Grid Locked

The last time I announced high school football regularly, Emmitt Smith was a high school senior. Considering he just went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that gives you some idea of how long it’s been. But starting tonight, I’ll be doing a weekly game on (some of which, I’m told, will be picked up by as part of their Super 25 preps coverage).

It looks like you can tune in for tonight’s game between Sunrise Mountain and Liberty at 7pm PT / 10pm ET by clicking here. Supposedly it’ll be available on demand after the fact as well.

EDIT: And, in a case of “small world,” the officiating crew for tonight’s game is the one I almost joined last year before broadcasting commitments kept me from being their back judge. This year I’m not officiating at all and the first game I do, there they are.

WPS Attendance Down 23%

Women’s Professional Soccer‘s second season is building to a….conclusion, and its sophomore year has been an interesting one. On the field, FC Gold Pride (with The World’s Best PlayerTM) has already clinched the regular-season championship and will host the final on September 26, Marta’s 15 goals lead the league, two expansion teams joined the fold and one of them opened a fabulous new stadium.

But after 20 weeks and 77 games, league attendance is down about 23 percent from 2009, with every team that returned from 2009 showing average attendance decreases ranging from 4% to 32%. This table ranks the teams by the difference in average from last year to this year.

TEAM G Total Average 09 Avg Diff
Boston Breakers 12 53,878 4,490 4,665 -3.8%
Sky Blue FC 9 29,299 3,255 3,451 -5.7%
Chicago Red Stars 10 42,056 4,206 4,628 -9.1%
FC Gold Pride 11 33,667 3,061 3,667 -16.5%
Saint Louis Athletica 4 12,109 3,027 4,055 -25.4%
Washington Freedom 10 39,216 3,922 5,747 -31.8%
Atlanta Beat 9 32,976 3,664 0 0.0%
Phil.Independence 12 34,179 2,848 0 0.0%
WPS TOTAL 77 277,380 3,602 4,684 -23.1%

(WPS teams played 10 home games in 2009. Because of the longer schedule and the demise of Saint Louis early in the season, they’ll play 12 or 13 this year. The ’09 Average column is based either on the same number of home games as a year ago or 10 home games, whichever is less.)

WPS’ small number of teams (and, therefore, games in a given week) results in a small sample size, so weekly trends might not be that meaningful. But given that my man Rob Penner broached the issue, here’s how each week of the first two WPS seasons has gone from an average attendance standpoint:

(That spike in week 9 last year came from a doubleheader at RFK Stadium that saw a league-record crowd of 16,089.)

As Penner says, though, the trend at the end of last season was upward and they’re trending upward as 2010 approaches the playoffs. A drop of over 1,000 per game overall (based on a lot of factors – the loss of Los Angeles, two new organizations, bad economy, you name it) is not an encouraging sign, but I’ve heard WPS will announce a new expansion team very soon (maybe a return to LA?) and they’ve still got to be losing less money than WUSA did.

EDIT: Oh, yeah, the WPS expansion team might be the W-League’s Buffalo Flash moving up.

Taking Attendance, 8/23/2010 (Updated)

Here are the latest attendance figures from the various soccer leagues around these parts, through yesterday’s games:

Seattle Sounders FC 11 397,701 36,155
Toronto FC 11 227,205 20,655
Philadelphia Union 9 183,112 20,346
Los Angeles Galaxy 9 182,871 20,319
New York Red Bulls 10 174,249 17,425
Houston Dynamo 11 187,668 17,061
Real Salt Lake 11 184,310 16,755
Chicago Fire 9 139,370 15,486
DC United 11 159,182 14,471
Chivas USA 9 128,413 14,268
Columbus Crew 11 155,903 14,173
Colorado Rapids 9 118,420 13,158
New England Revolution 10 118,139 11,814
FC Dallas 10 108,889 10,889
Kansas City Wizards 11 111,202 10,109
San Jose Earthquakes 10 96,376 9,638
MLS TOTAL 162 2,673,010 16,500
Boston Breakers 12 53,878 4,490
Chicago Red Stars 10 42,056 4,206
Washington Freedom 10 39,216 3,922
Atlanta Beat 9 32,976 3,664
Sky Blue FC 9 29,299 3,255
FC Gold Pride 11 33,667 3,061
Saint Louis Athletica 4 12,109 3,027
Philadelphia Independence 12 34,179 2,848
WPS TOTAL 77 277,380 3,602
Montreal Impact 12 147,276 12,273
Portland Timbers 12 115,078 9,590
Rochester Rhinos 13 81,974 6,306
Vancouver Whitecaps 11 55,938 5,085
FC Tampa Bay Rowdies 10 43,730 4,373
Austin Aztex 13 46,363 3,566
AC St. Louis 11 30,438 2,767
Puerto Rico Islanders 12 27,428 2,286
Carolina RailHawks 10 21,738 2,174
Minnesota NSC Stars 13 18,067 1,390
Miami FC Blues 11 14,151 1,286
Palace Baltimore 12 12,489 1,041
USSF2 TOTAL 140 614,670 4,391
Charleston Battery 10 36,412 3,641
Richmond Kickers 10 20,440 2,044
Harrisburg City Islanders 10 17,109 1,711
Pittsburgh Riverhounds 10 9,409 941
Charlotte Eagles 10 9,107 911
Real Maryland Monarchs 7 4,259 608
USL-2 TOTAL 57 96,736 1,697
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Women 5 7,565 1,513
New Jersey Wildcats 3 2,085 695
Atlanta Silverbacks 2 1,360 680
Seattle Sounders 5 3,098 620
Colorado Force 4 2,114 529
Charlotte Lady Eagles 4 2,053 513
Long Island Rough Riders 5 2,258 452
Hampton Roads Piranhas 5 2,037 407
Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues 3 1,097 366
Santa Clarita Blue Heat 3 1,083 361
Rochester Ravens 6 2,101 350
Ottawa Fury 6 1,985 331
Quebec City Amiral 6 1,933 322
Pali Blues 5 1,494 299
Northern Virginia Majestics 4 1,113 278
Laval Comets 6 1,594 266
North Jersey Valkyries 4 1,030 258
Colorado Rush 5 1,185 237
Buffalo Flash 5 1,149 230
Hamilton Avalanche 5 875 175
London Gryphons 3 482 161
Toronto Lady Lynx 5 800 160
Kalamazoo Outrage 5 755 151
New York Magic 4 492 123
Chicago Red Eleven 6 666 111
Tampa Bay Hellenic 3 323 108
NJ Rangers 5 472 94
Washington Freedom Futures 6 455 76
Cleveland Internationals 4 268 67
W-LEAGUE TOTAL 132 43,922 333
Des Moines Menace 8 28,413 3,552
West Texas United Sockers 8 20,011 2,501
Fresno Fuego 5 12,214 2,443
Carolina Dynamo 3 5,027 1,676
Victoria Highlanders FC 8 11,973 1,497
Dayton Dutch Lions 8 10,195 1,274
Forest City London 8 9,971 1,246
El Paso Patriots 7 7,485 1,069
New Orleans Jesters 4 4,029 1,007
Laredo Heat 8 7,908 989
Ventura County Fusion 8 6,987 873
BYU Cougars 8 6,862 858
Kitsap Pumas 4 3,301 825
Thunder Bay Chill 8 6,348 794
Los Angeles Legends 5 3,579 716
Cincinnati Kings 7 4,790 684
Mississippi Brilla 7 4,695 671
Western Mass Pioneers 8 5,352 669
Portland Timbers U23’s 8 4,925 616
Vermont Voltage 8 4,765 596
Michigan Bucks 7 4,064 581
Ogden Outlaws 3 1,636 545
Baton Rouge Capitals 1 540 540
Indiana Invaders 6 2,927 488
Hampton Roads Piranhas 7 3,085 441
Toronto Lynx 6 2,560 427
Long Island Rough Riders 7 2,964 423
Ottawa Fury 8 3,034 379
Ironbound Express 8 3,022 378
Central Florida Kraze 7 2,330 333
Ocean City Nor’easters 6 1,936 323
Rochester Thunder 5 1,609 322
St. Louis Lions 8 2,298 287
Reading United 8 2,222 278
Yakima Reds 4 1,020 255
Bermuda Hogges 6 1,524 254
Southern California Seahorses 7 1,634 233
Nashville Metros 7 1,506 215
Tacoma Tide 2 402 201
Rio Grande Valley Bravos 3 590 197
Springfield Demize 8 1,540 193
Albany BWP Highlanders 8 1,478 185
Dallas Fort Worth Tornados 4 716 179
MPS Portland Phoenix 7 1,226 175
Kalamazoo Outrage 8 1,320 165
Washington Crossfire 5 790 158
West Virginia Chaos 8 1,257 157
Atlanta Blackhawks 5 727 145
Hollywood United Hitmen 6 867 145
Abbotsford Mariners 8 1,155 144
Spokane Spiders 4 555 139
IMG Bradenton Academics 6 795 133
Kansas City Brass 6 783 131
Lancaster Rattlers 5 645 129
Vancouver Whitecaps Residency 8 1,029 129
Houston Leones 5 560 112
Brooklyn Knights 8 875 109
New Hampshire Phantoms 7 740 106
Ft. Lauderdale Schultz Academy 4 410 103
New Jersey Rangers FC 6 606 101
Central Jersey Spartans 6 600 100
Orange County Blue Star 8 740 93
Real Colorado Foxes 6 480 80
Westchester Flames 8 640 80
Cleveland Internationals 6 366 61
Chicago Fire 6 318 53
Northern Virginia Royals 0 0 0
PDL TOTAL 420 230,951 550

Quick notes:

  • MLS has four teams averaging over 20,000 per game. The three holdovers from last year have been joined by Philadelphia, but that’s artificial based on a couple of games held at Lincoln Financial Field. The Union’s PPL Park isn’t large enough for them to average 20k for an entire season.
  • On the flip side, USSF D2 has five teams averaging under 2,300 per game, three of them under 1,400. I can’t see how Baltimore, Minnesota and St. Louis return and I’m not optimistic about Puerto Rico.
  • MLS’ average for 45 games played after the World Cup (16,169) is slightly below its average for 93 games prior to the World Cup (16,472). In fact, that’s a trend seen at all levels. Every single league has a lower average attendance in games played since the World Cup than it did in games played before. Things in MLS usually pick back up in the fall, so that effect will be mitigated somewhat, and the second division schedule extends deeper into the fall than ever. We’ll see what the final numbers say, but what we have tends to give credence to the notion that the World Cup Bump isn’t as strong as some would like to think it is.
  • Charleston averaged 3,534 per game in 2009 in the USL First Division. Despite dropping down to USL-2 this year, the Battery averaged 3,641 (they’ll also host the championship game against Richmond this Saturday).
  • The Chicago Red Stars had their biggest crowd of the season Sunday (6,089 to see Marta and FC Gold Pride clinch the regular-season title and berth in the championship game). It was their second-largest crowd ever, trailing only the 7,959 for last year’s home finale against….Marta and the LA Sol.

Throw Them Back

It was nice of Miami FC to play along with the theme as the Rochester Rhinos of the USSF Division II Pro Soccer League paid tribute to their NASL roots last night. But let’s be honest, here – those are some half-assed throwbacks. At top above are the kits the Blues wore last night (photo courtesy James Kennith), with Ft. Lauderdale Striker team photos from 1982 (middle) and 1977 below that. Not even close, right?

To be fair, Rochester didn’t exactly outdo themselves with their throwbacks, but at least they were simple and didn’t look like something from a co-ed rec league.

For some reason, soccer teams don’t seem to do throwbacks all that well. When MLS’ San Jose Earthquakes wore throwbacks earlier this summer, they were from all the way back in…2005. Yay. (San Jose had worn NASL-inspired throwbacks in 2004 against Dallas). When the Tampa Bay Mutiny and MetroStars did a Rowdies/Cosmos homage back around the turn of the century, it was such a disaster (at least from the Tampa Bay side) that I can’t even find evidence of it.

It would be cool if the Rapids would wear these once or if DC United dipped into history, but I wouldn’t count on it anytime soon. And if the attempts aren’t going to be any better than Miami’s homage, I’d just as soon have the whole idea stay packed away.

Standards Transmission

Last week, Inside Minnesota Soccer revealed the actual standards the US Soccer Federation is going to (try to) hold any prospective Division II men’s outdoor league to in 2011 and beyond. You can go there and read the entire legalese, or I’ll condense the standards for you here and comment afterward.

General for any league:
1. Must determine a champion, either by “seasonal play” or a tournament.
2. Must play by FIFA Laws of the Game and relevant FIFA guidelines.
3. 75% of teams must be in the USA.
4. Must be able to control ingress and egress to stadiums.
5. Fields must be 110 yards x 70 yards and FIFA-approved.
6. Coaches must have USSF “A” licenses (or equiv.) within two years of their appointment.
7. Must use USSF-licensed or USSF-approved referees for all league games in the USA.
8. Leagues must require performance bonds “or other security” of amounts to be set solely by USSF.
9. League has to have an office open year-round during regular business hours.
10. League must have full-time CEO/Commissioner, active publicity/PR, marketing & sponsorship programs, director of officials (or delegate to USSF), professional registrar, disciplinary body and an executive committee.
11. League and each team must produce an annual media guide, league must produce weekly stats and regular press releases and league or teams must produce line-up card “or similar guide” for each individual game.
12. Teams must have General Manager, directors of Marketing/Sales, Communications/Media Relations, Promotions/Community Relations, Game Operations, head coach, assistant coach, trainer, ticketing manager, finance director and clerical staff.
13. Each team “must demonstrate its on-going commitment to the promotion of soccer at all levels in its home market.”
14. USSF can limit the number of foreign players.
15. No multiple-team owners unless “it is necessary for the viability of the league” and then you have to have a divestiture plan in place.
16. League must join USSF, pay all fees and and and its teams must be in good standing with USSF.
17. League must submit an annual report showing compliance with these standards.
18. League must release its players for national team duties and must “actively support the US national team programs.”
19. League must register its players with USSF “on a timely basis.”
20. USSF can review financial books of the league and teams.
21. The league must have a “code of conduct” for teams and players.
22. Teams have to provide attendance figures and “gross gate reports as requested by the Federation.”
23. USSF has to be notified if teams fall behind in paying players, stadium, league or “key vendors.”
24. You can request a one-year waiver from one or more of these standards but only in “exceptional circumstances.”

Specifically for a DII league:
25. Eight teams to apply for sanctioning. At least 10 teams by year three, at least 12 teams by year six.
26. US-based teams must participate in all CONCACAF competitions.
27. Teams in at least two different US time-zones. By year six, at least three different time zones.
28. At least 75% of teams must be in markets of at least 750,000 people.
29. 5,000-seat minimum stadium capacity, must be leased no later than 120 days prior to the start of the season.
30. $750,000 letter of credit to cover costs of operations, submitted 120 days prior.
31. Team owners must “demonstrate the financial capacity to operate the team for three years.”
32. One principal owner that owns at least 35% of the team must have an individual net worth of $20M.
33. Prospective owners must meet with USSF regarding “the responsibilities of owning a team.”
34. League must submit to USSF any violation of standards and how they plan to deal with it.
35. All required positions must be filled by full-time staff during the season.

Okay, so here goes:
1. Yeah, fine.
2. No experimenting, yo.
3. That means if you have Edmonton and Hamilton, you’d have to have six US-based teams with them. The NASL’s dream of a Canadian land rush may be dampened a bit by this.
4. Basically, you can’t play in an open field.
5. No crappy, short high school fields and only artificial surfaces that meet with FIFA approval. In other words, don’t go back to that high school in Cleveland. Also, Tampa Bay is going to have to stop playing at a baseball stadium at some point.
6. This has been a USL standard for years, though I’m not sure it’s been rigidly enforced.
7. That just makes sense.
8. Mandating performance bonds isn’t that new, but holding teams to it will be in USSF’s purview now.
9. That means you can’t have just one guy working out of his home office.
10. You have to have an actual league staff, not just one guy working out of his home office.
11. You know, the stuff actual leagues do. My guess is “line-up card” means match programme of some sort.
12. Teams must have actual staff.
13. You would think they would do that already, but whatever.
14. As per usual.
15. Could you please apply this to MLS?
16. Of course.
17. Wouldn’t you love to see these annual reports?
18. For DII, I don’t know how much of an issue this is going to be, but there’s always Jeremy Christie
19. Okay, then.
20. That will be fun. As private enterprises, teams haven’t had to do this (and, in fact, would balk at this if you asked).
21. Will it include time-outs?
22. We’ll definitely want to see both sets of those numbers. Good luck getting them.
23. Early-warning system, okay.
24. Translation: don’t expect much slack.
25. I got news for you: unless somebody’s sandbagging, I don’t see eight viable organizations right now, with six in the US (see #3).
26. Easy enough.
27. Eastern and Central would be easy and Eastern, Central and Pacific will end up being the three (Mountain Time always gets screwed).
28. This is interesting. You can have a Charleston, but (in an eight team scenario) you can only have two markets smaller than El Paso, Texas. Considering MLS has a lot of the larger markets already locked up, it’ll be interesting to see how this goes. The biggest markets MLS doesn’t have are Atlanta, Detroit and Phoenix. Minneapolis, St. Louis, Tampa, Baltimore, Portland and Austin are current D2 markets (Portland’s not long for the world, obviously) and Orlando (#27) is supposedly a USL expansion team for next year (good luck).
29. Note it doesn’t say “soccer specific stadium” anywhere that I can see. Just means they’re putting some minimum stadium standards that will (usually) rule out your run-of-the-mill high school stadiums that have plagued the lower levels for years.
30. $750,000 letters of credit should be workable for the high-net worth people they’re talking about, right? Still, I’m thinking Letter of Credit Day is going to be a nailbiter in late December every year.
31. Some have had the capacity, not a lot have had the ability. Just sayin’.
32. This might be the hardest one of all to accomplish.
33. Come in and see us, they say, so we can give you our blessing.
34. Do your own progress reports!
35. No interns doing actual grownup jobs.

So there we are. It seems as though most folks are, like FC Tampa Bay’s Andrew Nestor, saying all the right things, but let’s be honest here: the bulk of the currently-extant or proposed expansion teams at the DII level haven’t demonstrated the ability to meet all of these standards. We could go team-by-team, but what’s the point? I don’t believe there are eight actual teams that can pull this off.

So then what? It may very well be that, in 2011 at least, there is no second division. It may be that everybody plays in a league that gets Division III sanctioning (we don’t know exactly what those standards are, but I wouldn’t imagine they’d be too stringent. And, except for a niche of the soccer community, who’s going to care? Charleston has proven this year that level isn’t everything – that professional is as professional does. In their market, at least (and probably in many others) whether you’re in a DII league or a DIII league doesn’t seem to make a big difference.

The next 90 days or so should be very interesting. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but my guess is we’ll see some extreme volatility in the roster of teams for 2011 between now and Christmas. And that, once again, things will go down to the wire before we know what’s up for next year.

Playing Catch-up

A relaxing long weekend in Jerome, Arizona means I’ve missed a lot of what happened over the last few days, so let’s get caught up.

  • Today is the 33rd anniversary of the day Elvis Presley faked his death passed away. I remember it like it was yesterday – WTVT Channel 13 anchor Hugh Smith coming on with a news update, saying The King is dead, 12-year-old me stunned (famous people die?), my mom crying for three days. The moral of the story? You can’t continually put stuff like this and this into your body and not have it come back to bite you.
  • I can appreciate the second-half comeback and all that, but, seriously? You’re geeked up because the Rowdies won a contrived cup competition against the worst team in the league? As for me, I’m sick of all the draws. Draws are for average teams, and that’s all this team is right now – average.
  • Tim Tebow’s pro debut went fine. That’s all - just fine. He made some plays. Made some throws. Didn’t look out of his element. Played against backups, yeah, but played with backups, too. And the Broncos’ backups don’t appear to be very good.
  • The English Premier League season has started, and the Kansas City Star thinks they’re sooooo clever.
  • WPS’ FC Gold Pride has the best player in the world and they’ve played three straight scoreless draws now. I’m sorry, I’m just sick of hearing how hard it is to score goals in this game. On the plus side, FCGP did have its biggest crowd of the year (3,328). Meanwhile, Boston drew a season-high 6,108 and Philadelphia…well, we don’t know what they drew because they’re continuing this annoying habit of waiting a day or two to release their number. What, do you have a bunch of interns counting ticket stubs?
  • Brian Quarstad has the official US Soccer Federation standards for Division II play for 2011 and beyond. This merits its own post when I can get around to it. But Rochester owner Rob Clark, while agreeing to the standards, thinks the $20M ownership net worth requirement is a “lazy solution to the problem,” and that’s probably fair.
  • Apropos of nothing, the NFL Network’s ticker may be even more lame and insidious than ESPN’s ticker. Since I rarely watch ESPN anymore, I’m just guessing here, but the people in charge of NFLN’s ticker just suck beyond words.
  • See, it’s about creativity. I’m never offended by bad language as a parent or as a fan, I’m offended as a grown-up because I think heckling can be a fine art instead of fingerpainting hour.
  • What’s the over/under on what week the Terrell Owens/Chad Ochocinco thing goes off the tracks? I’m pegging it at Week 9. Place your bets.
  • The last two episodes made me realize what Entourage had been missing: nudity and Mrs. Ari looking really hot. The rest of it….meh.

Back to Monday. Almost time for a meeting. More later.