Now that every team in the National Women’s Soccer League has played a home game, let’s take a look at the attendance figures for the women’s top flight through games of this past weekend.
Portland Thorns FC
Chicago Red Stars
FC Kansas City
Seattle Reign FC
Western New York Flash
Sky Blue FC
Now in its third year, the NWSL has shown much more stability than its predecessors, but still has three very pronounced trouble spots: Chicago, New Jersey and Rochester. Don’t let that 16,017 crowd in Chicago this past weekend fool you. The doubleheader with the Fire at Toyota Park (by the way, NWSL, Toyota Park isn’t in Naperville) was nowhere near being indicative of how the team draws out in Lisle, where they have averaged 1,969 this season. Sky Blue can’t break 2,000 most nights (only three times last year, none this year). And while the Western New York Flash wasn’t exactly packing them in when they did have Abby Wambach, they’re doing even worse at the gate since trading her west. While they averaged 3,177 last year, two games this season have drawn 1,837 and 1,802 in a stadium badly in need of repair. That’s a third of the league and that’s a bad sign.
Portland hasn’t missed a beat, averaging 13,590 for its first three home matches. Houston is still solid and we’ll see how Kansas City’s move to a better venue works out. (They played their opener at Sporting Park, so we’ll need more data on Swope Soccer Village before drawing any conclusions.)
If every team in the NWSL held its current attendance average (not likely), the league would draw just over 420,000 for the season and average 4,667. That would be the highest in its brief history and the highest for a women’s league since the first year of WPS. But Chicago’s not likely to average its doubleheader-boosted 5,481 and Kansas City will probably be lower as well. I’d expect the league’s final number to be in the 4,200 range, or right about where it’s been for its first two years.
The NWSL has four more weeks of play before it takes a break for the group stage of the Women’s World Cup in Canada. Many stars1 won’t be around much longer, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe the league and its stakeholders are counting on a post-WWC boost. Not only in attendance (WPS average attendance nearly doubled in a small post-WWC 2011 sample) but in sustainable interest on the part of fans, sponsors and the federations of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Because the federations are fronting the player salaries for their respective star players, it will be interesting to see if their interest in continuing that setup survives the summer. If Mexico qualifies for the second round2, Canada makes at least the semifinals3 and the US wins it4, that might be enough to make USSF, CSA and FMF continue their investment. Poor performances might call for some serious soul-searching.
New York Cosmos COO Erik Stover has made it clear his team doesn’t aspire to join Major League Soccer, and won’t ground share with the vagabond New York City FC.
He’s also made it clear he’s not very good at math or objective reality.
In a recent talk at a local high school (covered by Empire of Soccer), the Cosmos’ honcho made it clear the North American Soccer League is where his club wants to be because of its enormous upside and recent growth, but he seriously overstates that growth.
“Our league is growing,” Stover said. “Just four years ago, average attendance was 1,500. It’s now 8,000.”
That’s just an out-and-out exaggeration.
Here’s what NASL average announced attendance has actually done since the league first stood on its own after the breakaway from USL and the ramshackle USSF D2 Pro League of 2010:
NASL average announced attendance was not 1,500 in 2011 – it was 3,770. It’s been on the rise ever since, and, to their credit, the NASL has added teams in markets that have become relevant and proven they can draw a crowd, while adding stability to the second division that hasn’t been the norm in many years. They’ve done well.
But they haven’t gone from 1,500 a game to 8,000 a game. They’ve gone from 3,770 a game to 6,501 a game. It’s a 72 percent increase (through games of last weekend), not a 433% increase.
Here’s what each of the 13 markets that have been part of the NASL since its inception have done in terms of average attendance, year-by-year:
NASL MARKET AVERAGE ATTENDANCE FROM 2011-2015
Every existing club is up over their inaugural season average except for San Antonio (the 35% drop is a bit overstated, as they moved into a smaller – and better – stadium in year two, but they’re still down 13% from that) and Ottawa (off 10%, but they had a big new stadium inaugural last year and have only had two home matches this year). In some cases, the growth has been tremendous, as in Minnesota, where United (nee NSC Minnesota Stars) have gone from moribund to MLS in the space of four years.
That’s something to which the Cosmos don’t aspire, because, to hear Stover tell it, “We don’t view our league as second division or minor league in any way,” he told the assembled students.
Except that it is, and in many ways, which are both quantifiable and obvious. The NASL has done well for a second-division league, but that’s what it is, and no matter how much saber-rattling they do, it’s going to remain true. The NASL has (for the most part) second-tier markets with teams full of (for the most part) second-tier players playing for (for the most part) second-tier coaches in (for the most part) second-tier stadiums in front of (for the most part) second-tier crowds and audiences on (for the most-part) second-rate media outlets. The league draws not quite a third of the attendance Major League Soccer does (MLS’ average s 20,802 as of this writing), gets far less media attention, doesn’t have an actual national television contract, and started out 15 years and several billion in investment behind MLS. When you can’t reach USSF’s Division I standards, I’m sorry, you’re not Division I. (And they weren’t even before USSF came up with those standards – the facts of the case haven’t changed.) (EDIT: Oh, and they’re apparently not actually going to be in FIFA2016, either. Oops.)
I get that Stover was talking to high school kids. But grown-ups were listening, too.
Those of you who frequent this blog for its information and opinion about indoor soccer may be interested and saddened to know of the death today of longtime indoor professional player Neil Gilbert, who succumbed to complications from liver failure this afternoon in Michigan.
Neil played 13 years professionally indoors after beginning his pro career outdoors at age 15 in Argentina with Independiente. When Major League Soccer started up in 1996, he was offered a contract by the (then) MetroStars, but family commitments in Argentina kept him from signing. He would continue playing until 2008, when he appeared in 25 games for Monterrey La Raza of the second Major Indoor Soccer League at age 38. In 358 career regular season indoor games, he scored 74 goals, added 73 assists and blocked 422 shots. He probably led the league in feigned devastating injuries as well, but that was just part of the appeal.
But numbers (which you can see below) don’t tell the whole story of a person. Neil could appear menacing (on and off the field – when he was in Indiana with us for one season, we always wanted to have Neil with us when out walking at night in some of the cities we played in, as his presence outstripped his 6-1, 175 frame), but was a really sweet, funny guy. When he once told our coach that he had missed the previous day’s training session because he was at the dentist, we all broke up at the look on his face when we (and then he) realized the previous day had been July 4. But that was Neil. Nobody held it against him.
He’d been battling liver problems for a while and was awaiting a transplant, but he passed away today at age 451 He leaves behind a wife and children and many teammates and friends. The family could sure use your prayers, but they could also use some help with all the expenses that have piled up, so if you are so moved, click here to contribute.
Every team in the three men’s outdoor professional leagues has played a home game except for Toronto FC and its reserve team in USL (TFC doesn’t have a home game for another couple of weeks, the reserves for almost a month), but that shouldn’t stop us from our first look at attendance figures for each of the leagues in 2015.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
Orlando City SC
New York City FC
Los Angeles Galaxy
New York Red Bulls
Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City
San Jose Earthquakes
New England Revolution
NORTH AMERICAN SOCCER LEAGUE
New York Cosmos
Ft. Lauderdale Strikers
Tampa Bay Rowdies
San Antonio Scorpions
UNITED SOCCER LEAGUE
Sacramento Republic FC
Arizona United SC
OKC Energy FC
Louisville City FC
Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Saint Louis FC
Portland Timbers 2
Real Monarchs SLC
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
Harrisburg City Islanders
Seattle Sounders FC 2
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Wilmington Hammerheads FC
Orange County Blues FC
LA Galaxy II
New York Red Bulls II
Toronto FC II
MLS hit the one million mark on April 10 in its 46th game of the season, the earliest in league history. (The old record was the 47 games it took to hit a million in the inaugural season of 1996. The second-fastest was the 51 games it took in 2012.)
The league’s average attendance for March (22,188) was a record for that month and the April average (20,022) was second only to April of 1996 (when the first-month excitement led to a 29,394 average that MLS has never approached in any month since.)
Seven of the top eight teams in the MLS attendance averages did not play in the league or did not exist just ten years ago.
Jacksonville’s inaugural set an NASL standalone record of 16,164 on April 4. (Minnesota played a doubleheader last year at TCF Bank Stadium that had an announced 34,047.) They won’t be playing every game in the big stadium there, so their average will drop, but they have a chance for a nice first season.
The Cosmos drew a “modern era” (as if this is an “era” – it dates back exactly 622 days) record crowd of 12,550 to their Hofstra opener on April 18, proving once again that the Cosmos can draw big numbers when they trot out the old guys. This Saturday, they play at MCU Park on Coney Island.
I don’t know how much longer Edmonton can go on. They’re far and away the worst-drawing team in Division II, and lifetime they’re only slightly better at the gate than the late, lamented Puerto Rico Islanders, who averaged 2,012 in 28 games their last two years. Unless there’s a new stadium on the horizon of the Alberta plains like, right away, I don’t know if they are viable long-term.
The NASL averaged a robust 6,838 for 20 games in April, up from 5,566 a year ago.
The USL has had 12 crowds of over 5,000 in the early going after only reaching that figure 15 times in their entire inaugural season back in 2011.
While some of the MLS owned-and-operated clubs have pulled in respectable numbers (not surprisingly, Seattle, Portland and Vancouver lead the way there), the average of the “independent” teams is 4,213, while the reserves are at 1,728.
Before you ask….I have an NPSL schedule and it’s very nearly complete. (Their season was well underway before the various pieces got released.) I am going to make yet another attempt to compile as many NPSL attendance figures as I can, but it is not easy. Very few teams report them and there is no central place to find them. If you know any numbers and can send them to me with sourcing, I will make an attempt to include them in the regular roundup here when appropriate.
Between MLS, the NASL, USL and the NWSL, an average of 277,935 people attended pro games in each of the last three weeks. That’s another figure I track, and with the PDL starting this week (whose numbers are slightly easier to find than the NPSL, but still not super simple), we’ll be well over 300,000 week-in and week-out. That was just unfathomable not that long ago.
As we embark on the 2015 installment of “Taking Attendance,” I want to thank you for reading and contributing. Say what you want about someone who takes the time to compile and present all these numbers, but I think they’re important to preserve and no one else I’m aware of does it as extensively as I do. You want to do it yourself? Do it yourself.
Now, Northern Pitch is normally a very good, very thoughtful and ambitious online news and commentary source that’s a valuable addition to the soccer information universe.
But this…..this click-and-comment-bait thing is little more than a fantasy. (Not the idea that a lower-division team could win the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, that surely could – and has – happened, but the idea that a North American Soccer League team winning it would somehow signal a sea change in American soccer.)
The NASL is not on equal footing with Major League Soccer, is not rapidly approaching it and would not magically get there overnight were one of its teams to win our 101-year-old tournament.
The Sporting News has weighed in on the length of games:
“Maybe the modern athlete is just too tired to move fast or do things quickly. It could be. Yet managers are constantly yanking pitchers, and no one ever moves slower than the guy coming in from the bull pen.
“It’s about time someone with authority took official cognizance of the slowness with which baseball is being unfolded these days. A great game is being slowly strangled by such tactics.”
With Opening Day in TSL just around the corner, construction is complete on a home for my team, the Tampa Tarpons. (And no public money was necessary for construction of this ballpark!)
The first ballpark I made, early last month, was fairly rudimentary, but I learned a lot during its design and construction. I applied many of those lessons to a second park inspired by the Polo Grounds that was visually interesting but didn’t really satisfy my desire for a quality dice-rolling and imagination experience. I wanted to have something that looked good, that was a challenge to build, that offered a good environment for rolling dice and playing APBA Baseball and would inspire some good memories.
Those who know me well know of my nostalgic affection for Al Lopez Field, the former spring training/Florida State League ballpark in my hometown of Tampa. My friends and I would go to see the Cincinnati Reds play in the spring and the FSL’s Tampa Tarpons play in the summer. (There are more good photos of the place here.)
My objective wasn’t to create a replica of the original Al Lopez Field (named after the Tampa native and Hall of Famer), but to pay homage to it with a new space that would work and the construction of which would allow me to be creative.
After the jump, you can see photos of the construction process and take a video tour of the place.
Ten years ago today, March 19, 2005, the Cleveland Force and Chicago Storm engaged in an epic on-field brawl during a Major Indoor Soccer League match at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. You can see the highlights and lowlights in the video above, but I’ll add some thoughts.1
The bad blood between the Force and Storm had been brewing for months. It may have all gone back to a game on November 6, 2004 in Cleveland, when the expansion Storm blew a 5-1 halftime lead by allowing seven straight Force goals in the second half. Tempers ran hot during the game as it slipped away from Chicago, and that carried over afterwards, as Storm defender Gaston Pernia had to be restrained from getting off the team bus in the parking lot to fight Force pest John Ball.2
If you watch the highlights, you see that this was a chippy affair from the get-go and it was only a matter of time before it boiled over. Chicago had a 3-2 lead at the half, but Cleveland tied it with just over five minutes left in the third. Ball picked up a deflected ball at midfield, dribbled to goal and beat Danny Waltman3 for his second goal of the game and a 3-3 tie.
A time out followed, and as both teams came out from their benches to huddle for the time out, Ball passed by Storm head coach Frank Klopas4, said something5 and bumped the nattily attired Klopas in the chest. The players didn’t have to come far to clear the benches, and what followed was several minutes of mayhem that resulted in five ejections6, at least one injury (Chris Dore, who got punched) and eventual suspensions that changed the course of Chicago’s season.
That was the winter of the NHL lockout that scrubbed the entire season, so we had Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s top equipment and producer (in Mike Leary), so our pictures and replays were stellar. The only snafu is that, despite having Klopas wired for sound for the telecast, we didn’t catch what Ball said to Klopas that started the whole thing. That was about the only failing of the whole show, and I still don’t know why we didn’t get it7
When the dust settled, Gaston and Leo Pernia8 and Fred Degand (who we had just picked up from Cleveland a couple weeks prior) were ejected for Chicago and Joel Bailey and Aaron Susi were sent off for Cleveland. Force goalkeeper Jim Larkin9 was also originally ejected (as he should have been), but after Force coach Omid Namazi complained to the officials that he didn’t have another goalie and wouldn’t finish the game if they ejected Larkin10 and the red was rescinded.
After everything was sorted out, Chicago went up when Novi scored on a restart with four minutes left in the period. Cleveland tied it again at 4-4 before the quarter ended, and Tamas Weisz broke the tie with 9:14 left (on an assist from Ball, naturally). Cleveland won 5-4, dropping Chicago to 15-16 on the season.
Gaston Pernia received the most punishment, a five-game suspension, while Leo Pernia was banned for two games (both in addition to the automatic one-game suspension for the red card) and they and Cleveland’s Joel Bailey were fined, as were both clubs for players leaving the bench area.
Chicago lost five of its last eight games, including the season finale in St. Louis when a win would have put them in the playoffs. The Pernias would absolutely have made a game’s worth of difference in that stretch, and though the Storm was an expansion team, nobody wanted to play them in the playoffs.
Cleveland went on to play in the MISL finals that May, but lost both games in overtime to the Milwaukee Wave. The principals in what is one of the biggest brawls in indoor soccer history have all gone on to other teams and other pursuits, but we’re all linked forever.
If you watched the game, played in the game or just remember attending or watching the game, leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Brian McBride delivered his acceptance speech upon his induction to the National Soccer Hall of Fame along with Kristine Lilly and Bob Bradley on February 14, 2015 at USSF’s Annual General Meeting in San Francisco. Image courtesy US Soccer Federation.
We get to select up to 10 deserving players to be enshrined in….er, well, about that…the Hall. One day there might be a place you can go and see, like, pictures and jerseys and stuff from these players. Or not. But there’s still a Hall of Fame and as long as I have life and a ballot, I’m going to vote and I’m going to tell you how.
There are 23 players on this year’s ballot and, after the jump, I’ll tell you how I feel about each of them.