MLS average attendance falls, ticket revenues increase again

Major League Soccer's average attendance dropped for the second year in a row from a record average attendance of 22,106 set in 2017 to 21,330 in 2019, but ticket revenue per game increased, jumping to a record average ticket price of $31.

The 2019 average attendance, a year-over-year drop of 2.5 percent after a drop of 1.1 percent in 2018, is the lowest in the last five seasons, since the jump of almost 13 percent from 2014 to 2015.

The difference between the increase in ticket revenue per game and decrease in announced attendance figures is attributable to a cutback in the number of complimentary tickets distributed to sponsors or groups or discounted tickets sold to resellers for sale on the secondary market.

MLS attendance figures include sold tickets and complimentary tickets, not the number of fans who attended as measured by turnstile counts or ticket scans.

MLS isn't the only U.S. pro league to experience a drop in average attendance. Average attendance in Major League Baseball has dropped 4.0 percent and 1.6 percent the last two seasons and is down almost 14 percent from its high in 2007.

The good news ...

-- Atlanta United led MLS in attendance for the third year in a row. Six of the seven largest U.S. soccer crowds of the year have been MLS games Atlanta United hosted at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

-- FC Cincinnati averaged 27,336 fans per game, ranking fifth all-time among MLS expansion teams.
 
-- Portland increased the capacity of Providence Park from 21,144 to 25,218 following the $85 million renovation of its downtown stadium and extended its sellout streak that began when it joined MLS in 2011.

-- Following a change in ownership, Columbus increased attendance by an average of 19 percent, the largest increase by a team using the same seating configuration as in 2018. Philadelphia and LAFC were the only other teams playing all their games in the same stadiums with the same configurations to register increases.

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The bad news ...

-- Chicago finished last with an average of 12,324 fans a game for its final season at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview. It represented a drop of 29 percent over the last two seasons and is the lowest average attendance in MLS since Chivas USA was disbanded after the 2014 season.

-- The New York Red Bulls' average attendance has fallen 16 percent over the last two years.  In 2017, they had announced sellouts of 25,219 for five of their last nine games. In 2019, they covered sections of Red Bull Arena's upper deck, reducing the capacity by about 5,000 seats.

-- Houston's average attendance dropped to 15,674 fans a game, down 25 percent since 2012 when BBVA Stadium opened.

-- Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC had their lowest average attendance at their soccer-specific stadiums since 2011, while Vancouver's average was the second-lowest in its nine seasons in MLS.

2019 MLS Attendance:
RANK TEAM AVG. (CHANGE)
1. Atlanta United 52,510 (-1%)
2. Seattle 40,247 (-1%)
3. FC Cincinnati 27,336 (first year)
4. Portland 25,218 (+19%)
5. Toronto FC 25,048 (-6%)
6. LA Galaxy 23,205 (-5%)
7. Orlando City 22,761 (-5%)
8. LAFC 22,251 (+1%)
9. NYCFC 21,107 (-9%)
10. *Minnesota United 19,723 (-17%)
11. Vancouver 19,520 (-11%)
12. San Jose 18,781 (-1%)
13. Sporting KC 18,601 (-7%)
14. Real Salt Lake 18,121 (-3%)
15. NY Red Bulls 17,751 (-5%)
16. **D.C. United 17,744 (+1%)
17. Philadelphia 17,111 (+4%)
18. New England 16,737 (-9%)
19. ***Montreal  16,171 (-13%)
20. Houston 15,674 (-7%)
21. Columbus 14,856  (+19%) 
22. FC Dallas 14,842 (-4%)
23. Colorado 14,284 (-7%)
24. Chicago 12,324 (-17%)
League Average: 21,330 (-2.5%).
*Moved from TCF Bank Stadium to new Allianz Field in 2019.
**Played one game each at Maryland SoccerPlex and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in 2018.
***Played one game at Olympic Stadium in 2018.

Photos: Atlanta United, LAFC.

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18 comments about "MLS average attendance falls, ticket revenues increase again".
  1. Wallace Wade, October 8, 2019 at 8:09 a.m.

    The funny thing is these numbers, as bad as they are, are inflated

  2. Chris Wasdyke replied, October 8, 2019 at 10:45 a.m.

    How are the numbers bad?  That's a top 8 league in the world for attendance and many of those teams were basically at capacity.

  3. Paul Cox replied, October 8, 2019 at 1:13 p.m.

    A- they aren't bad
    B- they aren't inflated any more than attendance numbers for other soccer teams or other sports

    Your comment is bad and you should feel bad

  4. R2 Dad replied, October 9, 2019 at 12:10 a.m.

    So...bad hombre?
    You're going to get more traction by criticizing someone's take (preferably in an interesting or funny way) instead of just flaming the person who wrote the comment.

  5. beautiful game, October 8, 2019 at 9:50 a.m.

    Voodoo economics!!$$!!

  6. Eric Jensen, October 8, 2019 at 11:52 a.m.

    Paul. Solid. Is there a source that would have average ticket price by venue? Ideally, across multiple years.

  7. Gordon Holt, October 8, 2019 at 12:06 p.m.

    No surprise when local papers, especially the New York Times, ignore the MLS...... 

  8. Paul Berry, October 8, 2019 at 12:49 p.m.

    The reason for the fall is the shorter regular season, which included far more midweek matches.  The bad weather at the start of the season didn't help either.

  9. Peter Acel, October 8, 2019 at 12:51 p.m.

    Still being ignored by major media is a problem and will remain so until the baby boomer generation with its cultural hostility to soccer will die out. On the other hand, some teams have owners that apparently don't give a damn about growing the game, such as Colorado, Dallas, Houston, etc
    Imho it should be Garber's responsibility, in addition to cashing in expansion fees to sustain his Ponzi scheme, to hold owners accountable to maintain and grow attendance figures. Then we have Orlando City which during its first MLS season had over 40k average attendance and now plays in half empty 25.5 k capacity stadium. Majority owner Flávio Augusto da Silva, despite his Brazilian identity, is unsuited to be lead this team, his incompetence and disinterest is scandalous and should sell the franchise to someone who has the love of soccer flowing in his/her veins and willing to pay for players with experience.

  10. Gordon Holt replied, October 8, 2019 at 6:38 p.m.

    Garber and U.S. Soccer both need public relations people who can kick tail. Do any of you erstwhile  commentators know what their PR budgets amount to? Or, if they even have one, or if they do, who's been hired to do the job?
    Some years ago NASCAR was in the dumps. Then someone (its board) decided to start spending big money on PR -- and made a big deal out of publicizing the fact that they were spending big bucks  -- and "all of a sudden" sports editors began finding space for NASCAR.  Funny how it goes.

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, October 9, 2019 at 2:59 p.m.

    Interesting point, Gordon.

  12. Chris Madden, October 8, 2019 at 1:25 p.m.

    The correlation is between the day of the week and attendance. In order to shorten the season there were more mid-week games which draw fewer fans at the turnstiles. As a Sporting KC season ticket holder, the Wed-Thursday evening games just don't draw like the Saturday Night games.  The upside to this scenario is less liver damage.  

  13. KC Webb, October 8, 2019 at 1:41 p.m.

    What kind of owner builds a soccer stadium in Texas with no shade??!?!

  14. Paul Berry replied, October 8, 2019 at 2:09 p.m.

    A cheap one. 

  15. wait what?, October 8, 2019 at 2:38 p.m.

    hahaha!  a better owner than the owners that won't even build soccer stadiums?  

  16. humble 1 replied, October 10, 2019 at 11:22 a.m.

    The abject lowest of those that won't build is those that present their teams on turf fields with NFL paint.  This projects a lack of respect for the game and in all likelhood an MLS ownship ambition for nothing more than asset appreciation.

  17. humble 1, October 10, 2019 at 11:14 a.m.

    Still long ways to go in USA for soccer, it is more than the baby boomers that ignore soccer, it is basically middle America, that ignores soccer and a lot of that was because they did not have it.  Before 2016 there was no pro soccer in small markets.  To really know the soccer situation now you have to include USL ticket sales, because they have exploded soccers footprint across USA and now there are games to be seen in small markets.  They also may have impacted MLS ticket sales.  Five years ago in my town the only game in town was MLS today you have USL League 2 and UPSL.  We get our fix at those games today, because the MLS product here is trzash.  Look at the mess up in Chicago when USL moved to put a Championship team in the City, it basically forced Fire wakeup and move back to Soldier Field.  You can judge MLS by ticket sales, but you can no longer extrapolate their results to judge soccer over-all in the USA.     

  18. Right Winger, October 10, 2019 at 2:55 p.m.

    I would bet that there are few people who comment on here who would spend $31-$50 to see a MLS game.  I would not.  I watch MLS on TV when nothing else is going on.  You keep waiting for play improvement, dont see it.  Now they want to up the prices.  Great business move.

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