SBJ/July 15-21, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

With no stadium debuts, MLS down at gate

After posting record-setting attendance each of the previous two seasons, Major League Soccer has experienced a slight downturn in the first half of 2013.

Through July 8, attendance across the league was down 5 percent when compared with the same point last season. But MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott said last week he is not too concerned about the dip.

“It’s still early,” Abbott said. “The second half of the season, when playoff races heat up, tend to be better-attended. Attendance is one of many ways in which we track our progress, and it’s one we think is best analyzed in large sample sizes and in trends over time.”

Abbott pointed out the league was able to decrease the number of weeknight matches from 60 in 2012 to 34 this season, and with much of that change playing out in the season’s second half, it adds to Abbott’s expectation of attendance gains to come.

Chivas USA continues to be the primary drag on attendance leaguewide. The club averaged a league-low 8,811 fans through its first nine home games this season, down 33 percent from the midway mark of 2012. Abbott said the league still believes Chivas USA can be successful in the Los Angeles market.

Also in Los Angeles, despite the departure of international star David Beckham, the Galaxy is down just 2 percent this year and is still averaging 21,950 fans per game, second-best in the league.

D.C. United is 17th in the 19-team league, averaging 13,645 per game, down 3 percent. Those figures come with the club having posted a 2-13-4 record this season after reaching the Eastern Conference final last year. The franchise, which plays in outdated RFK Stadium, also remains in search of a deal to build a soccer-specific stadium.

MLS has not benefited this year from the bump that comes with the opening of a new stadium, as it has in the past three years, with venues opening in Houston and Montreal (2012); Portland, Kansas City and the renovated BC Place in Vancouver (2011); and Philadelphia and New York/New Jersey (2010). The Montreal Impact, whose Stade Saputo opened last year, is averaging just over 21,000 fans per game, down 17 percent from 2012, but that stems in part from the Impact drawing crowds of more than 58,000 for a pair of first-half games last season at Olympic Stadium.

In all, nine of the league’s 19 teams have experienced a drop in attendance over the 2013 season’s first four months versus the same mark a year ago.

For the full 2012 season, MLS averaged 18,807 fans per game, marking the league’s best figure in its 17-year history. That average was up 5 percent from 2011, which previously stood as the league’s best.

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