Taking Attendance 8/18/2013: Final NWSL Attendance Numbers
The inaugural season of the National Women’s Soccer League saw a thrilling conclusion (with the top three teams all finishing on 38 points) and average attendance up 21 percent from the final year of Women’s Professional Soccer in 2011. Here are the final (unofficial, of course, and corrections are always welcome) crowd figures for the NWSL for 2013:
|Portland Thorns FC||11||146,521||13,320||12,534|
|FC Kansas City||11||50,884||4,626||4,774|
|Western New York Flash||11||49,334||4,485||4,065|
|Seattle Reign FC||11||25,365||2,306||2,318|
|Chicago Red Stars||11||18,817||1,711||1,329|
|Sky Blue FC||11||18,309||1,664||1,322|
- In a (relatively) short season, Portland’s amazing performance at the gate skews the perspective a bit. Fully 39 percent of all the people who attended NWSL games this season did it in the Rose City. The rest of the league’s teams averaged 2,977 a game.
- Every market that was part of WPS in either 2011 or 2010 saw smaller average crowds in 2013, “led” by Chicago’s 58 percent drop in average from 2010 (the last year they played in WPS). Boston (which plays in a much smaller stadium now than it did in 2011) saw its average drop 45 percent, while Sky Blue FC was down 22 percent from 2011 despite being among the league leaders on the field most of the season. Western New York (down 8 percent from 2011) and Washington (down 5 percent from 2010) had smaller erosion. A lot of this is because of how quickly the league came together, so a full offseason of (hopefully) enhanced marketing efforts will make 2014 a better test.
- Portland’s 13,320 average was the second-highest in combined WUSA/WPS/NWSL history, with Washington’s 14,421 average in 2001 (helped considerably by the league’s inaugural match and a couple of doubleheaders with DC United) the record.
- The league averaged 4,842 in April, 3,608 in May, 3,892 in June, 4,562 in July and 4,789 in August. Sunday was actually the best day for attendance, average-wise (5,482, compared to 3,841 on Saturdays), but part of that is because six of Portland’s eleven home games were on Sundays.
- Consistency was pretty much a watchword: the first 44 games averaged 4,171, the last 44 averaged 4,369 (after a post-2011 Women’s World Cup bounce that led some to believe a renaissance was happening).
- If you’re into medians, NWSL’s (3,007) was barely ahead of WPS’ 2011 mark (3,005), saving it from the distinction of the worst median in the seven-season history of pro women’s league soccer. WUSA’s overall average was 7,246 with a 6,155 median; WPS’ overall average was 3,930 with a 3,589 median.
- As to the general point of all this, these figures (skewed as they are, and as often malleable as they are) give us a general sense of interest in the product and a hint at team revenue. With the US, Canadian and Mexican federations paying the salaries of the top players, teams’ budgets had some pressure removed, which is a good thing. Unless they use those savings on some robust sales and marketing efforts, though, I fear it will be counterproductive. No one has yet hit on the magic formula for marketing this product, which hopes to feed off the cyclical interest in the US Women’s National Team but pales in comparison to it. They’ve tried spending big and appearing like a big-time, worthy sport with star players making big money, they’ve tried fiscal austerity, they’ve tried cause marketing. Nothing yet has bridged the profitability gap. The real test will be if all eight current teams (whose financial health hasn’t even been hinted at yet, officially, that I’ve seen) return for 2014 and if any rumored new additions actually come to pass. WUSA was able to keep all eight of its clubs coming back, but never got above eight. WPS was never able to keep all of its teams together from one year to the next, and also never had more than eight (with which it started the 2010 season before St. Louis went under). Getting all eight teams to come back for 2014 would be a positive step, and growing the fan base next season would be, too.