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Behold, the Sound of Lightning: 2014 MLS Attendance.

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This is a look at 2014 regular season attendance numbers. The Sound of Lightning doesn't really mean anything, but it sounds hardcore. And since nobody likes statistics we thought it might generate a little excitement.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

19,1491

That’s The NumberTM.

The NumberTM has a lot of fans and investors excited. That's probably because The NumberTM has never been higher. It could also be because The NumberTM will be even higher next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we should take a look at the numbers that got us to The NumberTM.2

Seattle Sounders 43,734
Toronto FC 22,086
LA Galaxy 21,257
Portland Timbers 20,778
Vancouver Whitecaps 20,408
Real Salt Lake 20,351
Houston Dynamo 20,117
Sporting Kansas City 20,003
New York Red Bulls 19,421
DC United 17,065
Montreal Impact 17,421
Philadelphia Union 17,631
Columbus Crew 16,881
FC Dallas 16,816
New England Revolution 16,681
Chicago Fire 16,076
Colorado Rapids 15,082
San Jose Earthquakes 14,947
Chivas 7,063

Let’s all take a second to pause and high five rub each others shoulders while making steady eye contact. Is it awkward yet? Don't let it be. These numbers are good, and the league is a position of healthy growth.

A few observations

Other than the World Cup ginning up interest, there were no new inflators. No Seattles or Portlands or Torontos coming into the league and immediately pumping up the attendance numbers.

All but 6 teams grew their numbers over last year. That's measurable growth across the country in markets that differ in culture, attitudes toward the sport, and size. People are going to more MLS games in more places because they see as a good way to spend their time and money.

Several teams have had dramatic upswings: DCU 25%, Toronto 22%, San Jose 17%.

There are reasons those three numbers are worth mentioning. DC is in the middle of a stadium hunt and doing well at the box office can't hurt. Toronto just announced an addition to their stadium and if they can ever get over their locker room issues they’ll be putting a whole lot of people in their expanded home. San Jose is completing a new stadium and their attendance, which has always been constrained by the fact that they play in what looks like a high school curling stadium at a high school with no curling program, will surely go up next year.

The death of Chivas is sad for their fan [sic],3 but it’s the textbook definition of addition by subtraction. Actually, it might be multiplication by subtraction, which is both exciting and confusing.

Chivas was an albatross around MLS neck not only in terms of image and marketability, but in attendance and viewership. Their attendance was less than half the next team. Three NASL teams and a USL Pro team have more people coming to their games, none of whom reside in the 2nd largest media market in the country. The Rochester Rhinos were breathing down their neck in fan turnout. Without Chivas, MLS 2014 attendance immediately jumps to 19,820.4

Want bad news? There's a little, although I'm not sure why you answered yes to that.

Montreal, Philly, Chivas, and Colorado all saw numbers decline. It’s not hard to see why.

Seattle and LA saw slight dips and it is a little hard to see why.

For Seattle, maybe the Dempsey effect from last year skewed things a bit. But over the course of a season where they won both the Supporters Shield and the US Open Cup, there's no reason their attendance should have declined.

LA was sending LD off this season, so their numbers should be up, too. Maybe their drop off had something to do with that horrible painting they gave him after the last game. Hard to say.

On another note, it should be clear now why the MLS has started to tell prospective expansion cities that their stadium needs to be downtown:

Teams with a home downtown and/or reachable by train5: 21,742

Teams living in the burbs: 16,798

Looking to the Future

  • When the conferences change next year, attendance will even more strongly favor the West. After re-alignment, 7 of the top 8 teams will be in the Western Conference. Only Colorado and San Jose are below average, and like mentioned above, San Jose’s numbers should increase pretty significantly next season.

    Teams in next years Western Conference: 21,876

    Teams in next years Eastern Conference: 16,938

  • MLS has had a pretty good millennium so far. In 2000 average attendance was 13,756. If we project that number into the future, by the year 2100 average attendance per match will be roughly 500,000 per game.6
  • Take away Chivas, assume all teams sell the same % of tickets they did in 2014. Add in the expansion of Toronto and San Jose stadiums at their same %. Ignore Orlando and NYCFC because they are total wildcards. The final number? 20,3057

That about covers it, right? If we missed something, or if you'd like to add to the conversation or correct a glaring error, contact your new Congressman or leave a comment below.

Footnotes

(1) There are a bunch of sites out there with a bunch of different numbers, but their numerical variance is minimal. I’m talking a very little, like in the single digits. All of them have the MLS above 19,000 for the first time.

From here on out, I’m going to be using the numbers of Scott Phillips at ‘Business of Sports’ because they seem consistently consistent and because he goes into a little more depth than some other outlets.

(2) I have to admit that I find a couple of these figures a little difficult to trust. Has BBVA ever felt like it had more people in it than Sporting Park? The Red Bulls are getting 19,000 out to Harrison every week? Not saying any of these are overstatements or anything like that (please don't sue me), but some of these numbers don’t pass the proverbial smell or eyeball tests.

(3) Sorry for the cheap shot. That fruit was hanging too low and I couldn't help myself. Plus, it’s a good occasion to point out that from here on out, we’re not going to count Chivas in any of our numbers. Because while they have been dead to most of us for a very long time, they are now officially dead. So let’s pretend that they never existed. It won’t be hard.

(4) Yes, there are outliers in the other direction. We’re looking at you, Seattle. But Seattle isn't going anywhere, and neither are their fans, so the point is moot.

(5) I did this math twice, but if this is a safe space and we're all being honest, I slept through most of AP Statistics and subsequently failed. Don't tell my Dad.

(6) Not meant to be an exact number. So sue me (please don’t sue me).

(7) They wouldn’t allow this sort of highly speculative, cherry-picking informed projection in any beginners statistics class. There’s no telling what will happen between now and March. There’s also a couple new variables next year. There’s no World Cup. No Landon Donovan. Maybe no Henry. Orlando City will be playing in the Orange Bowl and NYCFC will be playing in Yankee Stadium, and both will look terrible. So who knows what’s going to happen. But I did it anyway because it was fun. So sue me (once again, please don’t sue me).

A couple other facts of no consequence other than their being passingly interesting:

  • Orlando City's average attendance last season was 4,743. That's low.  It's not even particularly good for a USL PRO team. There must be something going on with that number that I don't know about. If you know, share below.
  • The longest team name in the MLS belongs to the New England Revolution. This could all change with the addition of Club de Sporting Real Internazionale David Beckham United FC, Miami.

Sources:

Business of Soccer

Doherty Soccer USL 2014

Doherty Soccer NASL 2014