SBD/March 10, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Strong & Growing: Survey Shows MLS Popularity Equal To MLB Among Teens

MLS fans created numerous sellouts for the league's opening weekend
MLS has caught up with MLB in a "significant marker of popularity," as the annual ESPN Sports Poll shows that "both leagues can claim" 18% of 12- to 17-year-olds as avid fans, according to Roger Bennett of ESPN FC. This marks the "first time in the 20-year history" of the survey that MLS has equaled MLB in the category. The ESPN Sports Poll Annual Report, "which is managed by Luker on Trends, interviews 1,500 Americans per month and tracks interest in 31 different sports." In '12, it "determined soccer was America's second-most popular sport for those aged 12-24, ahead of NBA, MLB and college football" (ESPNFC.com, 3/7). In Miami, Michelle Kaufman wrote MLS under Commissioner Don Garber "is stable and growing." The NFL "still rules with teens" at 38.8% and the NBA "isn't far behind" at 30.1%, while only 9% said that they were NHL fans. But MLS is "right there with baseball, and that says something" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/9). In N.Y., Sam Borden wrote the "most interesting thing" about MLS' public-relations tour the past few weeks "is not what is being said -- athlete-speak is athlete-speak -- but the number of star players MLS was able to turn out to say it" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/8). ESPN’s Alejandro Moreno credited the league's growth to “more second and third generations of soccer families," and with more "soccer-specific stadiums, the experience for the family is far more positive than it was before" (“ESPN FC,” ESPN2, 3/7). But in Orlando, David Whitley wrote under the header, "MLS Just As Popular As MLB? Say It Ain't So." Whitley: "I just fear the day is coming when I turn on ESPN and soccer is getting more air time than Tim Tebow" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/9).

DRAWING A YELLOW CARD: In N.Y., Das & Bell reported MLS and the Professional Soccer Referees Association "remain far apart on financial and workplace issues." The negotiations have become "increasingly testy in recent months, as the union filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board accusing" the Professional Referee Organization of "bad-faith negotiating and of threatening its members." Several news reports put the sides $1M apart "on the issue of salaries and game fees for officials," but PSRA VP & Lead Negotiator Steve Taylor "put the figure at $440,000" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/8). In DC, Steven Goff noted a call by replacement ref Andres Pfefferkorn during the Crew-DC United match "did not sit well with United's players, who swarmed the replacement official." DC United coach Ben Olsen said, "You hope you are not on the wrong end of a call from a naive or inexperience ref. Unfortunately, the reality is I think we were on the wrong end of that" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/9). Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan said MLS has “finally hit the real big time! They’re locking out the referees” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 3/9).

ATTENDANCE ROUNDUP: The Sounders on Saturday set an "opening-day record" with a crowd of 39,340 (K.C. STAR, 3/9). The Whitecaps announced "a capacity crowd" of 21,000 (AP, 3/8). DC United had an opening day crowd of 13,840 (WASHINGTON POST, 3/9). The Timbers opened their season "in front of a sellout crowd of 20,674" (Portland OREGONIAN, 3/9). Official attendance for FC Dallas' opener "was 18,011, about 2,500 below capacity, but many sections of the stadium remained largely empty throughout the game" (DALLASNEWS.com, 3/9). The Galaxy drew a "sold-out crowd of 25,364" (L.A. TIMES, 3/9). The Dynamo reported a "BBVA Compass Stadium-record sellout crowd of 22,320" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/9). Chivas USA hosted the league's only game yesterday and saw a "league-low" of 8,320 at StubHub Center, dropping MLS' "opening-weekend average to a healthy 21,130" (TWITTER.com, 3/9).
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