I can think of at least five possible reasons why MLS attendance per game exceeded the NHL and NBA this past year, but first let that sink in for a moment. Pro soccer drew more fans to the games (per game) than pro hockey and pro basketball. If you were discussing the American sporting landscape in the early 1990s, as MLS was starting up, and you wanted to come up with a quantifiable way to gauge soccer’s success relative to the other major US sports, attendance per game would be a reasonable measure. And now the MLS has reached that mark, with 17,872 average per game, ahead of both the NBA and NHL. The Seattle Sounders – an expansion team – drew over 38,000 fans per game, 16,000 more than the average for the biggest-drawing NHL and NBA franchises (curiously, both the Chicago teams).
For decades, smart sports guys drove past fields littered with U-14 soccer matches and said “the future of US sports is on the soccer pitch,” and yet that future always seemed to be in the undefined, un-measurable future. Maybe that is starting to change.
For the skeptics: five reasons why NHL and NBA attendance are down (thought up while on a conference call and on only one cup of coffee, so pardon the un-creative thinking and weak reasoning): 1) the recession hit NHL fans hardest; 2) the recession made NBA tickets, already expensive, crazy expensive, even for people less hurt by the recession; 3) the NBA lock-out compounded the sins of raping Seattle of the Sonics and teams tanking an entire season in order to land top draft picks; 4) MMA has better fights than hockey; and 5) recent dominance by the Bruins and Celtics led fans of other teams to just give up hope.
…and if nothing else, this should prove soccer is just a few years away from taking over football…