The average attendance from the opening weekend of the 2017 MLS season was 25,156, which represented a 3.8% decline compared to the 2016 MLS opening weekend average of 26,152.
The difference can be attributed to Seattle Sounders being on the road this season while they were at home for week 1 in 2016.
Despite the small decline, here’s how week 1 played out. Atlanta sold out Bobby Dodd Stadium with a huge crowd of over 55,000, not unlike what Orlando did in its opening match last year. Good crowds were prevalent around the league except for the usual soft showing in Columbus. A little surprising, however, was that Vancouver Whitecaps didn’t do better. Perhaps it was due to being a Sunday night match.
In 2017, we can expect to see an increase overall due to Atlanta and Minnesota joining the league with above average capacity facilities. Atlanta’s season tickets sales, announced at 30,000, exceeds last season’s final average number. Remember, tickets sold (not people in the seats) is the main component of announced MLS attendances. The only downward push on average will be from Orlando, who finished with an average over 31,000 but have moved into a new building with a capacity of 25,500.
That being said, as I wrote on this site in 2009, it’s the TV revenue that will kick MLS into the big leagues. Ticket sales, food and merchandise sales and corporate sponsorships are all well and good but the big bucks are in TV and that’s a problem as MLS TV ratings are, well, awful. It doesn’t inspire networks to lay out huge money for programming that doesn’t draw large numbers. Hopefully that will improve with the better play on the field, but that will take time. Unlike the NFL, NBA, MLB and the NHL, MLS has stiff competition for ‘soccer eyes’ on TV. They are the best leagues of their sport in the world and US viewers are accustomed to watching the best. So with so much quality soccer available to US viewers, that’s a big hill to climb. And it certainly doesn’t help that the major sports TV outlets, yes ESPN, I’m talking to you, barely give lip service to MLS.
Week 1 Attendances