SBJ/November 6 - 12, 2006/This Weeks News

Attendance falls at start of MLS playoffs

Seemingly riding the momentum of a regular-season attendance bump despite squaring off against the World Cup during the summer, Major League Soccer’s opening playoff weekends whiffed at the gate.

The Chicago Fire drew an average of about
14,000 fans to its games at new Toyota Park.
The first two weekends of the playoffs, played at eight locations, had an average attendance of 12,735 — down 4.1 percent from 2005’s playoff average of 13,273 over the same period. Washington hosted the largest crowd — 21,455 — for the second leg of the D.C. United-New York Red Bulls series, while Denver drew a paltry 4,176 fans for the first leg of the FC Dallas-Colorado Rapids series.

“It’s a challenging time of year,” said Mark Abbott, MLS chief operating officer. “Our teams don’t have a lot of time to sell those games, so it’s something we need to focus on.”

The third leg of the playoffs was scheduled for Nov. 5, with the MLS Cup set for Nov. 12 in Frisco, Texas.

MLS improved its regular-season attendance for the fourth consecutive season, tallying more than 2.9 million fans this year, 1.8 percent more than 2005.

The 2006 increase was driven by a 45 percent rise in attendance for the Dynamo, which played its first season in Texas after moving from San Jose, and a 34 percent increase for FC Dallas, which played its first complete season in a new stadium in Frisco. Two other clubs — Deportivo Chivas USA and the Kansas City Wizards — also saw double-digit percentage increases.

Six of the league’s 12 teams experienced declines at the gate. The Colorado Rapids saw the biggest slide, sinking 22 percent to an average of 10,711. Other teams with falling numbers were the Red Bulls, Los Angeles Galaxy, New England Revolution, Real Salt Lake and Chicago Fire.

“You want to see growth in every market,” Abbott said. “That’s something we will continue to work on in the offseason.”

The Fire’s 18 percent decline was attributable to two doubleheaders that the team had in 2005 that boosted attendance by a combined 109,000. Without those games in the equation, the Fire, which moved into a new stadium in June, would have had an 18 percent increase this year.

The Galaxy led the league at the gate for the fourth consecutive year, but its attendance fell for the first time since that streak began in 2002. Assistant general manager Tom Payne laid much of the blame on the team’s performance. The Galaxy missed the playoffs for the first time in the league’s 11-year history. Payne also said the team did a better job of reporting the number of tickets it distributed, but declined to get into specifics.

“Selling soccer in this country is not an easy project,” Payne said. “We were getting booed on our home field and that made the sale a little harder.”

Abbott believes soccer-specific stadiums hold the key to attendance growth. Colorado will open one next year, and Toronto will join the league with its own, as well.

MLS at the Gate
Total attendance*
Avg. attendance
Chicago Fire
Colorado Rapids
Columbus Crew
D.C. United
Deportivo Chivas USA
FC Dallas
Houston Dynamo
Kansas City Wizards
Los Angeles Galaxy
New York Red Bulls
New England Revolution
Real Salt Lake
* Regular seasonSources: SportsBusiness Journal, MLS


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