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First MLS Attendance Report Of 2010 And The Myth Of The World Cup Bounce

Now that Toronto has become the last MLS team to have its home opener, here’s a look at where each team stands, attendance-wise, in the early going:

Team G Total Average Median High Low
Seattle Sounders FC 2 72,307 36,154 36,154 36,241 36,066
Philadelphia Union 1 34,870 34,870 34,870 34,870 34,870
New York Red Bulls 1 24,572 24,572 24,572 24,572 24,572
Toronto FC 1 21,978 21,978 21,978 21,978 21,978
DC United 1 20,664 20,664 20,664 20,664 20,664
Los Angeles Galaxy 2 41,181 20,591 20,591 21,376 19,805
Chicago Fire 1 20,276 20,276 20,276 20,276 20,276
Real Salt Lake 1 19,770 19,770 19,770 19,770 19,770
Houston Dynamo 2 34,656 17,328 17,328 18,197 16,459
Chivas USA 2 31,250 15,625 15,625 18,653 12,597
Columbus Crew 1 13,536 13,536 13,536 13,536 13,536
New England Revolution 1 12,798 12,798 12,798 12,798 12,798
Colorado Rapids 1 11,641 11,641 11,641 11,641 11,641
San Jose Earthquakes 1 10,589 10,589 10,589 10,589 10,589
Kansas City Wizards 2 20,613 10,307 10,307 10,385 10,228
FC Dallas 2 18,572 9,286 9,286 10,556 8,016
MLS TOTAL 22 409,273 18,603 18,425 36,241 8,016

Last year through 22 games, the average was 14,696. Home openers averaged 15,334 last year and 18,973 this year (thanks to Philadelphia’s inaugural home game, Toronto’s record crowd and Red Bull Arena opening).

Another note on MLS attendance, because you’re going to see the phrase “World Cup Bump” bandied around a bit when people talk about the league’s crowd figures: there’s no real evidence that one exists. Here are the figures from each of the last three World Cups (the only ones that have been played since MLS began play in 1996) (EDIT FOR ANYONE COMING IN FROM THIS REALLY GOOD STORY FROM GRANTLAND, I’VE NOW INCLUDED THE 2010 NUMBERS. TIME WARP.)

1998 World Cup G Total Average Median
Pre 82 1,221,296 14,894 11,967
During 27 421,034 15,594 12,372
Post 83 1,105,567 13,320 11,319
2002 World Cup G Total Average Median
Pre 45 741,743 16,483 14,065
During 25 325,276 13,011 12,721
Post 70 1,147,859 16,398 14,581
2006 World Cup G Total Average Median
Pre 60 963,446 16,057 14,916
During 40 527,908 13,198 11,925
Post 92 1,485,069 16,142 14,602
2010 World Cup G Total Average Median
Pre 93 1,531,922 16,472 14,287
During 24 413,479 17,228 16,228
Post 123 2,056,652 16,721 16,128

While it is true that in 2006 and 2002, MLS average attendance did increase after the World Cup (when compared to attendance during the World Cup), the fact that it returned (almost exactly) to pre-World Cup levels tells me that it’s an artificial effect. What you’re actually seeing is people appearing to be less likely to attend MLS games during the World Cup than before or after it (see below). It doesn’t appear as if the interest in soccer that spikes (understandably) during FIFA’s quadrennial celebration makes people particularly more likely to attend MLS matches in the months that follow. (2012 EDIT: The 2010 numbers show MLS games – in a much smaller sample as the league took the group stage off – to be well-attended during the World Cup, and to have a very slight bump post-World Cup, but still on par with the pre-South Africa numbers.)

And if you’ve followed MLS attendance over the years (as I have), you’ve seen that the mid-summer is when things tend to bottom out anyway. In the general period where the World Cup normally tends to be played, MLS average and median attendance is normally at its lowest, so the effect is not abnormal in any respect. In fact, if you take out the games of July 4 each year (which – at least in the days of really huge stadiums – tended to skew July’s numbers quite a bit), you get perfectly concave graphs for both average and median:

MLS is taking the group stage of this year’s World Cup off (Perhaps teams will play US Open Cup matches – I don’t know, they haven’t announced the format for this year’s tournament yet), so we’ll see what happens to the numbers.

10 Responses to First MLS Attendance Report Of 2010 And The Myth Of The World Cup Bounce

  1. Good post. You forgot to mention record crowd in Chicago. Increased interest is part of the story. The 2009 season open was hurt by extremely bad weather.

    Understand what your saying about the lack of a bounce. This year with the league off for a few weeks you may find a bounce. Also how does the touring European teams effect the MLS crowds. The last few year has seen foreign clubs in the US playing exhibitions to large crowds. Have they hurt league wide turnout?

  2. It was a record season-opening crowd at Toyota Park, but not a record for Chicago or for Toyota Park overall. I didn’t forget it.

    I don’t believe we’ll see a “bounce” with the league off. I think you WON’T see the dip that we normally see during that time of year, so it will appear (when all is said and done) as though the numbers were higher.

    There are a bunch of factors at work that are unique to this time period – Seattle, Philadelphia’s debut and them playing two games at the Linc, Toronto being (it appears) slightly expanded, Red Bull Arena opening.

    The foreign clubs may have drained some disposable income, but it seems to me that the bulk of the people who are going to see Barcelona at Cowboys Stadium wouldn’t be going to see FC Dallas anyway.

  3. It’s all about local marketing. The Timbers discounted their home opener largely in part because there were promotional photographers in attendance and had an opening night sellout of 15,418 (less than the 16k for Seattle because Seattle sold out early so they were able to open up standing room areas).

    Numbers should be up this year because the economy sucks less, and as you said, Seattle opened up more seats, Toronto opened up more seats, Philadelphia will have more seats than normal opened up as well and hopefully a little bit of buzz surrounding the Union. Whether the World Cup gets more people to watch a game in Columbus, however, is up to the Crew. I think any World Cup bounce may be best established by whether or not people are watching MLS on television, especially in non-MLS markets, considering soccer people in soccer markets already go to the games.

  4. Are weekday night/Sunday afternoon games evenly distributed thoughout the season? I remember during the first 8-10 years of the league it seemed there were always a very large number of weekday night games in August, for whatever reason. I’m not so sure about other months.

    That would likely be way too much of a hassle to figure out, but it’s one signifcant thing that could impact those numbers, if some months regularly have more weekday night/Sunday afternoon games than others.

  5. They’re not evenly distributed throughout the season, but think about it for a second: why would they be? What’s the problem with weeknight games in March, April, May, September and October?

    School nights.

    It is true that 13% of May games have been Wednesdays, while 21% of August games have been Wednesdays. I’ll have to do more digging to see if that could possibly result in the dip we’re seeing. My GUESS is that it has slightly more to do with weather than distribution of weekday games, but I’ll have to see.

    Pct. of Monday through Thursday games by month, 1996-2009:
    MAR: 4.6%
    APR: 8.0%
    MAY: 18.0%
    JUN: 22.2%
    JUL: 28.8%
    AUG: 25.7%
    SEP: 20.2%
    OCT: 14.1%

  6. Turns out Saturdays show the same type of inverse curve. If you took out July 4, it would be just about the same.

    My theory is that the hot summer months, vacations and other family things make it harder to get groups together. Groups (which make a big difference in MLS), are harder to get together then, but easier once teams and schools and stuff have either been together or re-grouped.

  7. And, oddly enough, MLS does really well on Sundays in September and October. When something else is going on.

  8. […] what do we think? In 1998 and 2002, MLS attendance did not increase from pre-Cup to post-Cup, and in 2006 the improvement was minimal. But so far, 9 of 12 clubs have […]

  9. What about factors like ticket trade-in dates. I wonder if those have larger attendances. As part of a group with season tickets. We don’t mind missing a game early in the year because we know we can trade it in for a few set games later in the year. I wonder if there are many others like us who might help boost specific games in the Fall.

  10. Yes, some have theorized that flex tickets and redemption of unused tickets may very well have an effect late in the season.

    Also, it seems to be easier to do groups in the fall after people return from their various summer travels. That seems to have an effect as well.


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