Skip navigation
Favorites
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up
View All Scores

Where the rubber meets the road in MLS attendance

BMO empty

Here’s why bad management just crushes a team:

Attendance is generally a pleasant tale these days in MLS, where the gate isn’t always great, but it tends to be pretty good.

For instance, Major League Soccer attendance passed the 5 million mark for 2012 last weekend. That’s not going to scare Major League Baseball, of course, but it’s a happy place for a league where growth keeps chugging along.

Individually, too, it was a good weekend for MLS club. Most clubs, at any rate.

Here are the numbers for weekend matches in Round 29.


  • Seattle Sounders: 38,948
  • Los Angeles Galaxy: 27,000
  • New England Revolution: 24,364
  • Real Salt Lake: 20,524
  • Montreal Impact: 20,521
  • Chicago Fire: 19,172
  • Vancouver Whitecaps: 18,992
  • Philadelphia Union: 17,666

Those are all reasonable figures, which included four sellouts and a season-high in New England. But then there’s one more: D.C. United, which had a huge match against Chivas USA. On a Sunday evening as the playoffs approached, a match that once would have drawn perhaps 18,000 to RFK attracted just 11,770.

That’s what happens when a club cannot get it together; United has not made the playoffs since 2007, an awful reminder of how this club’s management has bungled matters in a league where, statistically, it has always been easier to make the playoffs than to miss.

But this isn’t just about D.C. United. Take a look at the league’s current attendance report (which, curiously, is listed alphabetically rather than according to leaders as other categories are):

MLS attendance

What you see are four clubs drawing fewer than 14,000 a game. No, the slowpokes of this herd aren’t the usual suspects, the notoriously under-achieving markets like Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Kansas City, etc. (Yes, yes, I know SKC is an attendance winner now … )

The three bottom clubs include two teams that were always seen as “strong” markets: New England and D.C. United, along with Chivas USA. (The other sub-14,000 average belongs to San Jose, where capacity is listed at 10,500 but matches played elsewhere elevates the number.)

Conclusion: Yes, market factors do speak loudly in crowd counts and brand presence in a given city. But so does performance, in front office marketing and in competitive matters.

Speaking of which:

Toronto, perpetually in the ditch in competitive matters, is clearly suffering. The numbers still look good – but who are we kidding? We see the matches and the gaping swatches of red in the BMO Field stands, compelling evidence that fans have turned increasingly apathetic.

A lively market can clearly sour. The difference, of course, is that favorable market factors make it easier to rally the gate counts once competitive breath is found.

Probably, anyway. I suppose we’ll know eventually.