Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Will the MLS pass the NHL and NBA in Average Attendance?

The Sedin twins kickin' it.

Messing around on the 'net today, I found an article from October of '08 stating that in 2009 the MLS will pass the NHL and NBA in average attendance per game. Naturally, this got my wheels turning, as this is very much a possibility.

Below is the chart that the blog Synthetic Turf provides for their argument:

I thought this might be possible with the relatively old news that Major League Soccer's new franchise this season, Seattle Sounders FC, have sold over 18,000 season tickets for this upcoming season of MLS, and expect to average around 20,000 a game. In 2008, the MLS averaged 16,459 spectators per game; down just about 2% from 2007. By looking at the chart above, Synthetic turf is projecting an average attendance below/around 17,500 per game for the MLS over the summer of 2009. Now I'm not sure what number he used for the new Seattle franchise to come up with a the projected number for MLS in 2009, but using the season-ticket sales number (18,000) for Seattle FC, I came up with the following three projections:
  1. MLS '09 (down another 2%) - 16,885
  2. MLS '09 (flat difference) - 17,229
  3. MLS '09 (up 2%) - 17,574
Remember, that includes the additional 18,000 (which may be bigger) per game that Seattle Sounders FC will account for. Now MLS teams have either 19 or 20 home games depending on their schedule, or roughly half the home games NHL and NBA teams have. Seeing as I don't follow the NBA with enough detail, I won't compare them to the MLS; but I can speak for the NHL.

With all NHL teams having played past the statistical "halfway point" of 20 home games each, I will use this average. According to my excel graph, the NHL average for the first 20 home games, or 300 games this season, was 17,242 per game. Compared to my 2009 projected MLS numbers, only a raise in attendance (1-2%) for the MLS will put them over the NHL average attendance mark. But, this neglects the second half attendance boost the NHL receives, which as of tonight before the games were played was up from 17,242 by a little over 1.5%, or 17,512.

Could the MLS pass the NBA and NHL in average attendance per game? Absolutely. Is it fair to compare these numbers? Absolutely not. The amount of teams (30 for NBA and NHL; 15 for the MLS) along with the number of games (82 each for NBA and NHL; 30 league games each for MLS) make the attendance comparison unfair. If the MLS ever gets near the total fans for each sport (According to my spreadsheet, just under 10.4 million fans went to NHL games in the first "half"), then maybe we will talk.

- Update: 11:35 PM EST

According to TSN's Darren Dredger, an offer has been made to buy the Phoenix Coyotes. Someone must have been drinking somewhere...

More on this tomorrow (hopefully).


  1. If it happens, I hope you'll forgive MLS people a little bit of crowing, for the good cause of disproving the "nobody cares about soccer" myths.

    You're right, of course, that NHL franchises will still have attendance revenues that MLS would kill for. But MLS has "made it" at least as a league that isn't going anywhere and has a long term basis for growth, so we fans would like some acknowledgement of that.


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  3. We have been calling this for awhile now. It's all about slow and steady growth. Some people may have seen that as stagnation but MLS has done the right things and it knows where it is and where it is going. We encourage anyone interested in MLS stories, rumor and issues to check out our blog: MLS Rumors - For the time between the games.

  4. I really enjoyed the article, and agree on the point that it is not fair to compare average attendance numbers. what you could do, however, would be to compare "percentage of stadium/arena capacity." this would be a better barometer of how healthy attendances are across all the leagues in America, and a better comparison to use when looking at the NHL versus MLS. in a way it's like counting empty seats versus who actually showed up.

    another problem with comparing avg. gate is how teams/leagues report their attendance figures. i know in MLB some teams report "tickets sold," while others actually count the gate.

    last point...Sounders just sent out a press release that they're at 19,800 season tickets sold. not too shabby.

  5. great post!

    When it comes to comparing sports nothing is ever apples to apples, and that is clearly evident in your post. What I am interested in is why the NHL is going flat and if it has a chance of passing the NBA like Synthetic Turf's chart suggests? That would be a big blow to the conventional wisdom of America that hockey is becoming irrelevant (which I don't personally believe). Perhaps people need to follow sports on their own and not the way ESPN tells them to.

  6. Sounders, with the news of a friendly against Chelsea, have moved pass the 20,000 mark!

  7. Update. The Sounders are averaging 30,000 per game and there were 60,000 fans at that Chelsea game.

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