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"Robble, robble, robble. Nobody watches the MLS. Nobody goes to games. Robble, Robble, I need a brain, robble, robble."

Wrong again, Anti-MLS Man!

Thought that no one ever sees the MLS play? That they have low attendances? Think again. Kansas City Star sports writer Pete Grathoff did some research on his own (giddy up, Pete) and came up with some interesting numbers. He explains it much better than I could, so I'll let you check out the article right here. Very interesting stuff...

 

MLS enjoys a surge in attendance

By PETE GRATHOFF

The Kansas City Star

 

Last season was an unmitigated disaster for Toronto FC.

An expansion team, Toronto had the fewest points in the league (25), allowed the most goals (49), scored the fewest (25) and set a league record for a scoring drought (824 minutes).

Not surprisingly, Toronto saw a change in the number of its season tickets.

The numbers increased.

After having 14,000 season tickets for 2007, Toronto quit selling them for the upcoming season when it reached 16,000.

"They could sell out the whole place just with season tickets last year and this year again," said Bob Gansler, a former Wizards coach who was a Toronto FC assistant coach last season. "It's a hot ticket. They certainly are in a great position in terms of their support."

Ditto for Major League Soccer. Just seven years after folding two teams, the league is on solid ground. While Toronto hasn't played at home, average attendance this year is 14,716. The league's average attendance was 16,770 last year, the best since its inaugural season of 1996.

Critics may sneer that it pales in comparison with the NFL's average of 67,738, but every league's does. Major-league baseball's average a year ago was 32,785. MLS fits right in with the NBA (17,757 in 2006-'07) and the NHL (16,486 in '06-'07).

MLS officials, however, don't care to compare the league to the Big Four.

"We don't judge ourselves against those leagues," MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis said. "We're focused on our own silo and our own space. Much in the same way as NASCAR has really been off to the side developing its own fan base and focusing on what it needs to do very successfully, we believe we're in our own space focusing on soccer fans, developing those fans and over time giving them reasons to affiliate themselves and become fans of Major League Soccer."

MLS also compares favorably with top-flight soccer leagues around the world, ranking 11th. The top three are Germany's Bundesliga (37,644), the English Premier League (34,459) and Spain's LaLiga (28,838).

"For an American, you say top 11 and it's not very impressive, but if you're objective about it, it's not bad," said Jeff L'Hote, who founded a soccer-focused consulting firm based in New York. "MLS has been around about a dozen years, whereas you take the leagues that are ahead of them around the world, they've been around for 100 years in at least a couple of cases, and decades in every other case.

"There's certainly room for improvement. But I think the trends are promising. Not just last year's league attendance, but also the continuing development of stadia."

Stadiums are a league priority. When MLS kicked off in 1996, most teams played in cavernous NFL stadiums. By last season, seven of the league's 13 teams were in their own stadiums, all of them with fewer than 30,000 seats.

That creates an intimate setting for the sport, sort of like you'd find in a soccer-mad country like England. Half of the teams currently in the English Premier League play in stadiums that hold 36,000 fans or fewer.

While the attendance numbers are well and good, L'Hote looks at how close each team is to reaching its capacity. Percentage of capacity divides the number of fans by the stadium capacity.

Most MLS teams in NFL stadiums only sell tickets in the lower bowl. Even so, six of the top seven teams in percentage of capacity last season played in their own stadiums.

Toronto led the way. It plays in 20,000-seat BMO Field, and last season averaged 20,130 fans, reaching 100.7 percent of its capacity. Despite the struggles on the field, the fans will be back.

"It says to me that these are soccer fans and they want to see a good, high-quality product and they also want to be in an environment that is exciting and is conducive to wanting to go back," L'Hote said. "That's what I remember about being a kid and going to Shea Stadium with my dad for the first time. There were so many people, there wasn't an empty seat where I was. That's what you remember."

Toronto's passionate fan base and sellout crowds impressed Gansler, who coached the Wizards to the 2000 MLS Cup title.

"It was amazing," Gansler said. "It was way beyond enthusiasm. The fans were passionate, and they were knowledgeable. They came early and they stayed late. They supported the team and a lot of times what we were able to bring on the field wasn't worth all that attention.

"It's a heck of a model not only for new franchises, but quite a few of the franchises around the league."

 

Fan Support is a big positive for the MLS and is something we can expect will continue.

The Chicago Fire(above) and Columbus Crew enjoy packed stadiums.

Fantastic article on Pete's part (probably why he got a job with the newspaper) that shed a lot of positive light on the MLS and soccer in general, something that's rare in American journalism nowadays. Shows that we're a sport on the rise here, despite what some say, and that we've got some great fans coming out to the games now. Great news for MLS fans.

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