A crowd of 17,489 fans filled the LA Galaxy’s stadium last week to see the USWNT win the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament by crushing Canada 3-0. The big crowd was a welcome sight after so many anemic attendances for recent USWNT and USMNT matches.
For example, the Houston Dynamo’s stadium was a vast sea of blazing orange seats two weeks ago when only 7,082 fans showed up to see the USWNT earn first place in their Olympic Qualifying group with a 6-0 win over Costa Rica. A cozy crowd of 9,172 showed up at the Galaxy’s South Bay LA stadium to see the USMNT down the Costa Rican men 1-0. And these numbers are just the announced attendances. Photos from many of these matches reveal smaller crowds than the official numbers indicate.
A big problem, as Lawrence Dockery astutely points out on World Soccer Talk, is that the USMNT play in the same stadiums in the same cities over and over again. LA boasts the Rose Bowl, the LA Coliseum, and LAFC’s sparkling new stadium, which is next to two transit lines. Yet the LA Galaxy’s stadium, which is only really reachable by car, has hosted two USWNT matches and one USMNT matches over the past two weeks.
Others add that mid-winter matches are a tough sell, especially on weeknights, and that the matches were poorly marketed. Some were bold enough to claim that seats were empty because fans were waiting on long lines for soda and chips. Then there are frustrated fans fed up with USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter.
It’s also worth taking a closer look at the exorbitant ticket prices, which are as out of touch as Berhalter’s tactics. Seeing one of these relatively mundane US Soccer matches should cost the same as a casual night out – it should be more like seeing The Avengers at the multiplex and less like a pricey porterhouse dinner at the Palm.
The cheapest ticket for the USWNT – Costa Rica Olympic Qualifying group match in Houston was $33, with fees, for a seat in the second level behind a goal. Worse, the second cheapest seat was $68 with fees.
The cheapest ticket for the USMNT – Costa Rica friendly in LA was $30, without fees, to sit in the second level’s extreme ends. Any decent seat for that meaningless match started at $60, without fees. And the Galaxy’s stadium is far from public transit, so most fans had to shell out at least $25 for parking.
Prices for marquee matchups are far higher. For example, the cheapest seats for Mexico’s 3-0 win over the USMNT in New Jersey last September cost $82 plus fees. And fans driving to that suburban monolith had to pay $40 for parking as well.
The players deserve to play in front of full houses. ESPN and FOX, which pay tens of millions a year to show US soccer matches, deserve full houses so that their broadcasts are appealing to as wide a TV audience as possible. Think about how Premier League broadcasts, with stadiums crammed with fervent fans, are far more visually appealing on TV than Serie A broadcasts featuring sparser crowds. Think about how unattractive baseball broadcasts look with all those empty seats behind home plate and it’s no wonder that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is floating all types of insane ideas to boost interest.
For context, it’s worth looking at what the ticket prices are for national team games.
The cheapest ticket for the recent US women’s hockey team clash against Canada at the Vancouver Canucks’ arena was $30 in American dollars (CAD 40). And that was to sit in the lowest level closest to the ice.
The USA men’s basketball team will battle Puerto Rico in Washington DC in late February for a FIBA AmeriCup game. The AmeriCup is the biennial basketball championship for North America, South America, and the Caribbean. The US roster will feature G-Leaguers. So it’s roughly equivalent, talent wise, to the developmental squad the USMNT put out for its recent friendly against Costa Rica. Yet the cheapest tickets to this basketball game are only $15 with fees, with better seats to be had for $21.
The Nike Hoop Summit will take place in at the Portland Trail Blazers arena in April. It features some of the best youth basketball talent in the world – past players in this game include luminaries like Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Nikola Jokić. The cheapest tickets, which are in nice courtside sections, are $20 with fees
Ticket prices for this summer’s Team USA basketball pre-Olympic friendlies haven’t been announced yet. But back in 2016, the cheapest seats at NBA arenas to see superstars like Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving ball were generally $30 plus fees.
In March, the USWNT will next take on England in Orlando in the SheBelieves Cup. The cheapest seats cost $36 with fees, and that’s to sit in bleacher-style seating with no backing behind a goal.
For contrast, the England men’s national team is taking on Italy in a blockbuster Wembley friendly in late March. The cheapest seats cost $42 with fees (£32.5), but senior citizens, college students, and kids under 16 can get in for only $16 with fees (£12.5), while parents can get in for only $36 with fees (£27.5).
US Soccer is first and foremost a profit-making institution. Its slogan may as well be Migos’ “Bring Out the Money Counter.” And greedy CONCACAF has a strong say in events like Olympic Qualifying. But US Soccer and CONCACAF, with their ticket pricing, are favoring short money over long. They’re slicing the same pie thinner and thinner by gouging their hardcore fanbase rather than growing the audience for the game. And TV ratings are suffering as well because US Soccer and CONCACAF are doing their big money TV partners dirty by making broadcast backdrops look dreary with empty seats.