A View of the Terraces – Respectable Attendance Figures in the MLS

One of the factors used in gauging the popularity of a sporting league and/or a sports team is attendance.  While I have heard some, not all, MLS fans complain about poor attendance for MLS matches, I have never really taken the time to sit down and compare MLS attendance with attendance in other US sports or in other soccer leagues.  But, I have finally taken the time to look into this issue.


We shall start with the MLS, using figures garnered from ESPN.  In 2008, the Los Angeles Galaxy, despite its poor performance on the pitch, had the largest total and average attendances with 390,762 throughout the season and an average of 26,050.  Not surprisingly, Toronto FC took second place with a total of 303,623 and an average of 20,241.  The top five was rounded out by DC United with an average of 19,835, Houston Dynamo with an average of 17,752, and Chicago Fire with an average of 17,052.  Meanwhile, the Kansas City Wizards had the lowest attendance with a total of 170,769 throughout the season and an average of 10,673 per game.  But don’t let those figures fool you, since one figure I found indicates that capacity of CommunityAmerica Ballpark for soccer matches is 10,385.  Wonder how they squeeze in another 300?


So, the dishonor of having the worst MLS attendance for 2008 actually goes to FC Dallas.  Despite having its own soccer specific stadium with a capacity of 20,500, Dallas only averaged 13,097 throughout the 2008 season.


Finally, according to ESPN, the unofficial average attendance for all MLS matches in 2008 was 16,310.


Since the MLS is a summer league, it is only fitting that we take a look at how Major League Baseball did attendance wise in 2008.  Not surprisingly, the New York Yankees managed an average of 53,069 per game and pulled a season total attendance of 4,298,655.  The caveat being that the MLB has a much, much longer season and larger stadiums then the MLS.  The worse 2008 attendance in MLS was experienced by the Florida Marlins who averaged 16,688 per game.  The Marlins must have had some decent attendance in the Spring, because I saw pictures of late season home games with attendances that could be counted in the hundreds, not thousands.  The second worst performing team was the Kansas City Royals who averaged 19,986 per game.


Since the 2008/09 NBA season is ongoing, we’ll take a quick look at attendance numbers from the prior season.  The team with the best attendance was Detroit, averaging 22,076 per game.  Meanwhile Indiana only averaged 12,221 per game and Memphis averaged 12,771 per game.  Surprisingly, the Los Angeles Lakers only averaged 18,997 per game.


With this being Super Bowl weekend, I’d be remiss if I ignored the juggernaut on the professional sporting landscape in America, the NFL.  In 2008, Washington took the honor of having the largest average home attendance, 88,604.  While Oakland only had an average of 54,497; however, the figures for Denver and San Francisco are not available yet.  Of course, by only having 8 home games a season and gigantic stadiums, these numbers are not that surprising.


In the larger scheme of American professional sports, MLS does have the lower average attendances, but all the MLS teams average over 10,000 fans per game, a respectable number.  While there is room for attendance improvement, last season’s attendance figures indicate that all MLS franchises have managed to secure a decent niche in their home cities.


Much as the NFL is the juggernaut when it comes to American sports, the English Premier League is the juggernaut of soccer leagues.  I’m sure nobody will be surprised to learn that during the 2007/08 season, Manchester United had the highest average attendance in the EPL with 75,691, averaging over 15,000 more per game then second place Arsenal.  Rounding out the bottom of the attendance table in the EPL were Wigan with 19,046 and Portsmouth with 19,914.  The overall average attendance in the EPL for that season was 36,076.


Meanwhile on the continent last season, Serie A averaged 25,115 per match, with Inter pulling an average of 59,054 compared to Empoli’s 7,437 per match.  The average attendance for Spain’s La Liga was only slightly higher at 28,920, with Real Madrid pulling a respectable 73,162 per match, while Levante only averaged 11,134 per match.  Not surprisingly, Bundesliga pulled the largest attendance amongst the big leagues of Europe, averaging 43,679 per game.  VfB Stuttgart had the biggest average attendance 105,520, while Energie Cottbus pulled in only an average of 18,820 per game.


While it’s interesting to put these attendance figures all in one place, due to the variety of all the external factors (season length, stadium side, weather, marketing, money, etc.), I don’t feel qualified to crunch them all together and make some grandiose statement about the future success or demise of the MLS.  However, I believe I am qualified enough to look at these numbers and get a sense that yes, on the whole, other sports in the US and other soccer leagues draw more spectators on average then the MLS; however, the MLS’s average attendance figures are very respectable and suggest the existence of a strong, devoted base.  As MLS teams move into their own stadiums, increase their revenue, and expand their local marketing, I suspect the average attendance numbers should rise across the board.  Who knows, despite the economic situation, MLS might see gains because it often provides the best bang for the consumer’s entertainment dollar, as I understand it the Houston Dynamo will soon be offering a special 15 games for $150.00 package, basically a barebones season ticket package.


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21 Responses to A View of the Terraces – Respectable Attendance Figures in the MLS

  1. Pingback: A View of the Terraces - Respectable Attendance Figures in the MLS … | mlbfancentral.net

  2. jbdavis1 says:

    It's probably important to keep in mind the metro populations involved when talking about average attendance. I've always believed that MLS got a bad rap when it came to attendance, even if there is plenty of room for improvement. That being said, I'm not sure how much faith we can put numbers reported by MLS or the teams.

  3. Garby says:

    You must have made some counting error, because Mercedes-Benz Arena, Stuttgarts stadium, only holds 55.000 people. The largest stadium in Germany belongs to Borussia Dortmund (Cap. 80.000).

  4. HArry says:

    thier was a report going around that Both NBA and NHL scave their attendances big time. They count the tickets distributed, not people at the games. So MLS would have more than both those leagues.

  5. Brian says:

    I pulled all the attendance figures from ESPN.com, which were just raw numbers without any information as to how those numbers were compiled. I'm not sure how those Stuttgart numbers were compiled, so I wouldn't be shocked if those numbers got skewed in the process. And I apologize for ESPN in getting any of those numbers wrong. I've heard that College football tends to count all persons at the stadium, including the players, staff, media, etc.

    2009 will be interesting. It sounds as though attendance in England is falling off due to the economy and the ticket pricing. With the addition of the Sounders this year, and good ticket deals, hopefully we'll see MLS stay steady or see a small increase.

  6. LAG23 says:

    MLS actually publishes this information directly at http://web.mlsnet.com/stats/index.jsp?club=mls&…

    They report an average attendance just higher than you, reporting 3,456,641 total for 16,460 average. They report that Galaxy have 28,132 per game.

    I'm not saying one source is better than the other, but just wanted to point it out that ESPN apparently does not get their numbers from the league!

  7. Paul says:

    MLS has for years fudged it's attendance numbers.

    This is a well written piece if we could really trust the numbers.

    It's been speculated as many as half the tickets in places like San Jose, Colorado, Dallas and New York are given away. While LA, DC, Houston and RSL sell most of their tickets the overall league number has to be viewed with skepticism.

    Garber and MLS run such a secret shop it's hard to know when to believe them and when to simply ignore them.

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  9. DCCavalier says:

    No disrespect meant, but I’m reminded of the person who was once told “who you gonna believe? me or your lying eyes?”

    MLS numbers are inflated with a lot people dressed as empty seats. Case in point, LA Galaxy and the Home Depot numbers. Plenty of games last year with complete empty sections so its interesting that they averaged 26,000 in a 27,000 seat stadium. The only stadium I had seen whose numbers always seem to agree with what is announced is Toronto

    At the end of the day, I don’t mean to smack MLS because in the summer I enjoy watching and sometimes going to games, but to compare MLS average when they play once a week to Major League baseball who plays just about everyday is ludicrous. MLS will hardly play on weekdays and MLB average for weekday games is 70% larger the MLS regular season weekend average.

    On the American sports scene, MLS is somewhere below NHL and just above minor league baseball when it comes to team sports.

  10. Jay says:

    The numbers for LA at the Home Depot are pretty close to accurate in terms of tickets sold. The club section seats are usually purchased by companies to distribute to clients, so those aren’t always full. The most skewed numbers belong to Chivas USA though, they count tickets distributed. Also the Club seats have been close to or completely sold out since the opening of the HDC, since the founding of Chivas USA club seat owners get tickets to both the Galaxy and Chivas, which means about 6,000 club seat tickets were sold by the Galaxy, but Chivas gets credit for it in their attendance.

  11. Ron says:

    Nice piece, though it would have been helpful if you also would have reconciled your belief that attendance would rise as more Soccer Specific Stadia come online with the FCD attendance debacle.

    Also, several times you used “then” when you should have used “than”.

  12. Dave says:

    Do people not realize that EVERY league in the entire world fudges attendance numbers. I’ve worked in both college and professional athletics and don’t be fooled, EVERYONE does it. I’m sick of reading people’s comments that make it seem like inflated attendances are a MLS-only problem. EVERYONE does it, therefore you can compare it ratio-wise with ANY pro-league.

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  14. Darkman says:

    The Chicago Fire are selling season tickets in the upper deck (the 200 Sections) for 99 dollars. Yep, that’s right. You get 15 home games for 99 dollars. The view is absolutely great. How can you beat that? The only draw back is that the package does not include any special games like the America vs. Fire game and any other games that come along.

  15. Zach says:

    -Meanwhile, the Kansas City Wizards had the lowest attendance with a total of 170,769 throughout the season and an average of 10,673 per game. But don’t let those figures fool you, since one figure I found indicates that capacity of CommunityAmerica Ballpark for soccer matches is 10,385. Wonder how they squeeze in another 300?-

    While it si true that every so often the MLS and its respective teams over estimate their attendance some of the MLS teams play a game or two at different venues depending on the game at hand. For example when the LA Galaxy come to play Kansas City they move the game to Arrowhead Stadium. So for one significant game the attendance is seriously risen in order to accomidate all the people who want to see Beckham. That is why overal the Wizards come out with a slightly larger attendance than what fits at their current stadium.

    Another example is the San Jose Earthquakes play three games at the Oakland Colesium. This was when the Chicago Fire came to town for their first game back as an expansion side, and two games when the LA Galaxy came into town.

  16. Fred F. says:

    The funny part of the sad FC Dallas story is they brought in a “superstar” ticket guy to solve their small attendance issues…3 YEAR AGO! He’s known for papering the stadium, concocting sponsorship deals that have fake tickets that he counts and corporate foundation sales that litter the area with free tickets for under-privledged kids.

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  18. Simon Allen says:

    Good Article Brian… Id like to see what happens to the MLS attendances THIS season… With the (probable) departure of DB23, the failing economy and the multiple other soccer events going on (qualifiers,Gold Cup, Confederations Cup etc etc) I wonder what kind of numbers will be seeing in the stadia?
    Cheers Simon
    World Soccer Wrap (c)

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  20. ideas man says:

    sorry some of your European figiures are horribly innacurate. STUTTGART

    You also have to remember that the most populated European country has less than a third of your population. No Comparison really.

    And also the in the NFL they play 8 regular season games.

    MLS will grow, but averaging 16,000 in a country of 300 million and a close shop major league of less than 20 teams. Remember in Europe we have a pyramid system. In fact both the German and English second tier average more than MLS.

    So personally the figures are respectable until you realise the amount of teams and the population we are dealing with.

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