Many soccer fans all over the world closely follow one or more soccer leagues. The European countries with the English Premier League, Spanish Premier, Italian Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga are the most popular and presumably the strongest leagues globally. However, America’s Major League Soccer, MLS, is about to change that with the stadium attendance constantly growing from an average of below 8,000 in 1996 to more than 20,000 in 2016. USA is most popular for baseball, football, and basketball. But the growing of soccer popularity in the world due to increased technology that has enabled many people to watch soccer matches live even in very remote set ups, increasing the popularity of the game.
The MLS is becoming more competitive each season attracting high profile players from European leagues which have called for the expansion of the stadiums and reforms in the ticket printing and selling exercise. Given the economic superiority of the U.S., many young and experienced talents are seeking opportunities in the MLS leading to increased fan following which has led to increased stadium attendance. Figure 1 shows the progressive increment since 1996 to present and sending a signal for future continuity of the trend.
Figure 1: MLS stadium attendance from 1996 to 2016 (Zach, 2016)
Unlike 1990 when stadium capacity was filled to an average of 70%, by 2016 the average stadium capacity filled above 90% throughout the season. About 20% of the stadiums are filled beyond the holding capacity. This trend reflects a fast growing popularity of the MLS in the U.S.
The majority of the soccer fans are youth, age 18-34. Because of this the popularity of soccer is projected to growing even to exponential proportions as these youth grow. This indicates that in the next 20 years, the fans aged 65 years and above will increase from the average of 3.2% in 2016 to 15% and above which means that the preceding age brackets will have also increased attendance as the present youths grow older and continue supporting their teams in MLS. Even the attendance among the female support is equally increasing with 2014 season recording an average attendance comprising of 54.1% women, the highest in the 5 years. This reveals how unified the attendance surge has become.
Due to the increased revenue from ticket sales, sponsorships, advertisement rights, and player promotions many teams in the MLS are trying to build grass root talent by taping mechanisms and sponsoring the construction of small stadiums within their districts. For instance, the New York City FC is constructing about 10 stadiums within the five boroughs of New York to strength grass root soccer and grow talent sources for the team.
Corporate social responsibility is another mechanism used by MLS teams to win over support and enhance stadium attendance. Teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, and Montreal Impact are heavily being involved in the community work and social infrastructural development as a way of giving back to the community. Such actions attract public attention and admiration. It demonstrates the strong attachment to the community around which the MLS teams are building an increase local and international fan base.
It is evident MLS stadium attendance is progressively increasing from as low as 7,500 in 1997 to 24,500 in mid-season of 2016. Given the economic development of the U.S. and its ability to bid and win the rights of holding major soccer tournaments such as the recent Copa Centenario 2016 and the World Cup of 1994 it has been helping the MLS gain ground in America, Canada, and beyond. This coupled with the excellent performances of the USA national team in major tournaments has ensured the MLS local and international fans increase as well as increasing the stadium attendance. This should sound as a warning to the European Leagues to be conscious of this eminent threat to their fan monopoly in the world.
Written by Roland Li
General Editor: Macy Marin https://www.linkedin.com/in/macy-marin-833311112
Zach, S. (July 12, 2016), New York City FC partners to build fields in New York, Retrieved from: http://soccerstadiumdigest.com/
Philips, S. (2016), MLS Week 15 average attendance third highest of season at 24,227, Retrieved from: http://www.businessofsoccer.com/2016/06/28/mls-week-15-average-attendance-third-highest-of-season-at-24227/
SBRnet (2016), Market Research/ Demographics, Retrieved from: http://www.sbrnet.com.ezproxy.samford.edu/research.aspx?subrid=562