One of the biggest reasons why it was so important for US Soccer to make the correct coaching decision back in 2018 was because the morale among the USMNT fan base was so low. They needed something to look forward to and a reason to return to games. But with the hire of Gregg Berhalter, US fans got neither of those things. At best, the US Men’s National Team performance on the field in 2019 was mediocre against teams that weren’t ranked in the bottom half in the world. And against Mexico in September 2019, it was downright ugly when the US team lost 3-0 to Mexico. As a result, US fans have continued to do what they’ve been doing over the last four years — to stop attending games.
The year 2019 saw the fourth straight year of attendance decline for the USMNT. Four straight years. Dating all the way back to 1984, this is a feat that has never been accomplished before. But US Soccer has found a way. From 38,763 per game in 2015, to 29,707 per game in 2016, down to 29,400 per game in 2017, even further down to 24,163 in 2018 and now all the way down to an appalling 23,306 per game in 2019. That’s a drop of 4% from last year to this year. The decline is even more shocking when you compare 2019 to the concurrent year in the previous cycle (2015). Attendance from 2015 to 2019 has fallen an astonishing 40%. And to top it off, 2019 was the worst attendance for the US since 2006.
It’s not hard to figure the reasons for this drop off though. First and foremost the results on the field have been terrible. A fourth place Gold Cup finish in 2015 (which was immediately followed by the loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, thereby failing to qualify for the Confederations Cup in Russia) got the ball rolling. Then of course the failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, then the year long coaching search to land on the brother of US Soccer’s second in command. And of course 2019 saw bad friendly losses to Jamaica (1-0 at home), Venezuela (3-0 at home) and Mexico (3-0 at home). Plus, the US failed to win the Gold Cup again, losing to Mexico in the Final and nearly losing to mighty Curacao along the way.
On top of the poor results, ticket prices have risen to outrageous levels. US Soccer has made sure to tell everybody why this is a fantastic strategy. From Sunil Gulati being on record in 2015 as saying US Soccer could make more money selling fewer tickets at much higher prices to a Power Point presentation during World Cup Qualifying explaining that raising price and simultaneously limiting ticket availability (ie playing in MLS venues) makes the most financial sense. And unfortunately, there’s no reason to expect that to change. Three years of attendance decline didn’t give them pause, so there’s no reason to expect four years of attendance decline to suddenly make them see the light.
Here’s the full list of attendances for the USMNT in 2019.
1/27/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Panama – State Farm Stadium – 9,040
2/2/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Costa Rica – Avaya Stadium – 13,656
3/21/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Ecuador – Exploria Stadium – 17,442
3/26/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Chile – BBVA Stadium – 18,033
6/5/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Jamaica – Audi Field – 17,719
6/9/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Venezuela – Nippert Stadium – 23,955
6/18/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Guyana – Allianz Field – 19,418
6/22/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago – First Energy Stadium – 23,921
6/26/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Panama – Children’s Mercy Park – 17,037
6/30/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Curacao – Lincoln Financial Field – 26,233
7/3/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Jamaica – Nissan Stadium – 28,473
7/7/19 – Gold Cup – USA vs. Mexico – Soldier Field – 62,493
9/6/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Mexico – MetLife Stadium – 47,960
9/10/19 – Friendly – USA vs. Uruguay – Busch Stadium – 20,625
10/11/19 – Nations League – USA vs. Cuba – Audi Field – 13,784
11/15/19 – Nations League – USA vs. Canada – Exploria Stadium – 13,103
Total Attendance: 372,892
Average Attendance: 23,306
A couple of things stand out here. First, it’s yet another crowd of under 10,000 people. Dating back to 2015, only one calendar year has seen no games of under 10,000 fans (that was 2017 when the US was actually on a long unbeaten run).
Another oddity was US Soccer’s bizarre decision to play both home Nations League games in stadiums where they had already played friendlies (and not drawn well) earlier in the year. The game against Jamaica at Audi Field in Washington DC failed to sell out in May so the game against Cuba there in October wasn’t going to either. The same holds true for the pair of games at Exploria Stadium (formerly known as Orlando City Stadium). In the game against Ecuador in March, there were nearly 8,000 empty seats. Fast forward to November and there were nearly 12,000 empty seats.
And don’t be fooled by the big numbers for the Gold Cup Final in Chicago or the friendly in New York. Both of those games drew well (62,000+ and 47,000+) but it’s quite obvious that because the opponent was Mexico, US fans were vastly outnumbered in those games.
There is one positive that needs to be mentioned in all of this. The opening game of the Gold Cup against Guyana drew an over-capacity crowd at the brand new Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota. Perhaps it was because it was the first year of the stadium. Perhaps it was because it was the first USMNT appearance there, but a number of media members commented on just how fantastic the atmosphere for that game was.
On the whole though, it’s more bad news for US Soccer. As long as they keep losing, and as long as they keep selling expensive ticket prices, they will continue losing fans. There’s now four straight years of data saying that fans are fed up with US Soccer. They’ve begun to vote with their wallets. And quite frankly, that’s the way it should be. If the federation wants to gouge fans, they better put an awesome product on the field. They aren’t doing it.
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