MLS Attendance Higher Through First Four Weeks of 2014

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

By BILL REESE
Staff Writer

After watching a weekend of rain-soaked matches on MLS Live, I was all but certain that attendances around Major League Soccer were down across the league through the first four weeks of 2014. This hypothesis passed the eyeball test, looking at crowds in DC; Philadelphia; Colorado and yesterday in Harrison, New Jersey. However, paid attendance in MLS is inexplicably up 3.2% in 2014.

In both 2013 and 2014, MLS played 34 matches over its first four weeks (March 2-24 in 2013 and March 8-30 in 2014). There were no new teams added and no new stadiums opened (Toronto did play its first match of 2013 at Rogers Center). The average paid crowd for the first four weeks of 2013 was 18,434. Through the same period of time and over the same amount of games, MLS was averaging 19,029 fans per match this season.

Now, some could point out that Seattle Sounders—the standard bearer in MLS tickets sold—have played three matches in 2014 as opposed to two in 2013. That’s slightly offset by Montreal, who brought in 63,000 over two games at Stade Olympique in 2013 but have only played once at the Big O this season.

The slight bump in attendance runs contrary to two major factors that ought to have produced a lower attendance average. Firstly, MLS clubs played seven “rivalry” contests in the first four weeks of 2013—Seattle/Portland, Toronto/Vancouver, Toronto/Montreal, DC/New York, Dallas/Houston, Salt Lake/Colorado, and Chivas USA/LA Galaxy. These matches typically bring out more home fans as well as several hundred away supporters, depending on the club and the ground. Though there have been several intra-conference matchups so far, there have been no major “rivalry” matches so far in 2014.

In addition, though temperatures fluctuate from city to city, the weather is colder throughout the country in March 2014 compared to March 2013. Even on warm days, it could be argued that the rough winter has had a psychological effect on fans who may be less likely to go out and see a match until more seasonable temperatures arrive.

Even with home openers, March and April tend to be the trickiest months for MLS franchises to sell tickets. They need to contend with colder weather, college basketball, baseball’s opening days and the NHL and NBA playoff pushes. All that aside, the slight bump observed so far in 2014 is either the result of more fans embracing soccer as a cold-weather sport in America—or a statistical fluke conjured by cunning marketing directors around the league to pad attendance figures.

If MLS can sustain these numbers on the heels of a frigid winter, the league might just have a banner year for attendance once the summer and the traditional post-World Cup bump kick in.