MLS And Weekdays – Feast or Famine?

feast_or_famine

It was a welcome announcement that MLS will not schedule matches during the group phase, semifinals and finals of the 2010 World Cup. That means the league will not play from Friday, June 11 through Friday, June 25. The WC round of 16 will be played from Saturday June 26 through Tuesday June 29. Wednesday and Thursday, June 30-July 1 are off days. The quarterfinals will be on Friday July 2 and Saturday July 3. Here MLS gets a break as July 4(and 5) are rest days, the Fourth traditionally being a big attendance day. The tourney closes with the semis on Tuesday and Wednesday, the 6th and 7th, a couple of rest days and the consolation game(3rd/4th) on Saturday the 10th and the final on Sunday the 11th.

In the past, one of the reasons given not to respect the FIFA calendar was the complaint that the reduced revenue of weekday matches would not be acceptable while the league was trying to reach a stable financial position.


Jack Bell covered the Supporters’ Summit last year. Here is an excerpt in which Don Garber says:

“It would cost us up to $5 million to take off all the FIFA dates, which increase in number in 2009.”

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So I banged together a few numbers from 2008 to see what it told me. 42 games were played Mon-Fri as follows:

2008 Weekday Games
 Monday – 1 
 Tuesday – 0 
 Wednesday – 9 
 Thursday – 27(ESPN Thursday nights) 
 Friday – 5, 3 of which were played on July 4 


Here you can see the average attendance for weekends(Sat and Sun) and weekdays and the average differences. The average difference is then multiplied times the number of weekday games.

 2008 Weekends Weekdays  Notes
   Avg    GP    Avg    GP   Avg +/-  GP times Avg +/-  
 Chicago 17,211  12  16,328  3  -883  -2,649  
 Chivas USA 13,506  13  25,572  2  12,066  24,132  Blanco/Beckham
 Colorado 13,438  13  15,095  2  1,657  3,314  4-Jul
 Columbus 14,795  13  13,499  2  -1,296  -2,592  
 Dallas 16,143  10  8,345  5  -7,797  -38,985  4-Jul
 DC United 21,297  11  15,817  4  -5,480  -21,920  
 Houston 18,115  11  13,706  4  -4,409  -17,636  
 Kansas City 11,032  13  8,435  2  -2,598  -5,196  
 Los Angeles 25,648  11  27,000  4  1,352  5,408  4-Jul
 New England 16,834  10  19,074  5  2,240  11,200  one int’l friendly
 NY Red Bull 16,386  14  9,521  1  -6,865  -6,865  
 Real Salt Lake 16,688  10  15,163  5  -1,525  -7,625  
 San Jose 13,975  14  10,046  1  -3,929  -3,929  
 Toronto FC 20,154  13  19,894  2  -261  -522  
        per game
   168   42   -63,865  -1,521 


Using approximate game day revenue numbers as gathered over the years when such things leak out, we are able to come up with a very rough approximation of per capita game day spending. The numbers I am using are as follows: Tickets: $18, Food: $7, Merchandise: $5. Since every venue does not charge for parking, I left that out. So I’m just calling it $30 per head and using that with published attendance numbers. Applying these we get a game day loss for the 42 weekday games of $1,915,950.

2009 Weekday Games
 Monday – 0 
 Tuesday – 0 
 Wednesday – 14 (ESPN 3)
 Thursday – 8 (ESPN 6, FSC 1)
 Friday – 8 (ESPN 3)


(There are two more weekday games this season.)

 2009 Weekends Weekdays  Notes
   Avg    GP    Avg    GP   Avg +/-  GP times Avg +/-  
 Chicago 14,129  12  16,623  2  2,494  4,988  Beckham
 Chivas USA 15,112  11  20,379  1  5,267  5,267  Blanco
 Colorado 12,934  13  8,409  2  -4,526  -9,052  
 Columbus 14,701  13  8,793  1  -5,908  -5,908  
 Dallas 9,410  12  29,227  2  19,817  39,635  
 DC United 17,395  11  11,233  3  -6,162  -18,486  
 Houston 16,287  13  14,516  1  -1,771  -1,771  
 Kansas City 10,075  11  9,731  2  -344  -687  
 Los Angeles 19,812  13  21,679  1  1,867  1,867  no Blanco
 New England 13,432  13  0  0  0  0  
 NY Red Bull 11,254  11  14,086  3  2,832  8,497  Beckham
 Salt Lake 16,462  8  15,802  5  -661  -3,303  
 San Jose 14,782  13  9,774  2  -5,008  -10,016  
 Seattle 30,547  11  31,444  3  897  2,692  
 Toronto 20,309  11  20,409  2  100  200  
        per game
  15,688  176  16,767  30   13,922  464 


2008: Let’s look at the three teams that had 5 weekday games, a full third of their home schedules, FC Dallas, New England and Real Salt Lake. RSL fared better than Dallas, but both suffered from reduced averages, while New England paired up one of its weekday games with an international friendly featuring Brasil v Venezuela. That game drew over 54,000 which was enough to put them in the positive column for their weekday games.

If you sum the extended numbers you come up with a deficit of 63,866 over the 42 weekday games. That would be part of MLS’s argument. Some teams would not tolerate the loss in revenue. But it’s clear that if create a marketable item, either with a big draw player, or an intriguing event to pair with an MLS match, the attendance deficit argument looks to be very flimsy. In fact, the league cut down the weekday matches by 10(by season’s end) in 2009, despite the heavy schedule of CONCACAF and FIFA events.

2009: What can we say about these numbers? The first one that jumps out is the Dallas number. Time after time we see that scheduling international friendlies with MLS games boosts attendance regardless of the day of week. The other is Chivas USA’s massive increase in the average when Blanco and Beckham were the opponents. Just goes to show that if you bring ‘the goods’, people will come out on a weekday.

Here’s a compilation of MLS attendance by day as of play ending Oct 8, 2009.

MLS Attendance by Day
DayGPTotalAvg
 MON 7  135,349   19,336  
 TUE 21  418,310   19,920  
 WED 339  4,196,526   12,379  
 THU 132  1,957,477   14,829  
 FRI 91  1,449,785   15,932  
 SAT 1526  24,017,714   15,739  
 SUN 373  6,091,162   16,330  





Now before any nit pickers get their rocks off with a rant, let me say this is a very rough picture of the effects of weekday v weekend game days. But it does serve as a sort of baseline to reference when I hear pronouncements such as ‘The Don’ made about the problems of more weekday matches. Hell, we even see that with 2 weekday matches to go in 2009, the average attendance is up over weekend matches.

Whether it be scheduling international friendlies, club friendlies, concerts or other variety events, it seems very clear to me that creative marketing departments will be the determining factor for teams making the best of more weekday matches, in particular during the summer months when schools are out of session. And if the draw is strong enough, i.e.; Mexico playing in Dallas, even a school night can be overcome.

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