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Take Me Out to the Ballgame – Week 5

Posted on by Peter C

empty stands3 Take Me Out to the Ballgame   Week 5

Week 5 in the MLS was troubling from an attendance standpoint.

This week’s seven matches averaged just a bit over 12,000, a decline of nearly 5,000 from last year’s week 5 matches.

As optimistic as I like to be, it’s hard to fathom the 8,508 at Giants stadium with fantastic weather against its conference final opponents from last year. Then the reliably terrible 6,813 at Pizza Hut Park. And for my money, I would have thought a first place Chivas would have drawn better for a matchup with MLS darlings Seattle, complete with wunderkind Fredy Montero in the lineup. Chivas did have the biggest gate at 15,463, but still…

After week 5 the numbers look like this…

2009 – Week 5: 12,082
2008 – Week 5: 17,049
2007 – Week 5: 11,206
2006 – Week 5: 13,351
2005 – Week 5: 18,842

In week 5 ’08, DCU drew over 23,000, TFC drew its usual 20,000+ and the Galaxy(with Beckham) sold out the HDC.
In 2005, 54,000 saw the Fire/Revs match as part of a doubleheader with Mexico playing Poland in a friendly.

Of the teams that have played at least 3 home games, here are the attendance comparisons to 2008′s equal number of home games :

Chivas: +16.5%
DC United: -24.4%
FC Dallas: -26.1%
Houston: -12.6%
Los Angeles: -18.1%
San Jose: -9.7%

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2 clubs remain winless after victories by RBNY, FC Dallas and Houston. The Galaxy drew for the 3rd time in 4 matches while Columbus was idle.

FCD, fresh off it’s first victory of the season will face DC United in a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match this Wednesday.

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Good news, bad news for the Men’s Nats. Ives reports that Steve Cherundolo needs hip surgery that is expected to keep him on the sidelines at least through the Confederations Cup in June. Also, Jozy Altidore had surgery for a toe problem and will be out around 4 weeks. Hopefully he’ll be fit for the busy upcoming June schedule.

On the positive side, Oguchi Onyewu scored for Standard Liege and Maurice Edu tallied a game winner for Rangers.

18 Responses to Take Me Out to the Ballgame – Week 5

  1. NJ says:

    I can’t relate to other markets but the attendance figures from Chicago this weekend were very troubling. The weather was great, it was a night game and still the fire drew 11,000 fans.

    The question is what is causing this attendance problem. In the Chicago market I believe a big issue is marketing. Maybe its what I’m watching/listening to, but I never hear a word about the Chicago Fire during the week, outside of Luis Arroyave in the Tribune, but he can only do so much. Does Seattle really have a larger base of soccer playing/watching individuals in their markets? Look at the population 582k vs 2.8mm. The Chicago market has 5x the available market to tap, but for some reason fails to do so. Chicago is a great sports town, Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, Cubs, and White Sox. The city has the ability to draw but for some reason is not.

    What does Seattle do differently from other legacy markets in the league? Any other thoughts?

  2. Joey Clams says:

    Seattle remains a novelty. And they have the advantage of a fresh start. People in Chicago, I assume, just don’t see an April match with Kansas City as a big deal. And, maybe, outside of the two markets where people are just dying for attention, MLS isn’t a big deal.

  3. NJ- you have to look at metro population not city. Seattle/Tacoma has about 2.5 million people.

    If you looked at city, Miami has 350,000 but the metro area is close to 6 million.

    Similar situation in Boston. The city has 500 k but the metro area about 5 million.

    The opposite is true in San Antonio. The city has 1.2 million and the metro area is still only about 1.9 million.

    Seattle is a cosmopolitan market.

    I know people get mad when I say this but the Chicago sting under drew in the NASL despite Lee Stern’s amazing commitment, and if not for the amazing success of the Fire, that team would have under drawn in MLS. It’s a credit to Peter Wilt and John Guppy that they maintained a high standard product, because football/soccer is a tougher sell in the midwest than on the east coast or out west.

    I know Lou will have something to say about this but I am not at all enamored with Chicago as a soccer market. It doesn’t have the potential of say a Houston, a Boston or even a San Jose/Bay Area (or even Miami or New York if the product is accented properly if you know what I mean) on the upside. Again credit to the Fire for being this strong for this long. Behind DC, they have been the top organization in MLS.

  4. Chris B says:

    just pointing out …

    It was reported that NBA playoff games were not sold out. Empty seats were reported even in Boston for the defending champs.
    Not making excuses but how can we expect great MLS attendance #’s if NBA playoffs are not selling out?

  5. Kyle says:

    Every time Seattle has a home game, the numbers will be skewed higher… with the amount of season tickets sold (over 20,000), that’s a pretty hefty guarantee, plus plenty of sellouts so far. Even with the club stumbling with two consecutive losses, they get back their captain and un-scored upon goalkeeper next week… Keller’s presence on the pitch should help both the team and the fans get motivated for their upcoming home match. I’m sure Vancouver and Portland will have similar attendance numbers during their debut seasons, what remains to be seen is how the fan presence will remain. Seattle tends to offer heavy support to winning teams, and we were certainly starved for another sport when the Sonics left town.

  6. DC says:

    Chris B, not to totally discount what you say, but I think comparisons to other US sports when it comes to attendance is like apples and oranges. As for NBA playoff games not selling out, they’re still are at 90% capacity and you’d find the average ticket price for the “cheap seats” for those games are well over $60. Plus NBA and NHL teams playing a home game this weekend were on home game #42 this weekend, not game 2 or 3 of a 15 game home schedule like MLS.

    MLS regular season games in these smaller soccer specific stadiums, which was to be the thing that would make the league more popular and financially stable, are now seeing 40% of the stadiums seating empty. DC United, which has made its pitch for “governments” to finance as much as 75% of the cost for a stadium for them, had been touting a 20,000 average attendance to pay their share of the debt on a stadium. Don’t have the figures in front of me, but DC United has probably gotten off to his lowest average attendance after three home games in its 14 year history at 14K a game. Make no mistake jurisdictions around the metro area are taking note of these small crowds for the next time United comes telling folks why they should build a 20K soccer stadium for them.

  7. eplnfl says:

    Chicago is a different soccer market. The US National Team will draw 11,000 but the Mexican or Polish teams can draw 40 or 50,000.

    The Fire have had a split personality so to speak. Should they appeal to the suburban mainly middle and upper middle class audience or the ethnic groups like the Mexican and Poles in the City. Right now you have combination of the two and Blanco has put a lot of Mexican American’ fans in the seats at Toyota Park. Hopefully when Blanco leaves the Mexican-American fan base will remain. Chicago may have to keep a Mexican star on the field to keep the audience.

    As to this last Saturday the sports day in Chicago included a Bulls playoff game on Tv at 11:00am. The Cubs had a home game vs. it’s rival the Cards at 3:00pm before a packed house. That game ran into extra innings. The Chicago BlackHawks had a home playoff game at 8:00pm at UC before another packed house. The BlackHawks are returning to playoff hockey on a serious note for the first time since the Fire has been in existence. The White Sox where on Tv also and the Red Stars where opening on Sunday at Toyota park. I did not purchase tickets and I suspect a few others because a night game in Chicago in April or day game for that matter can be pretty raw. The opener is one thing but the second home game against a nondescript opponent is another. Most of the day was warm but by the evening it was starting to rain.

    BTW, the Fire have a friendly against Club American coming up next week and then a home game against Seattle. Look for both of these games to show a real spike in attendance.

    P.S.; Another insight on the Chicago market, a client of mine from Eastern Europe who played on a NCAA championship soccer team while in college says he won’t watch American soccer because of the style of play. He likes the European style only! You won’t find that in MLB or NFL fans, but soccer is a different story.

  8. NJ says:

    If you look at the Metropolitan area Chicago is an even larger market. Approx 9.5mm if you take Cook, Lake, Will, Dupage, and NW Indiana. I understand Chicago has a diverse ethnic mix, and has to appease the different groups to draw fans. However, how is the team attempting to do that? They’ve brought in players, Blanco has been a success, Frankowski a flop. Does it really all come down to having a player they can relate to? Or does marketing to those groups outside of that work as well. Does the Fire even attempt to bring in the middle class, western suburban crowd post leaving Naperville, that would have a 20-30minute ride to the game? I don’t see them advertise. Maybe I’m being harsh, I love the Chicago market, see it as a great sports town, and would love to see Toyota Park filled on game day.

  9. Peter C says:

    DC:
    Close enough that your point is well taken.
    The opening 3 game low for DCU was in 2002 at 13,186. This year is the next lowest at 14,310, compared to 08′s 18,920.

  10. eplnfl says:

    Kartik:

    I wanted to thank you for the Lee Stern reference. He was a constant believer that soccer would be a big part of the Chicago sports and the US sports scene. I do not think there is enough being done to honor his commitment. If the north end of Toyota Park is the Harlem end then one of the other stands should become the Stern Stands in his memory.

    NJ and you both point out that for the size of the City the Fire should be doing better. Agreed. While Chicago is the best of sports towns it is a Cubs and Bears town first. The White Sox despite recently being a title winner always draw less than the Cubs and almost moved in the late 80′s. The NBA did not prove successful here until the mid 60′s and did not become a must see ticket until a guy by the name of Jordan arrived. The BlackHawks were once a big draw and due to the organizations own fault (now remedied) a crowd of 10,000 was expected unless the Red Wings showed up and those were mainly Detroit fans. I hate to say this but ND football also has a big following in the area and gets a big media interest. Many a local spend Saturday tailgating in South Bend and Sunday at Soldier’s field in the fall.

    I have found the Fire front office very aggressive in trying to sell me tickets. They go out of the way to call me after games and visit me during games. There marketing seems to be directed towards soccer fans they can identify and the ethnic communities. Remember, a lot of what the local team does is controlled by the league office. As I said in my earlier post Chicago in April is not a great weather month and the next two games well be better indicators of fan interest.

  11. The football gods are cursing your league says:

    The football gods do not look kindly upon you guys refusing to call football football. if you’re speaking English, it’s disrespectful to not call football football. So respect the game, throw away that 1800s nickname for football, then the gods may start to bring good luck towards your league.

    Also, of course, the level of play in your league is shit. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. On a given weekend, in many markets, there are EIGHT Mexican league games available to watch on free, over-the-air TV. That’s actually more than Gridiron offers on free TV, due to regional coverage. So basically, people can watch the Mexican league on free TV more than any American league of any sport. Very impressive, I give props to those Hispanic networks. The ethnic crowd would much rather watch yesterday’s SuperClassic than your Mickey Mouse league.

    Furthermore, the Latin announcers treated yesterday’s Rapids-Dynamo game like a joke. They discussed other football matters the whole time. Pretty funny if you understand Spanish. Hell, they won’t even use their commentating B team. They get a guy with little commentating experience to broadcast those games, and he spends most of the game hyping up Mexican league games coming up on Univision.

    Hey epl, if you’re ever home at 5pm, check out the news on channel 44 and 66, as well as 2, 5 and 7. You’ll see that the Latin stations devote the majority of their sportscast to the Fire, whereas the Anglo stations devote ZERO. I think it’s time for the Fire to change their name to “Fuego”. It’s pretty goofy that a team with an English name only gets airtime on Hispanic media.

    Also, epl, check out the Sun-Times, Tribune and the HIspanic newspaper. The discrepancy exists in print media as well. If the Fire F.O. makes the total switch to being a Hispanic brand, they will make more $$$. If their fanbase is more than 50% Hispanic, and you’d think it is considering the media coverage, then it would only be right to make the switch.

  12. C.K. says:

    I am a resident of Seattle. I also used to live in Chicago.

    The difference between how the team is handled both by the owners and the media is night and day. I could go into it all but luckily someone else already did for me.

    Suffice to say that in Seattle, Sounders FC is everywhere you go. It’s on the local TV news, often leading the sportscast, before the season billboards and bus advertisements were everywhere, the Sounders organized pub events with the local soccer “eurosnobs” who until now couldn’t care less about MLS.

    Also nearly everyone here male or female plays or played soccer and most of the 20-30 somethings grew up watching the Premier League, La Liga and MLS on TV as well as playing.

    This has all helped to generate the massive, engaged “European” style crowds you see at Qwest.

    Seattle may be a smaller city than Chicago, but it is a city with major league style promotion of the team, the players are celebs, and there is a weekly highlights show “Sounders FC Weekly” that airs every sunday of free over the air TV. BTW: All non national games air complete with pre-game show on not one but TWO local free over the air TV channels one of which is the NBC affiliate. And all games are carried on the radio in English with a pregame show from one of the many Sounders pubs near Qwest Field (yes when its game day the people who can’t get in because the tickets are sold gather in the pubs throughout the city to watch).

    This situation is way different than Chicago. The stadium here is downtown. The people going to games are very international and diverse and many have lived abroad or at least grown up watching the game.

    Seattle is a special place. GO SOUNDERS!

  13. C.K. says:

    Here is the article I referenced above….which goes way more into what I was saying.

    Major League Soccer teams need Major League marketing…Toronto has it, Seattle Has it. LA had it….

    The rest of the league needs to spend money, on marketing and players. It’s that simple.

  14. Mitch Howard says:

    Guys,
    we need solid tv ratings comparing baseball and soccer. I see no mention here of baseball. Soccer must take baseball’s audience. Are you all watching attendance figures for baseball? I see Seattle Mariners have approx 18,000 during weeknight games. Figure is at the bottom of the box scores.

    Collectively, we need to follow area by area attendance and tv ratings to compare the two sports.

    I also agree it is important to follow tv ratings and attendance of the NBA and NHL teams.

    Good job to every one contributing on comments. Every week, each person needs to give at least one attendance statistic they witnessed.

  15. eplnfl says:

    Football Gods;

    Good point the Spanish Language media does a much better job of covering the Fire then the English language tv stations. I will have to point out that the Chicago Tribune has made a effort to increase it’s soccer coverage of all kinds, CL gets a lot of space now, and it has a good soccer beat report in Luis Arroyave. Here is the link to the Tribune soccer page which is good by any measure http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/soccer/fire/ . BTW, I have no ownership interst in the paper!

    The Fire games are seen for the msot part free on channel 50 in Chicago unless a natioanl tv contract interfers. Having the main event of the Mexican League in the SuperClassic on free tv is not a help to local attendence in Chicago either.

  16. Brian says:

    One problem this past weekend in Houston was that a portion of Interstate 45, the main freeway that provides access to Robertson Stadium, was completely shut down due to road work/repairs.

  17. NJ says:

    CK,

    I read that Seattle article which brought rise to my question about Chicago. It really applies to the whole league not just chicago. How much of the leagues attendance questions could be resolved with better marketing of the teams. I could be way off base, but like I said I don’t see it much in the Chicago market.

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