The rise of Major League Soccer Attendance?

The MLS daily blog reported that as of this weekend, Major League Soccer has moved up the charts and now has a higher average attendance per game than the National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League.  The numbers of top average attendance per match for professional sport leagues in North America now sits at (as reported by the MLS Daily Blog):

1. NFL – 67,508.69 (2009 season)
2. MLB – 30,213.37 (2009 season)
3. MLS – 18,452.14 (2010 season, as of 04/11/2010)
4. NBA – 17,110.64 (2009/10 season)
5. NHL – 17,004.53 (2009/10 season)

Personally, I think this is more of a propaganda piece than anything else.  Sure the World Cup is fast approaching, which may help draw interest to soccer for the next year or so, but there are several things at work helping to shape these numbers.  First of all, the MLS has seen new teams in Seattle last year, and Philly this year.  The attendance for these two franchises has significantly helped raise the average attendance of a league, which still only has 16 clubs, compared to the 30 teams in both the NBA and NHL.  Due to this, a few strong teams with good attendance in the MLS can make a much bigger impact on the leagues average attendance.  Another thing of note, is that the MLS season is less than a month old, meaning most franchises have only played a handful of games, really the sample size for MLS attendance for the 2010 season is too small to really crown the league as the #3 attended sporting league in North America.

It is notable to consider that last years average attendance was just over 16,000 for the MLS, and that the league has hovered between 15,000 to 16,000 over the last few years.  This does point towards the MLS slowly evolving into a more stable and popular league, however, I would be curious to see about the revenues which are brought in on game day.  While the MLS may have a 1,000 more fans coming to games, many of these fans could be paying significantly lower ticket prices than if they attended an NHL or NBA game.

And then of course, we have to remember that the MLS is famous for having some franchises lie about their attendance.  While this is nothing new, the practice of reporting 50% more attendee’s at a match than actually came is not exactly standard practice.  For now, I’ll keep looking at the numbers reported by the MLS with a grain of salt, and look at other indicators as to the health and wellness of the league.

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One Response to The rise of Major League Soccer Attendance?

  1. Yajur says:

    IMHO, a much better barometer for the overall health of the league has been the construction of new stadiums, including this year in New York and Philadelphia, and coming soon to Houston, Kansas City, and likely San Jose. These stadiums represent a permanence that no previous league in American soccer has had, and they allow teams to not have to share revenues with other teams, as well as giving them the ability to stage other events (concerts, etc.) and collect additional revenues that way. Only by having a true home can any team establish itself in a community.

    Attendance numbers in the new season are always a positive, but as was mentioned in the article, they are far more short-term and can be affected by a variety of external factors.

    Either way, it seems the league has come a long way from the relatively bleak future of the late 90s and contraction in 2001. The fact that the league is not only surviving but thriving during the worst recession in decades means that the early financial decisions made by the league (restrictive salary cap, single entity model) look very smart indeed.

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