Originally published in the Oct. 31, 2011 Print Edition of the Siskiyou Newspaper
The 2011 MLS regular season set a new record for average attendance with 17,869 people per game. Compared to European Leagues, the NFL and the MLB this may not seem like much, but this number is proof that Major League Soccer is (or at least should be) a “Major” sports league in America.
Last year the NBA averaged 17,319 people per game and the NHL averaged 17,136 people per game; both trailing MLS. Worldwide this number ranks 10th among soccer leagues and 3rd in the Western Hemisphere.
On average more people went to an MLS game than a Brazilian Soccer League game last year. That’s right; the most successful soccer country of all time was outdrawn by the United States.
Further proof that MLS is gaining steam: we’re in a recession. While every other “Major” league has declining attendance, MLS broke its attendance record that it set in its inaugural season of 1996.
Arguably the league’s most popular team, Seattle Sounders FC averaged over 38,000 fans per game this year; breaking the single team season record. This number was also good for 5th overall in the Western Hemisphere among individual teams.
Their regular season finale, which was the last home game for legendary goalkeeper Kasey Keller before he retires drew 64,140 two weeks ago, the 4th highest total in the WORLD that weekend behind only legendary clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Recently NBC actually got into a bidding war with Fox and won the right to broadcast 45 MLS games a year for the next three years. They started promoting the games nearly six months early during Sunday Night Football, one of the most watched programs on TV.
The league has been the butt of many jokes since its inception, but if it can capitalize on its regular season success with a strong playoffs and stir up a lot of interest, we may be talking about the five major sports instead of four in the near future.