The international break offers a perfect time for some reflection of the 2012 Major League Soccer season. With only two league matches being played in the 13th and 14th weeks of the season, little has changed in the overall attendance picture. Week Thirteen saw 12,523 fans visit Gillette Stadium on June 2 to watch the New England Revolution beat the Chicago Fire. Eight days later, Vancouver Whitecaps FC hosted 18,811 fans on June 10 to see an impressive 3-1 win over the visiting Houston Dynamo.
With 122 matches in the books, 2,262,185 fans have made their way to MLS stadia this season, averaging 18,543 per contest. This compares favorably to last season, as through a similar number of matches (127), the season average was 17,348. The 6.89 percent increase from last season to this season is impressive enough, but also telling is the fact that through five less matches this season, 59,018 more fans have attended games.
Big picture information aside, changes at the club level from the 2011 season to the current one have painted a very interesting picture. Of the 18 clubs which played in the league last season, nine have made improvements in their average attendance figures while nine have experienced the opposite. The Western Conference clubs have seen a 0.08 percent dip in average attendance, going from 19,173 last season to 19,157 this season. Results were worse in the Eastern Conference, with the nine clubs collectively experiencing a 1.56 percent dip from 16,547 to 16,290.
(Please note: in the images below, the 2011 column includes ALL regular season 2011 matches while the 2012 column includes only those so far played this season.)
Who has been the biggest winner from this season to last? It has to be the Houston Dynamo. Opening BBVA Compass Stadium this season has been a massive success, as the two-time MLS Cup Champions have seen a 24.56 percent boost in attendance from last season to this one. Portland (8.56% improvement) and Columbus (8.49% improvement) have seen the next biggest bumps.
Which clubs are dropping the ball so far this season? The New York Red Bulls have seen a huge decline in average attendance thus far from 2011 to 2012, dropping nearly 4,000 fans per game to experience a 19.64 percent decline. New England is not too far behind, going to 13,550 last season to 11,752 this year to experience a 13.27 percent decline.
One of the most impressive differences in my mind has to be in the case of the Philadelphia Union. Despite a very poor start to the 2012 season, multiple questionable personnel decisions and a rumor that head coach Peter Nowak is applying for other coaching jobs, the Union faithful are still showing up. A 0.30 percent increase from last season to this season speaks volumes of the loyalty that resides within that fan base. Bravo!
So how can both conferences experience an attendance decline but the league as a whole improves? Our answer lies north of the border with the league’s newest club, the Montreal Impact. In five home matches, the newcomers have hosted two sellouts and have averaged a very impressive 36,498 per contest. Montreal has had the largest (I’m not proud of this pun) impact on league attendance this season.
It would be remiss to not include three more clubs when recognizing strong attendance figures. Sporting Kansas City has sold out five of six home matches this season and averages 19,177 per game; Portland has sold out 24 consecutive MLS contests at Jeld-Wen Field and Seattle has been nothing short of terrific, picking up three sellouts this season and averaging 38,587 per game.
Week Fifteen of the 2012 MLS season begins on Saturday, June 16 when Philadelphia hosts D.C. United at 7 p.m. EST.