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Hammered Rivets: Chicago offers world’s best hot dogs; good soccer, too

After the Thorns match, we take a brief look at happenings off the pitch.

Nikita Taparia

It’s been far too long since we watched the Thorns at home. At least we were rewarded with a very exciting and sharply played match against the visiting Chicago Red Stars. Sam Kerr was great, and conditions were good — the referee less so, and the result less so still. But a 2-2 draw is better than a loss. Many scenarios remain that will see us enjoy September with three straight home matches and another star for the crest.

The banner gnomes had some new images gracing the walls.

Nikita Taparia
Nikita Taparia
Nikita Taparia
Another Chicago thing
Nikita Taparia
Aflame Onement? Hint: 22
Nikita Taparia

So much time has passed that the east side construction is now starting the third level. It’s beginning to look like there really will be new places to sit next season. I don’t know about you, but I’m staying put in spite of the many offers to relocate to the new stand. I’d miss my friends — and my money.

The Numbers

Providence Park drew 18,631 for the Red Stars match. To my eye, it looked more crowded than that; I was expecting to see a number closer to 20,000 posted. Still, this was our season high. A sellout is unlikely for Wednesday’s match, but that leaves us one more chance to fill the place — against Seattle on September 7, when playoff positions will be on the line. To date, our attendance is lagging 2017 by 4.4 percent.

Across the league, there have been more than a dozen games played since our last home match. Sky Blue and North Carolina both brought in their season-high gates last week. In the case of the Courage, their 7,606 was more than double their worst-attended match and thousands more than the others. Orlando and Salt Lake both had their second-best attendances in their most recent matches. Houston, in particular, is really struggling at the turnstiles: With only one date remaining, their attendance is off 35 percent from 2017. Overall, however, the league is now up 12.5 percent to-date over 2017.

I’ve built a new attendance metric: loyalty. This measures the difference between a team’s best- and worst-attended match. In theory, a team that draws consistently has a more loyal fan base with mostly repeat customers. When I ran the numbers, I expected the MLS-affiliated teams, such as Houston, to be on top — but they’re not.

The metric shows the percentage variation between each team’s best- and worst-attended match. Lower is better: A team with zero variance would have the same attendance at every match. This metric helps filter out the effects of one-time events like Chicago’s opening day MLS doubleheader. Portland and Seattle top the list with the most loyal fanbases. I’ve arbitrarily picked a threshold of 75 percent of the league average variance to highlight. But I find it interesting that all three of the non-affiliated teams are in the top four by this measure. They may not be drawing big crowds, but their core fans come out every game.

I’m not suggesting that a team should avoid running promotions and the like. But the evidence suggests that not too many folks who attend the heavily promoted games are coming back for more. To illustrate, here is the same metric, but with the opening weekend match removed. Take away the hype and not much changes.

Anecdotally, I would suggest that a new fan who is brought in by a current fan is more likely to return, versus someone who shows up for free hot dogs or a post-game concert. If this is right, clubs should try offering a bounty (cash, special access, discounts) to their season ticket holders who refer new STHs.

Of all the televised matches since my last report, only one registered in the top 150 cable shows for the date: The Utah-Seattle match two weeks ago drew 188,000 viewers on Lifetime. The ESPNews broadcasts have yet to break through; possibly due to their more competitive evening time slot.

Up Next

With a quick turnaround, the Thorns host Sky Blue on Wednesday at 8:00 pm, followed by the inaugural NWSL match at the lovely new Audi Field in Washington DC on Saturday. Sky Blue managed to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory in Salt Lake on the weekend. And Washington’s not doing much better, with eight straight losses and firing their coach this week. New Jersey will surely be gunning for their first win of the year, having nearly nicked it here last time. Washington will want to put on a good show for what will certainly be their biggest crowd of the season. It’s not going to be as easy as it looks in the standings.

For Portland, three games in eight days with cross-country travel will surely require some squad rotation. Balanced against the expectation/need of six points against the cellar-dwellers, Mark Parsons has some tricky decisions to make. But this is the time of year when everyone has to step up. Yes, that includes us supporters too.

Onward, Rose City!