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Attendance at MLS playoff matches so far: good, not great

Nov 5, 2012, 11:25 AM EDT

SOC - Dynamo vs Union

Crowd counts at six MLS playoff contests so far have ranged from wholly disappointing to fairly impressive. Let’s take a look:

Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park: Major League Soccer’s 17th playoff season opened with a bit of a dog, as a national TV audience saw empty seats aplenty from a crowd of 10,923. Everyone around the league cringed at that one.  It underscored two points: the league has not advanced to a place where mid-week matches can content with weekend contests in terms of ability to sell. And, speaking of sell, having just three days to push  tickets clearly put Chicago staff behind the marketing and sales 8 ball.

Los Angeles Galaxy’s Home Depot Center: Los Angeles’ home ground hosted two contest, beginning with last week’s elimination match against Vancouver, which drew a disappointing 14,703. There was some confusion about an important point here. Yes, mid-week matches at the HDC generally have a cap related to its agreement with Cal State Dominguez Hills. But the restrictive cap was lifted, so this was just a fairly weak link.

Sunday’s match helped redeem things; it was a sellout at 27,000.

Seattle Sounders’ CenturyLink Field: Leave it to Seattle to pull the league’s attendance wagon out of a ditch. Friday’s crowd (for MLS post-season Match No. 3) was exactly what we all expect from the league’s far-and-away crowd-count leader: a down-sized sellout of 34,941. Atta boy, ye rave green faithful. We knew we could count on you!

D.C. United’s RFK Stadium: Great to see a little bounce back in RFK Stadium, where attendance has suffered along with a team that missed the playoffs four years running. Saturday’s match drew a lively 17,556; it was very old school DCU that way. Let’s hope the high-energy and encouraging numbers seen on a chilly Saturday becomes the new new-normal around the club’s venerable old ground.

Houston Dynamo’s BBVA Compass Stadium: Not a completely full house at the very orange downtown grounds, but not bad, all things considered.  Competing against the NFL’s Houston Texans (having a great season and playing just across town) on a fall Sunday is challenging, especially given such a short sell window for the soccer club. The only big patch of seats left unfilled were high behind the north goal. The official total of 20,689 apparently counted tickets unused, but the vocal crowd made for a swell atmosphere.

  1. thekingofnorway - Nov 5, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Finding the cloud to Steve’s silver lining … while Seattle looks good in comparison to the rest of the league, it’s worth noting that Friday’s crowd of 34,941 was the smallest of Seattle’s four playoff matches in terms of attendance.

    I haven’t yet heard a good explanation as to why that is, but it seems worrisome to me in light of the bigger crowds at CLink earlier in the year. The Rave Green can and should come out in bigger numbers.

    • dhagentj - Nov 5, 2012 at 11:11 PM

      Not sure if it is a “good” explanation, but even Seattle suffers from having only four days from the announcement of the playoff date to the game itself.

  2. term3186 - Nov 5, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    The Chicago crowd was disappointing, but it’s well worth mentioning that the game was on Halloween evening. undoubtedly most families (especially those with children under 12) were out trick or treating and whatnot.

    • Steve Davis - Nov 5, 2012 at 2:00 PM

      That’s a great point; I should have noted it. I would say, even beyond the families, lots of people are just busy on Halloween with various parties / activities.

  3. drewvt6 - Nov 5, 2012 at 2:34 PM

    Spoke with the Galaxy ticket people last thursday night. As far as they knew during ticket promotions they were restricted to 15000.

    • Steve Davis - Nov 5, 2012 at 5:06 PM

      According to information provided to me by MLS, restriction was lifted. (Although perhaps your point is that LAG staff was OPERATING under assumption of capped capacity, which can be a factor, I suppose.)

  4. seanb20124 - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:18 PM

    Way to cold on East Coast to attend a game, prefer HDTV cheap beer and zippy travel.

  5. futbolhistorian - Nov 6, 2012 at 1:48 AM

    “The official total of 20,689 apparently counted tickets unused, but the vocal crowd made for a swell atmosphere.”

    Yes, they counted tickets unused, just like every other professional league does (as well as college football). I don’t think there’s a pro league in the country that still only counts “tickets through the turnstile” as announced attendance. The NFL was the last to do it, but as of a few years ago, NFL teams, as requested by their league office, also started to use the “tickets distributed” number as the attendance number. For some reason, MLS continues to suffer the stigma that it’s the only league that does it, but every major sport announces tickets distributed, not actual “butts in seats.”

  6. futbolhistorian - Nov 6, 2012 at 2:15 AM

    The first six games of the 2012 MLS playoffs have had an average attendance of 20,969.

    Four of the games only had a 72 hour window for promotion and ticket sales (Chicago, Houston, and the two games in LA). One game had a 120 hour window (Seattle). And one game, had anywhere between 65 and 72 hours, depending on when the DC sales staff actually found out they were hosting the first game of the doubleheader and not the second.

    The fact that MLS drew over 20k per game under the circumstances (short selling windows, two games on halloween, one directly competing with the NFL team, one with a last minute venue change), and that gets a “good, but not great” clearly shows how far MLS has come in the last ten years. Because if this was 2002, and playoffs games were averaging 21k, we would have been signing kumbaya.

    In case anyone was wondering, the 2002 MLS playoffs averaged 13,872 fans a game.

  7. futbolhistorian - Nov 6, 2012 at 2:29 AM

    Meant to say “host the first game of the two-game series” and not “doubleheader” ….

  8. futbolhistorian - Nov 6, 2012 at 2:35 AM

    Sorry, one small correction. The playoff attendance number for 2002 was actually 10,907 (I was counting the 61k for MLS cup in the prior number). So in 2012, the average playoff attendance so far is nearly double what it was a decade ago.

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