FanPost

Crystal Ball Predictions: 2014 Attendance

I'm at it again.

In line with what I have done the past two years (Crystal Ball Predictions: 2012, Crystal Ball Predictions: 2013) is post a prediction of MLS attendance for the new season. Using reliable past trends and current outlooks on stadia capacities, scheduling, and market pulse, I will divine a simple average and total attendance. I'm not a numbers or statistics guru, but I have been following the league's attendance for over five years now. The predictions are purely for nonacademic purposes to otherwise fill the off-the-field discussions surrounding soccer. In brief I will post my predictions for each individual team, then aggregate those guesses into my prediction. Prepare to discuss in agreement or disagreement in the comments. Vote in the poll. Or just use snarky gifs like this one.

Review

Last year wasn't so bad. It was down a few hundred a game from 2012. Steady and comfortable for most individual teams as well. And still topped 6,000,000 in total. I was unsure attendance would top 19,000 because I predicted an average 11 fans short of that bar. No new team and also no new stadium openings, which will continue for one more season. If not for CUSA's decline, among other things, it would have been another record setting year.

The 2013 numbers and my prediction:


Total Average
Predicted
6,133,447
18,989
Actual 6,010,384 18,608
% Difference 2.01% 2.01%

Overestimated by a small percentage. Decent prediction again, I was off by 1.14% in 2012. However, this year, I'm not feeling it. I just don't think I'll be doing better this year because of the uncertainty for a few teams and the lack of information for others. I'm thinking pessimistic, but I'll have to gauge each team first. And as you will see below, I shouldn't feel that way.

Team by Team Analysis

Chicago Fire. HOLD. For no other reason than I have nothing that will cause me to think they will improve or decrease in average attendance based on the last 5 years. There isn't much information to hang on to other than they will have the returning MLS Golden Boot winner top goalscorer [Credit JD SoOR for the correction] in Mike Magee. With him there for a full season the team may make a playoff push and succeed this time and in turn bring increased attendance numbers. However, fan relations are at a low point. See Sector Latino news.

Chivas USA. UP. I predicted HOLD last year and they tanked spectacularly while on the receiving end of a lot of bad press. Now it is looking like the "Gringo Welcome" sign in the player locker room forcibly placed by MLS HQ is going to marginally help improve the gate receipts. Because it can't get any lower right? Highest average for this team was 19,833 in 2006. Last year it was 8,366. Even getting back to five figures will be a 20% increase. End the abuse! Stop slaughtering goats!

Colorado Rapids. UP. The attendance at the Dick is becoming solid. The fan base is more consistently showing up, and the team has promise after making the playoffs last year even without the same coach right that led them there. Respectable increase again, but it wont happen until late summer so don't get down on early crowds.

Columbus Crew. DOWN. Marshall gone. Gaven retired. New ownership. Unimproved roster. Renovated seats is not going to improve the fan experience for a team that appears marked for Eastern Conference bottom-dweller. The home of Dos-a-cero needs more fire and not the jumbotron variety. They had over 16,000 last year but I find it hard to believe it will happen this year.

FC Dallas. UP. New coach might improve their team's place in the Western Conference and the fan experience is getting better in Frisco with more seats being filled. There might be a roof on the horizon to help people stay out of the sun. Not going to happen this year, but shows promise of better things to come. Like Colorado, making slow gains in the past five years.

D.C. United. UP. The roster is improved, but can they gel? And if the DC stadium news improves I see no reason why RFK ticket sales wouldn't improve with it. Also, doing better over the historically futile 2013 season will help (Own Goal shouldn't be on the top goal scorers list). I just hope falling concrete doesn't make the news.

Houston Dynamo. HOLD. New stadium smell is going away, but the team is still a mainstay for soccer fans. The perennial playoff contender will help keep fans engaged even as their Eastern Conference rivals improved their rosters in the off-season.

Sporting Kansas City. HOLD. As I wrote last year "They're already above capacity as an average." Add reigning MLS Cup champions.

LA Galaxy. UP. Slightly. Arena is sticking around for a few more years. Same stars, new season. Decent attendance. Nearly 23,000 this year in my books.

Montreal Impact. DOWN. One of the worst drops in performance next to FC Dallas in the latter half of the season. Lost a great player to retirement and didn't find a way to sign another aging Italian. They start the season off with their three home games in a carpet-on-concrete domed stadium. It shouldn't move the needle all that much over the course of the season having a few games at increased capacity.

New England Revolution. DOWN. Losing Agudelo will slow their offensive game down. That said, nothing should change their stadium attendance too much. Only a drop of 600 a game. Another 17 homes dates in Kraft's calendar. Nothing flashy in numbers, just another sub 15,000 year. Only twice in the last 10 years has the average been above 15,000.

New York Red Bulls. DOWN. Attendance is going to be hampered by circumstances outside the control of the organization. Once a Metro will fill you in, but 45 weekend closures at the nearest public transit station will hurt attendance. Don't be hard on them okay?

Philadelphia Union. UP. Feeling bullish on Philly this year. That is all.

Portland Timbers. HOLD, up slightly. ~400 seats. Standard Deviation will remain a big fat goose egg.

Real Salt Lake. DOWN. In Jason Kreis' name no more.

San Jose Earthquakes. UP. This team gets the advantage of doing a Stanford Stadium game against LA and opening up Levi Stadium in Santa Clara this August, which is another billion dollar edifice to gridiron football. Last year at their "temp" venue. Expect healthy numbers next year.

Seattle Sounders FC. UP. Five increased capacity dates, around 2,000 more seats each game. Inflated egos? Check.

Toronto FC. UP. Not much of a stretch here. Massive increase on the way for Toronto. Boasting a season ticket holder base capped out at 17,000 will guarantee a great year for Toronto. Sorry Laba, you're the young kid that is being pushed out to make way for MLS' newest stars.

Vancouver Whitecaps. DOWN, slightly. Curse you Camillo!

Prediction

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The big prediction:


Total Average
Predicted
6,105,890
18,904

It's a new record! MLS attendance doesn't break the 19,000 but obtains another record attendance year.

Team by Team Numbers

2013 AVG 2013 Total 2014 Avg 2014 Total %
CHI 15228 258876 15000 255000 -1.50%
CHV 8366 142222 10200 173400 21.92%
CLB 16080 273360 15000 255000 -6.72%
COL 15440 262480 15900 270300 2.98%
DAL 15373 261341 15880 269960 3.30%
DCU 13646 231982 14300 243100 4.79%
HOU 19923 338691 19700 334900 -1.12%
LAG 22152 376584 22900 389300 3.38%
MTL 20603 350251 19800 336600 -3.90%
NER 14844 252348 14200 241400 -4.34%
NYR 19461 330837 18500 314500 -4.94%
PHI 17867 303739 18400 312800 2.98%
POR 20674 351458 21040 357680 1.77%
RSL 19218 326706 18600 316200 -3.22%
SEA 44038 748646 45000 765000 2.18%
SJE 12765 217005 14400 244800 12.81%
SKC 19709 335053 19750 335750 0.21%
TFC 18131 308227 21000 357000 15.82%
VAN 20038 340646 19600 333200 -2.19%
TOTAL 18608 6010452 18904 6105890 1.59%

Closing Remarks

In all MLS is doing just fine and I predict a decent uptick in attendance over the previous year based on the cumulative effect of the teams in the bottom improving, and the top pushing slightly higher. The middle change places but no real movement one way or the other.

This MLS navel gazing exercise isn't something that other North American sports worry about as much. However, given that MLS has primary relied on gate receipts for its income in the past, and in some ways still currently does, it was a necessary review of MLS health. Very few other soccer leagues have fans hem and haw over the attendance, even the triumphs and travails of rival clubs, quite like we 'Mericans/Canucks do.

At the end of the year MLS will have added a new team in 8 of the last 10 seasons. In the coming years there will be 5 more with Orlando and New York granted a franchise, and in spite of the press conference, a highly likely franchise in Miami ("The preferred spot for Beckham's contract option" - not a sexy headline). Atlanta is most likely the 23rd franchise with the 24th a game of thrones. MLS total attendance is going to increase as teams enter and the average may as well depending on how the new teams capture the soccer fan that is lurking out there.

A few observations:

  1. This year is a World Cup year as well. A late summer bump for a few teams is not out of the question. How much? I can't put a figure on it.
  2. In 2012, at 13,056 a game Chivas was the lowest attended team, but that was a high water mark in MLS history for the least attended team. In 2013, at 8,366 a game Chivas was the least attended team, but clearly worse. Only three other teams have ever been lower: Kansas City Wizards 1998 (8,072), 1999 (8,183); Miami Fusion 2000 (7,460).
  3. Several teams have not bested their first year's average attendance, and some may not do so until they have a bigger stadium: (minimum of 5 years) Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, LA, New York, San Jose. San Jose has the best chance of breaking out of this group when they move into their new stadium next year. Source.
  4. MLS will continue to be in the top 10 in attendance for soccer leagues worldwide. It will take a large increase to get the jump on France (19,261 in 2012-13) and Netherlands (19,538 in 2011-12) to move out of the 7th/8th spot.

Resources:

BigSoccer: MLS Attendance Analysis: Team Centric Data through 2013

BigSoccer: MLS Attendance Analysis: Preseason

BigSoccer: Season Ticket Holder Count (more recent posts)

Wikipedia: List of Major League Soccer stadiums for seating capacities

Alright guys, I don't believe I have to say this but, just in case, please do not submit anything racist, homophobic, sexist or otherwise not appropriate for even the younger Timbers fans.

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