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Truth telling and MLS attendance data

Aug 21, 2012, 4:12 PM EDT

AT&T MLS All Star Game - Chelsea v MLS All Stars Getty Images

I always say that I don’t defend soccer from the ninnies, the flat-Earthers and the fearful who wince at change in their world.

It doesn’t need defending. It is what it is. (Besides, they are ninnies, flat-Earthers and the fearful; they don’t do “reason” and aren’t worth the wasted breath.)

But I suppose there is another side when it comes to soccer being in a comfortable place. The game being “what it is” here and being OK with it – that goes two ways.

We really should stop drawing false conclusions on the game’s popularity. More to the point, we should resist the urge to proclaim MLS more popular than this sport or that one based on attendance data alone.

And what’s the point of comparing attendance of professional matches here to that in other lands? Because if you are telling me that soccer enjoys greater standing within the general populous here compared to, say, Brazil or Scotland, and you are basing that on attendance figures at professional matches – then you and I need to have a little sit-down about the blessedness of real-world truth telling.

In fairness, I don’t think that’s what everyone who has cited these figures is trying to say that.  But some might be tiptoeing around it.

Yes, it is interesting that MLS average gate (18,828 at the time of this report) lands favorably alongside some far more storied and venerable global associations. But that’s it; “Interesting” is where it starts and stops.

Attendance figures are all tied into stadium size, regional availability of professional clubs to support, number of matches overall, etc.

As for comparing attendance data of MLS to NHL and NBA? Please.

That’s apples and oranges due to venue capacity (much smaller generally in NBA and NHL) and number of contests (a whole bunch more in NBA and NHL).

  1. lonestarv - Aug 21, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Bravo, Mr. Davis for “keeping it real”!

    MLS has made huge strides in becoming a valid, solid professional league (in an environment where it’s VERY tough to do so) all while managing growth with careful salary caps, etc. Let’s not crown ourselves the EPL or Bundesliga just yet. Keep putting a solid product on the pitch and keep the marketing dollars and TV contracts with the people who can help make a difference, and this thing just may last awhile. ;)

  2. slxc - Aug 21, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    The MLS is a great growth, and hopefully sow is achieved within the U.S. major leagues, in fact appear on NBC and ESPN and not only is important.

  3. corgster - Aug 21, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    Hard to track but hearing anecdotal evidence that kids are wearing Houston Dynamo, Seattle Sounders, and Portland Timbers gear in North Carolina shows MLS is not just widening the numbers at games but getting deeper in areas not near an MLS team.

    Also, we are a sports attending nation. Count the number of sports from professional through college that get thousands to attend matches. There are dozens of events to choose from just in American football. Throw professional soccer in the mix and see that it has obtained an audience when it is down the totem pole is very successful compared to all other comparable soccer leagues.

    • Steve Davis - Aug 21, 2012 at 5:23 PM

      Those anecdotes absolutely are examples that demonstrate growth. And the attendance numbers are fairly strong. I just wince when I see numbers trumpeted out of context.

      • corgster - Aug 21, 2012 at 5:36 PM

        The best context is to compare numbers in other leagues. I don’t know of any other worthwhile comparisons.

  4. poewing - Aug 21, 2012 at 7:45 PM

    Baseball is boring

  5. jelliot1978 - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:14 PM

    A stat that is better to compare different leagues and different sports is not attendance but percentage of capacity filled, but context is still needed. DC will have a lower percentage filled because RFK has a large capacity. If you looked at SSS percentages you could get a good understanding of how MLS stacks up. Since I am from Philly and a Union STH I’ll use the other sports here to compare. Eagles, phillies and Flyers are generally sell outs, the Union get mostly full crowds (using MLS standards of tickets sold as there are empty seats) but the Sixers have a tough time selling out. So in attendance the Union are better but marketing, apparel and media coverage the Sixers surpass the Union.

    I don’t know if it gets released but seeing the merchandizing sales comparisons would be interesting. Sure no MLS team, maybe even as a collective unit, can touch the Yankees or Man U but how do they do against say the Sixers or other mid level franchises?

  6. congocash - Aug 22, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    San diego needs a franchise pronto…. So much soccer is being played here…. Frankie hayduk played here and many others… Hope they let the chargers move to LA… Then build a stadium downtown next to petco for the SD United soccer franchise.

  7. jerichowhiskey - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    Television ratings should play a role as well. I don’t see how we can say we’re a popular league when at best we’re drawing a couple hundred thousand on ESPN and as low as five figures on NBC Sports beating maybe la crosse in viewership.

    • jelliot1978 - Aug 22, 2012 at 12:53 PM

      If it is on a channel that is common then yes I agree TV ratings are a good indicator. I know some Live MLS matches have had worse ratings then taped EPL games. When NHL was on Versus they were getting lower ratings then the NBA on TNT but a large part of that was a lot of carriers didn’t have Versus at that time, now that it is NBC Sports I believe it has a better availability.

  8. mvktr2 - Aug 22, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    One factor in MLS attendance is the cost of tickets relative to other major US sports. If for instance MLS tickets were raised to the price levels of other major US sports there would be a precipitous decline in attendance.

    My 3 wishes for MLS/US Soccer:
    1-reserve league games played before/after/ every MLS match between club reserve teams and a commitment from every team to increase the quality of player development efforts.
    2-continued ‘successful’ expansion up to 24 or so teams over the next 6-8 years
    3-continued tweaking of salary cap rules allowing a 2nd-tier DP slots (3 & 5 total DPs) for players earning 300k-800k, helping to bring in more quality to the league while not bankrupting teams. Additionally seriously raising league minimum salaries as TV money increases.

    The good news is that NBCSports is a solid partner for MLS, LOVE MLS 36!!!! I anticipate MLS’ tv deals to do VERY well when they’re renewed again post 2014 WC. (not big 3-4 well, but a major jump) As the quality of the league grows it’s viewership will grow increasing TV contracts and increasing team revenues allowing for greater and greater increases in salary caps/spending/investment into youth programs!

    Did you know that in males ate 12-25 soccer is their most popular sport. It’s no longer a ‘little kids sport’. In 20 years the MLS/soccer in the US are going to be on VERY solid footing. Come on play your cards right MLS/NBC/etc!

  9. metroplexfrog - Aug 26, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    The MLS has a way to go to be as popular as other sports. The play is getting better every year and the attendance and viewership should grow as well.

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