Thoughts on MLS Attendance

… And no, I’m not freaking about it. Yet.

I think you need a good half-season of attendance numbers to really judge where everyone is at. This allows time for games on a variety of days, allows teams to see quality and/or regional opponents; allows games in better weather; and some of the other competing sports clear out as college basketball, the NBA and NHL end.

For example, there has been much grumbling over DC United’s attendance for Saturday night’s 1-0 win over Houston – which ended up at 12,594. Some teams would be fine with that, but United has been one of the top attendances teams for a while, accustomed to bringing in 20,000 most nights.

Now, people will rush to United’s defense, since that night there also was:

* a Washington Nationals preseason game vs. Baltimore
* a Washington Wizards game vs. the Miami Heat
* a DC Armor arena football game right next door at the Armory (first home game in team history)

The Wizards drew better than 20,000. The Nationals actually got outdrawn by United, while the Armor were pleased with their 2,000+ against something known as the Reading Express. However, some fans could have very easily looked at the situation, knowing had bad traffic/Metro probably would have been, and stayed home. Pretty understandable in my book.

Another factor unique to DC is the annual Cherry Blossoms hoopla, which draws tourists out the minute the weather is nice, and other than some wind, Saturday was a good day. It’s possible that folks who might come to the United game simply for Saturday night entertainment skipped it because they were out all day. Perhaps the combination of all the above factors held the number down.

It is also fair to wonder if the continuing negative news about the United stadium project in Maryland, combined with some casual fans perhaps showing a suspicious eye toward the league regarding BeckhamGate ’09, isn’t having a bad effect on attendance. United are averaging 14,425 after two games – down more than 2,000 from the first two home games last season (the latter of which was a 13K effort on a Thursday – the following game was on a Saturday, and drew 23K).

I can’t get into why only 6,524 showed up for FC Dallas vs. Chivas USA last week, because I don’t live in that community and I’m not familiar with the factors that could have caused it. But it is an embarrassingly low total. Kansas City neared that Sunday (6,922), but remember, they play at much lower capacity than other teams to start with, and the weather was horrendous for that game. Fans want to beat their chests and say they’ll be there in any weather – but for many folks, that simply isn’t true.

The Galaxy drew 16,709 for their loss to Colorado – a low total for them, but I don’t think MLS will worry too much about it. Toronto got their typical 20,658 for a 2-0 loss to Seattle.

Every other game was about identical:

* Chivas USA (vs. Columbus): 12,827
* United (vs. Houston): 12,594
* Salt Lake (vs. Columbus): 11,806
* Fire (vs. New York): 11,633
* Revs (vs. Dallas): 11,314

The average for the 8-game week was 13,058. It isn’t impressive, but when you factor in the weather and reduced capacity for the KC total, I don’t think there are any absolutely embarrassing totals – gone are the days (I hope) where we saw multiple games each season (even playoff games) draw fewer than 5,000 fans.

So, no, I don’t think it’s time to be too worried yet. Teams deserve to have a good slate of games under their belt, offering a variety of opponents and such to show how things really stand. The sample size at this point is too low to get overly freaked out.

We’ll look at it again at the start of May and see how things stand and discuss if any conclusions can be drawn.

But if you have attendance thoughts already, feel free to share them in the comments section.

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8 thoughts on “Thoughts on MLS Attendance

  1. The one thing I’m surprised the MLS isn’t doing is broadcasting how one can watch a professional sport for far cheaper than any other real sport in town now that the collegiate bread (football) and butter (basketball) are now done. I mean its costs me around $42 (Using the train+food) to go see the Yankees, while the Red Bull cost me $23 (Parking+food) and these are without adding the price of tickets into the matter

  2. Well ya beat me to the “low MLS attendance” blog, so here goes

    The weather has been a huge confounding variable. Watching games over the weekend, with the exception of the Chivas game, people were clearly not comfortable out there. Many were standing simply because it was too cold to sit. And the rain and thunderstorm threats killed off any walk-up crowd.

    I’m also starting to think the idea of switching to the world calender might just stay as an idea for a long time. The NY-Chicago and Sounders-TFC games were nearly unplayable due to the wind…it was impossible to play a long ball.

  3. goff’s blog mentioned the ticket price increases at united games, the cheap seats are now $22, used to be $16 only 2 years ago, was gonna make the road trip, but bet against it to save some money

  4. I think another fact that lessens the importance of each game is that fact that we do not decide our champion based on season results. When fans know that all a team has to do is finish roughly in the top 8, then missing a game here or there, doesn’t really matter. When I skip games, this actually comes into play.

  5. 5 – 8 years ago, I was all about being the hardcore fan. But as I’ve gotten older (and wiser), the idea of standing on an aluminum bleacher at the SoccerPlex to watch United play Harbour View in 19 degree temperature (the coldest game I’ve been to and in my personal voluntary uncomfortableness is only trumped by Obama’s inauguration) does not seem enjoyable in the least.

    The Chicago game last week was not enjoyable, but as it was the home opener I wanted to attend it anyway. If that game was a week 7 game (and televised), I probably would not have gone to it.

  6. Traffic this weekend was simply dreadful in the DC area. I sat in or fled from jams on all of these roads on Saturday and Sunday:66 E
    66 W
    Rockville Pike
    Georgetown Pike
    Key Bridge
    50 W
    … and this was on a weekend. I can only imagine that the arteries closer to the Tidal Basin like 395, TR bridge, etc. (many of which help get folks to RFK) were clogged at least as badly.

  7. Since this has been true since day 1, it wouldn’t be a factor in comparing attendance from one season to another. Nice try on trying to sneak the single-table-no-playoffs argument in.

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