Taking Attendance 6/30/2014: This One’s For The Girls

Time to take a look at the attendance figures for the two most visible women’s soccer leagues, the NWSL and the W-League. The NWSL, a USSF-backed pro circuit, is the third (and possibly final) attempt to establish a fully-professional women’s league on these shores. The W-League has been under the United Soccer Leagues’ umbrella since its establishment in 1995. Here are the latest figures for both leagues through Sunday’s games. (As always, additions or corrections are more than welcome.)

NWSL G Total Avg. Med. High Low
Portland Thorns 7 86,970 12,424 13,427 14,128 10,056
Houston Dash 7 33,146 4,735 4,050 8,097 3,505
Chicago Red Stars 5 21,265 4,253 1,450 15,743 1,039
Seattle Reign 7 23,535 3,362 2,875 5,770 1,754
Washington Spirit 7 23,364 3,338 2,865 4,667 2,306
WNY Flash 7 20,866 2,981 3,107 3,674 1,786
Boston Breakers 9 18,297 2,033 2,018 2,876 1,263
FC Kansas City 9 18,122 2,014 1,797 3,107 1,457
Sky Blue FC 8 11,794 1,474 1,253 2,983 582
NWSL TOTAL 66 257,359 3,899 2,694 15,743 582
 
W-League G Total Avg. Med. High Low
Washington Spirit Res. 4 6,570 1,643 749 4,598 474
Santa Clarita Blue Heat 5 3,281 656 733 991 199
Colorado Pride 4 2,508 627 577 1,029 325
Seattle Sounders 4 2,300 575 578 708 437
Charlotte Lady Eagles 2 1,146 573 573 738 408
LI Rough Riders 5 2,668 534 425 868 308
Atlanta Silverbacks 5 2,326 465 337 1,079 214
Colorado Storm 2 870 435 435 700 170
Colorado Rush 3 820 273 268 339 213
New Jersey Wildcats 4 1,032 258 268 358 138
LA Blues 4 871 218 145 486 95
Ottawa Fury 3 636 212 233 253 150
Dayton Dutch Lions 4 819 205 196 275 152
Braddock RS Elite 3 609 203 191 252 166
Sedona FC Strikers 3 550 183 200 250 100
New York Magic 5 911 182 126 316 110
North Jersey Valkyries 3 512 171 115 297 100
Carolina Elite Cobras 4 636 159 155 251 76
Laval Comets 4 635 159 143 300 50
Quebec Dynamo ARSQ 5 776 155 135 277 83
Bay Area Breeze 4 602 151 160 183 100
K-W United FC 2 283 142 142 156 127
Toronto Lady Lynx 5 700 140 100 300 50
Gulf Coast Texans 3 348 116 117 121 110
London Gryphons 4 183 46 49 51 35
W-LEAGUE TOTAL 94 32,592 347 213 4,598 35

NOTES:

  • Let’s get this out of the way up front, okay? The NWSL isn’t working. It’s not going to work. In Portland it works fine. In Houston it seems to work pretty well. Everywhere else? No, it’s not working. Forty seven percent of all the people who have gone to NWSL games this year have done so in those two cities. Now, two anchor tenants is at least one more than most women’s soccer leagues have been able to hang their hats on, historically, but the other clubs don’t show many signs of actually mattering to their communities. The first year was a write-off, because the league came together so quickly. But here we are now in Year Two, and there hasn’t been much progress. We will have a Women’s World Cup next year, which will spur interest in the US Women’s National Team, and there may be some spillover into the NWSL post-July 5, 2015. But then what? Mexico and Canada are contributing to funding the salaries of their national team players in this league (as is USSF, obviously), but after the tournament in Canada next year, it’s four long years until the next one. Will they have the stomach to do it again?
  • Except for Chicago (up 176% because its home opener was a doubleheader with the Fire) and Seattle (up 79% from last year’s pretty bad numbers), every second-year team in the league is showing a year-over-year decrease in average attendance. Yes, even Portland, though it’s only three percent and nothing to worry about. Washington (-11%), Sky Blue FC (-13%), Boston (-15%) and Western New York (-21%) are all causes for concern, but Kansas City’s drop (they’re off 56%) is largely because they moved into a much smaller (though more appropriate from a soccer standpoint) venue this year. The league as a whole is off 10% from its 66-game total a year ago. And without Portland, the league average is currently 2,888 and projects out to 3,024 (it was 2,977 without the Thorns in 2013). With Portland included, the league projects (if everyone holds their current averages) to 4,068, a slight drop from last year’s 4,270.
  • Eighteen of the top twenty crowds in the NWSL’s short history have been in Portland (no surprise). The largest non-Portland crowd was the 15,743 for Chicago’s (doubleheader) home opener and the only other crowd to break 9k was the 9,129 who turned up in Rochester for last year’s championship match.
  • Conversely, the four lowest crowds in league history have all happened this season, all at Sky Blue FC and all on Wednesdays. The 582 announced for the April 30 match between Seattle and Sky Blue is the NWSL’s nadir to this point.
  • Things are down in the amateur W-League as well, with a 347 average (with 13 data points missing) through last night’s games. Only Washington (with a doubleheader crowd of 4,598 for its home opener) is averaging over 1,000 a game. In fact, there have only been three four-digit crowds in the league this season (the others coming to see the Colorado Pride and Atlanta Silverbacks). The W-League used to do much better than this, but it appears as though very few teams attempt to actually market themselves as viable soccer clubs anymore.

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11 Responses to “Taking Attendance 6/30/2014: This One’s For The Girls”

  1. RMc Says:

    The only way women’s pro soccer is going to survive is to link up with MLS and play lotsa doubleheaders. (What’s in it for MLS? Not much, really.)

  2. admin Says:

    I think you are half right. The benefits of using MLS’ infrastructure seem fairly clear (Portland/Houston), but I do not believe the economics of the doubleheader are as favorable as you seem to think they are.

    These teams have to become relevant in their own rights to be seen as a destination and a worthy use of people’s discretionary time and money. But using MLS infrastructure would seem to be a prudent way to stretch limited resources.

    But it’s not as simple as just “play a bunch of doubleheaders.”

  3. RMc Says:

    Oh, definitely. When I was younger, girls basketball games were always played as warm-ups to the boys games. Now, women’s basketball has gained a measure of popularity in its own right, so now the games are scheduled separately.

    I’m kind of surprised that there isn’t a closer relationship between MLS and the NWSL. I mean, the WNBA would’ve died years ago without the NBA’s money.

  4. admin Says:

    A lot of the boy/girl doubleheader stuff at the scholastic level is about cost savings on travel. The MLS and NWSL schedules and footprints would have to align better than they do to maximize that. The infrastructure is where the economies of scale and synergies would come into play.

    And the history of the sport in this country has been one of non-cooperation. It’s amazing there are any noses left.

  5. Badger Says:

    Women’s Pro would work best as a regional league. Travel has to be a massive expense, and a big reason why minor league sports of all types have no or limited cross-country travel.

  6. kebzach Says:

    So the Red Stars are averaging 1,380 per stand-alone home game (as of 6-30)?

    Yikes.

    I was at that Red Stars / Fire DH game. Of the 15,743 that were announced for the Fire game, I’d say around 4,000 stuck around for the R.S. game. They moved everyone over to the east side and cleaned the west side and upper deck as the red stars played. They also closed down most of the concession stands throughout the game, especially after halftime of the R.S. game. Understand why those moves were done, but talk about making the R.S. game seem REALLY irrelevant…

  7. admin Says:

    I think the biggest problem with women’s professional soccer is that its ceiling is far more limited in most places (Portland, obviously, the outlier) than its adherents like to admit.

    You just can’t sell this product sufficiently to make enough money at it. Travel or no travel.

    They tried big spending (WUSA) and burned through cash in quick order. They tried going bargain basement (WPS) and realized you can’t generate revenue without some cash outlays. And now they’re kind of in the middle (with the federations covering some costs and USSF doing the infrastructure) and maybe that’s the trick. We’ll see.

  8. RMc Says:

    A series of regional leagues (with a national playoff) might work better than a true national league. Again, we’ll see.

  9. BD Says:

    Sorry to be late in chiming in — I’m doing some research on lower divisions and just read this for the first time.

    I don’t think the NWSL is in any immediate danger. The big questions for next year are scheduling and expansion. With a league so closely tied to the national teams, I could see them taking more of a break and playing a short season over the World Cup and Olympic years.

    I would also expect more MLS teams to get involved. There’s pressure coming from on high, which makes sense given the need to strengthen MLS brands, and Portland has shown how successful it can be. Houston, in contrast, is a disappointment, but not terribly so.

    Washington’s owner pegged 3,000 as an important benchmark last year — not necessarily a break-even point, but a sustainable point. Despite some bad weather and unfortunate scheduling, they should make that mark next year.

    Kansas City is also tied to another pro team — the MIS/er/MASL Comets. They save some infrastructure costs that way.

    Chicago has a terrible stadium, but it’s dirt-cheap.

    Seattle has improved this year, and I think the organization knows what it’s doing.

    Western New York surely should be drawing more fans than that, but I don’t see Sahlen walking away anytime soon.

    The Breakers have been through a lot. Last year, their stadium was too small and too remote. This year, back at WPS home Harvard, it’s too cavernous. But it’s a deep organization that fielded two WPSL teams in addition to its NWSL team this year.

    Sky Blue is the one that puzzles me most. They were close to a deal with Red Bull but backed away. They would be a perfect fit with NYCFC — hey, look at Man City’s shirt color! If that doesn’t happen, I don’t understand how they’re surviving.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if 1-2 teams dropped out at some point. But I’d also expect more MLS involvement. And Canada wants a team.

    And here’s the thing to remember — several European leagues are quite stable, Tyreso’s implosion notwithstanding. Their crowds are typically a good bit smaller. You can have soccer leagues that no one sees. Just depends on who’s willing to pay for them.

  10. admin Says:

    Hey, I’M lower division guy.

  11. admin Says:

    Regional play doesn’t address the major systemic issue, which is the limited intrinsic interest in the product.