The 2016 regular season for the MLS is in the books. As the league looks to grow, a few surprising things stand out about attendance this year.
The MLS has aspirations of being one of the top leagues in the world. While that won’t be accomplished in a few years, it is feasible. The league grows every year with additional teams, fans, TV numbers, big name players, etc. However, ultimately the game will grow based on a loyal fan base.
In America we have two types of soccer fans. (1) What I will call true soccer fans who love the game, support whoever they like around the planet, follow the USMNT and MLS. Then we have (2) the ‘American-Pretending-To-Be-European-Soccer-Snob’ fan. These are a dying breed in the US, but are still relevant and an issue for MLS.
These are the fans who live in the US, claim to love soccer, but don’t follow the MLS because it is not on the same level as the EPL. As if somehow, not supporting something will somehow help it grow and reach that level. Regardless, their impact gets smaller each year.
Now on to the soccer fans who matter in the US and some interesting things their attendance patterns show us.
1 – Winning Doesn’t Equal Fans
FC Dallas finished 2nd last year in the Supporters’ Shield race (on goal difference!), but took home the prize in 2016. You would think all of that exciting, winning soccer would pull in the fans? Wrong. Dallas finished last in average attendance this year at just over 14,000. On top of that, they saw a 12% drop in fans this year. So what gives?
Everyone is to blame. The fans are to blame for not support a winning side. The club is to blame for selling their best player and not replacing him. The MLS is to blame for schedule ridiculous 1 pm games in the middle of the summer in 100 degree heat. Do you really think people want to sit in that?
2 – The MLS is better than Serie A and Ligue 1
Take that PSG, Juventus and Milan! You may have over 100 years of history, but we have Kaka playing in Orlando. The league averaged 21,652 fans across all teams this year. That places the league as the 6th most attended in the world. While it is disappointing to see China already ahead of the US, it shows the overall growth when the MLS is beating two of the five major European leagues.
3 – Fans Don’t Equal Winning
Welcome to the opposite of Dallas – Orlando FC. A second straight year with great attendance and no playoffs. This is not what the legend Kaka signed up for. Orlando averaged over 31,000 fans this year, good enough for second best in the league. Sadly the on the field product let down those masses. However, they won’t be too heart broken as next year is already circled on their calendars. A brand new stadium is opening in downtown Orlando, and if the team gets everyone back healthy that place could be the fortress they need to earn a first playoff spot. Maybe they should look into moving Alex Morgan from the women’s team over to their squad for 2017….?