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MLS Success Now Makes Soccerball The Third Best Attended Sport In The USA

By Alan Duffy


In a heartening new development from across the pond, it has emerged that the fast-growing MLS has now taken the game to new heights in the US. New reports now put soccer as the third-best attended sport in America, ahead of stalwarts such as the NBA and NHL.

One particular success story has been the growth of the Seattle Sounders, who managed an average attendence of over 38,000 at their home games in the 2011 season. The north-west’s more Euro-centric outlook has played a part in this huge success story while overall, a focus on steady growth rather than a reliance on flashy big names has also been key.

Players such as Brad Davis of Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman have more than held their own alongside imports like David Beckham and Thierry Henry as the game in the States looks to develop homegrown talent.

Ignore all the usual clichéd anti-American nonsense, the success of MLS is now showing that there is a (very) sizeable and knowledgeable football fanbase in the USA. It’s all good.

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By Alan Duffy on November 14th, 2011 in MLS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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32 Responses to “MLS Success Now Makes Soccerball The Third Best Attended Sport In The USA”

  1. reality check says:

    Except MLS plays fewer than half the games as NHL or NBA and charges less than half the ticket price.

    While attendance is growing and that is all good, it is unfair to say that MLS has 3rd highest attendance in US when total attendance is less than half of NBA and NHL and ticket revenue is less than 1/4.

    There are 1/3 fewer teams, too, so total league attendance and revenue is even lower yet.

    The addition of the three northwest teams, Seattle, Vacouver and Portland has been a huge plus for the league. Without them, the league average attendance would be back to where it was the first 10 years of the League.

  2. paul says:

    @reality check: Obviously if they play LESS games the total attendance will be LOWER. Why are you arguing totals when you know mls doesnt have as many teams? Seems silly to me. My 2 cents.

  3. MaxMad says:

    @reality check: Paul is on to something. But don’t compare the established leagues in different sports to the MLS. You’re talking totals, but try doing some math on the percentages instead, focusing on a non-biased total revenue/attendance factor. It’s a feeble attempt to downplay the massive increase in attendance – both on and off the field – by comparing it to Hockey and Basketball.

  4. Archbishop Betty Snagcock says:

    god I can really wait for the US to become better than England (if it becomes their most popular sport, they’ll probably become the best in the world), they are not gracious winners

  5. shay says:

    @archbishop: At least you got a chance to bash the yanks. good job.

  6. __wowza says:

    @reality check:

    without three of it’s top drawing teams, MLS attendance would be lower. astute point, but did you also know that without it’s top three teams attendance in the EPL/La Liga/Serie A/League 1/bundesliga would be lower too?

    they’re going on average of the number of teams and number of games. you’re making an argument out of context on a claim that no one made; they aren’t saying the league has the third best revenue. im canadian and support the league vehemently, over the past five years it’s been proven that overall attendance has been on the up. only 3 out of the 18 teams in the league didn’t have a fan increase since last season, so even if you took out seattle/portland/vancouver, league attendance would’ve still increased.

    enough of the north american soccer bashing. let’s just say “well done MLS” and get on with our respective lives please/thanks.

  7. Sameer says:

    So stop calling it Soccerball and start using Football!

  8. reality check says:

    All I’m saying is the headline (and article’s premise) are misleading at best and false at worst.

    “MLS Success Now Makes Soccerball The Third Best Attended Sport In The USA”

    MLS is NOT the 3rd best attended sport in the USA by the most logical standard (total attendance).

    I didn’t even bother to mention that all NBA and NHL arenas are capacity capped around 20k or less, whereas Seattle, LA, Chivas USA, NY, DC and New England have capacities of 25k or more.

  9. Matt says:

    hah, “soccerball!” That shit never gets old. Height of wit there. pat yourself on the back.

  10. Newtex says:

    Or use Soccer. You know, the name invented by the English and widely used in the English speaking world.

    No one in the U.S. or Canada says “soccerball” for the name of the sport.

  11. Redskywalker7 says:

    I was really impressed and happy when I saw the title of the thread. But (and I really don’t want to sound ignorant here), surely it should be expected that Football will have a higher attendance than the NHL and NBA, seeing as you can’t fit half the amount of people in venues of the later sports????

    @Realitycheck I lost count of how many times you contradicted yourself with that post mate..

  12. Mike says:

    Misleading stat when you consider MLS stadiums are larger than NBA/ NHL arenas.

  13. Mr. Sparkle says:

    Well, the matter of popularity or support is questionable. A) The United States and Canada, have huge immigrant populations of Mexicans and Europeans, descendants of these migrants will likely follow the sport as well since they will watch European or Mexican leagues that are happening in their own countries back home. B) Since they can’t go to a Serie A game or a whichever league they watch, they go to the MLS games. C) Tickets for the NHL for the most popular teams are disgustingly high. $300 will buy you the worst seats (with a column in front of you) in a city like Toronto or Montreal. There has been a complaint about the game becoming corporate with suits coming to games and filling most seats, but with such high prices for the worst seats, I doubt anyone can afford to fork over more (especially since their’s a recession) for better seats at ice level.

    So at the end of the day, has the popularity of the MLS grown despite immigrants from Europe and Mexico who miss going to live matches, or has it grown because of that. Due to the fact that these individuals can no longer watch these games, aren’t likely to care for NFL, NBA or the NHL or just can’t afford the tickets. MLS is probably the best, cheapest alternative to all those leagues.

    As for the fanbase, America has a huge Mexican minority, along with a lot of European immigrants (this goes for the Canadian side of the MLS as well).

  14. LandyCakes says:

    I kind of like the term “soccerball.” Has a nice ring to it, no?

  15. dc says:

    Mr Sparkle, I stopped reading after “especially since their’s a recession.”

  16. Miguel says:

    MLS is getting bigger but the older generation is still almost exsclusively anti-soccer and pro traditional american sports like baseball or the nfl. Black people that are not from africa or south of the border like basketball just as the stereotype suggests and I would say that the NBA and NHL are still lightyears ahead, maybe not in terms of attendance but ESPN takes them seriously and even most white kids know who dwight howard is before Ryan giggs.

    That said, I don’t care! I’m watching four premiership games per week from the midwest USA and the MLS is getting more numbers. I support the columbus crew where we have a very loyal but small fanbase. For the crews sake I hope the sport gets bigger locally but besides that, I’m fine where it is.

  17. Al says:

    does it really matter about average stadium capacity, capped stadium capacity, games played etc? This is just a bit of good news about soccer/football growing in a market it’s always struggled in. Can’t figure out why there’s so much hate/fear here over the apparent success of the MLS. I watch the Whitecaps play (poorly) and they get between 17k and 24k per game, it’s a good sign that the game is healthy, well done MLS.

  18. Titus says:

    @reality check… The term “best-attended” generally refers to average ataendance. For instance, by total attendance numbers, both the NBA and MLB have the NFL beat, but the NFL averages something like 65,000 fans per game but with much fewer games. However, I do think the best measure of how much the MLS is really gaining in popularity would be TV ratings

  19. Biscut says:

    In articles that talk about something “american” on this site, there are always loads of comments. wonder why?

  20. Crafty Bernardo says:

    1) the most used stat for how well leagues are attended is “average attendence per game” (see: NFL widely considered best attended sports league on the globe, but total attendance isn’t #1).

    2) MLS stadiums, by and large, are roughly the same size as NBA/NHL stadiums.. Yes, DC and New England play in 60,000+ stadiums, but that actually hurts their attendance (both teams averages would be higher in a well-placed 20k soccer stadium), so it’s a logical fallacy to use that as some kind’ve caveat to why MLS average attendance being better than NBA/NHL is unfair. There’s only ONE team (out of 19) that really gets the benefit of the stadium that’s considerably larger than NBA/NHL stadiums and that’s Seattle.. ther’es also one (San Jose) that you should consider is much smaller than anything in the NBA/NHL… can’t really argue one without the other.

    3) Who cares… it’s just an arbitrary statistical milestone… but it is illuminating regarding the inertia soccer has in the US, even if you don’t like it.

  21. Kejsare says:

    To the notion that they play in larger stadiums, I offer these facts:

    NBA sells at a rate of about 90% capacity, for arenas that average about 18k.
    NHL sells at a rate or 93% capacity, for arenas that average only a few hundred less than NBA around 18k [because the ice rink configuration takes out a few seats].
    MLS sells at a rate of about 80% capacity, for stadiums that average 21k.

    Look, 15 of the 19 teams will be in stadiums built for soccer specifically. Portland kicked out the tenant baseball team to build a Eastside seating. Kansas City spent $200 million, NY $250 million, Houston spending another $200 million. Also, the median this year was a record 17,639. Never before had the median been above 16,000. In fact, last year it was only 15,322, the best median up until that point.

    The match season is 306 matches, of the 306 matches, 198 or 64.7% of all matches surpassed 15k which completely shattered the 52.4% pace set last season.

    Total attendance is worthless to compare. NFL has 17,000,000 in a season, less than NBA and NHL. It all says nothing about popularity. Same context with MLS being “only” 5,400,000.

    MLS is now in the top 10 attended football leagues in the world. Gets this many to attend even with a $2.65 million salary cap [with many exceptions], and with 19 teams in US and Canada. Canada has teams in the top 3 most populated markets. US has 16 teams to be spread among the top 50[!] largest statistical metro areas, Salt Lake comes in at number 50. Breaking above NBA and NHL also breaks down a common criticism that “soccer will never make it in the US.” Now that average attendance places it above decades old leagues chips away at those sentiments.

  22. wow says:

    mr sparkle you are an idiot.
    due to mostly euro and mexican immigrants ..? fuck off dude.

    it’s american youth not due to immigrants.

    and btw Chris… NO ONE in the united states calls it Soccerball..

    we call it soccer as in “hey shit fuck, you wanna play some soccer?”

    we call the ball a soccer ball but use Soccer alone for the name of the game.

    Some of us just call is football because we don’t watch US football and know what the fuck we are talking about when calling it football to each other.

    good article,.

    there are some stupid americans on here trying to defend their dying sports (NHL and NBA) but the FACT is SOCCER is bigger and better then those two sports, we have a higher attendance and we will from now on be more popular and more attended. DEAL WITH IT.

    Chris- please change it from SoccerBall to Soccer or just football, I know you worded it on purpose to smite us yanks but its really not funny.

  23. supa phil says:

    @Reality check

    Not to mention there are only like 20 teams in MLS. Most other American sports leagues have 30+ teams.

  24. sloth says:

    I can’t speak for basketball, but NHL suffers from over-expansion into non-traditional markets who drive down league average attendance. Coming from the Vancouver market, I know that as of Nov. 14, the Canucks have sold out 370 consecutive games at a capacity of 18,860 and average ticket prices well over $100cdn. I would wager they would be selling out every game with a capacity of 40,000. I assume Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal are all in similar positions, while several US markets like Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, New York (Rangers), Minnesota, Boston and Chicago are also very healthy. The same can’t be said for markets like Florida, Phoenix, Atlanta (RIP), or even New York (Long Island). I’d love for MLS to overtake a few hockey teams and the NHL could contract to 24 or 26 teams, but mark my words the MLS has a LONG way to go to even come CLOSE to comparing to hockey in Canadian and a few select US markets.

    My point is we’re comparing apples to oranges to bananas here. I’m ecstatic that the MLS is growing, and having 3 teams in Canada is an exciting prospect for our incredibly feeble national program. Hooray for MLS, onward and upward!

  25. Tim Lovejoy says:

    >and having 3 teams in Canada is an exciting prospect for our >incredibly feeble national program

    Why? Teams only need to have 3 canucks.
    You people had a league 20 years ago (i lived in Ottawa and watched pescholido, Eck, Lyndon Hooper, Fashanu and the rest of canadian stars of the era,
    And now youre happy that you have 3 teams where 95% of players wont be canadian?
    Name me another country on the planet taht doesnst have its own pro league? Iceland (275,000 people and already 3 PLAYERS have signed by Man.United ) have a league, so do the Faroes Islands.

    At 35million, Canada is a banana republic when it comes to sport.
    The CFL being the ONLY sport league in the country.

  26. lol says:

    “and the rest of canadian stars of the era,”

    LOL, I laughed so hard reading that.

  27. Mr. Sparkle says:

    “mr sparkle you are an idiot.
    due to mostly euro and mexican immigrants ..? fuck off dude.

    it’s american youth not due to immigrants.”

    I have been to MLS matches, a good percentage of the fans you see in the stands are usually first or second generation descendants of immigrants or immigrants themselves. At least that’s how it is in Canada, and considering teams like TFC and Vancouver have high attendance and both have huge non-native born populations within their cities, the fact that European or Mexican migrants are more likely to go to a soccer game is obvious.

    Besides, does the MLS or anyoen for that matter keep statistics on the ethnicity of those who buy season tickets or go to games, no? So how do you know that I’m wrong?

    “and btw Chris… NO ONE in the united states calls it Soccerball..

    we call it soccer as in “hey shit fuck, you wanna play some soccer?”

    we call the ball a soccer ball but use Soccer alone for the name of the game.

    Some of us just call is football because we don’t watch US football and know what the fuck we are talking about when calling it football to each other.”

    First, take a deep breath. Second, remove the tampon out of your arsehole. Third, it’s called tongue in cheek.

    “there are some stupid americans on here trying to defend their dying sports (NHL and NBA) but the FACT is SOCCER is bigger and better then those two sports, we have a higher attendance and we will from now on be more popular and more attended. DEAL WITH IT.

    Chris- please change it from SoccerBall to Soccer or just football, I know you worded it on purpose to smite us yanks but its really not funny.”

    Blah, blah, blah. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

  28. Mr. Sparkle says:

    It even says so at the top.

  29. WildScotsman6 says:

    @Mr. Sparkle: Does the nurse know you access to the internet?

  30. Wisconsin says:

    @sloth:

    Agreed. Screw some of those non-traditional markets and bring an NHL team to Wisconsin. The Badgers’ college team draws better crowds than some NHL teams, has led the NCAA in attendance for years (and is college elite in hockey), and we have lots of fans here across the state. Phoenix does not need a hockey team. Maybe they want a second basketball team? Let’s trade.

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