9.6% Montreal (18,298 vs. 20,046)
The Fire came into the game without a win in its last nine games and one victory in its previous 13 games. The Lions
have been even more pathetic, winning just one of their previous 18 games entering Sunday afternoon's game on FS1.
Chicago won the game, 4-0, and moved out of a tie with Orlando City on
points for last place in the Eastern Conference.
In a rare
discussion by broadcasters of the noise in the stands -- or lack thereof -- FS1 announcers John Strong and Stuart Holden addressed some of the issues facing the Fire -- including an
on-going dispute between the team's front office and its supporters groups.
(Sector Latino Chicago had its supporter privileges permanently revoked due to repeated violations of the
Fan Code of Conduct and later Section 8 Chicago -- which represents affiliated supporters groups and independent fans -- had its privileges suspended for the Aug. 11 match in the aftermath of a
protest about the Sector Latino Chicago situation.)
On the atmosphere at Sunday's game, Strong noted, "This amount of palpable silence, in a league in which atmospheres are one of
the calling cards for MLS, is ... tough."
Added Holden, "Being brutally honest, it sounds like a reserve game, games I was a part of early on in my MLS career, when you go out on a Sunday
morning and you're not in front of the big stage, the lights and loud atmosphere that really gets you going. It really plays a big part."
The scary part is that Sunday's announced
attendance of 16,297 was the third largest of the season at Toyota Park for a Fire game and larger than three of the other 10 MLS games over the weekend.
What makes the situation in
Chicago startling is that the Fire was coming off its best season ever at the gate at Toyota Park and second best season in its 21-history, topped only by its first season in 1998 when it played at
The Fire opened the 2018 season with 4-3 and 2-1 losses and has never gotten close to .500 since June 30 when it was 6-7-5 after a 3-2 win over NYCFC. Its subsequent
collapse -- eight straight defeats before a 1-1 tie with Columbus -- isn't isolated, though.
Houston came into the weekend with a 10-game winless streak before its 4-1 win over Portland,
and three teams below red line in their conference races -- Orlando City, the LA Galaxy and Minnesota United -- have active winless streaks of seven or more games. Colorado's winless streak is only at
five games, but the Rapids have lost their last four games by a margin of 13-0.
Throw in San Jose -- with just four wins in 28 games -- into the mix, and the lack of parity -- another MLS
calling card -- should be just as concerning as some of the problems at the gate.