Will Soccer over take the NHL and NBA?

Probably not anytime soon, but the attendance numbers are interesting.

A friend of mine posted a link to an article about how the NHL is selling out more markets than the NBA this year. This prompted me to look at average attendance numbers in the NHL and NBA. But I also thought I’d compare them to MLS numbers. I think the results are intriguing.

  • MLS: 18,807 (2012)
  • NHL: 17,721 (2011-12)
  • NBA: 17,274 (2011-12)

To really do anything with these numbers (or any statistic) would require digging into them more. For example, what happens if you take the Seattle Sounders out of the MLS average?  The Sounders drew an average of 43,144 in 2012 (that beats most MLB team averages). The next highest was the LA Galaxy, but they drew a much lower, but respectable 23,136. Take out the outlier Sounders and the MLS average falls to 17,455. There is obviously something weird going on in Seattle.

But even the adjusted average is interesting. MLS draws about the same, then, as the NHL and NBA. The latter have many more home games, so total attendance is higher. They also have TV contracts that give them a much wider audience (and much greater revenue).

I think these numbers support the growth of soccer the US, and the likely continuing growth (the ratings for EPL games on NBC also seem to support this). I am not sure we’ll see the MLS garner the kind of TV contract that the NHL and NBA have, but I think they are moving in that direction.

One counter to this is to claim that the NHL and NBA numbers only look similar to MLS now because most fans NHL/NBA fans watch on TV and so fewer fans go to games. Their respective attendance numbers would be much higher if watching them on TV wasn’t so easy. I am not sure this is true; that is, how many more fans would go to games if they weren’t on TV? In the bigger markets, these arenas are already sold out. In markets where there are not sellouts, it is not clear that attendance would increase. This would depend on the weak attendance being dependent on the broadcast availability instead of lack of a deeper interest in the team. If the teams aren’t selling out because the fan-base isn’t there, lack of TV coverage isn’t going to translate into increased attendance. I suspect it would actually decrease interest in the team and thus lead to decreased attendance. Carrying over this speculation to the MLS, more TV coverage would probably increase interest and thus translate into higher live attendance. This suggests a brighter and bigger future for soccer in the US.



Filed under basketball, Hockey, soccer

3 responses to “Will Soccer over take the NHL and NBA?

  1. John bird

    Where does women’s soccer fit into the picture in the US? In the UK crowds, sponsorship, pay for players and TV coverage are not that good!!

  2. According to Wikipedia, the WNBA averages about 7,500 and National Women’s Soccer League averages just over 4,000. Both are well below the low range of the equivalent male leagues. The WNBA has been around for almost two decades and seems to me to be a viable and successful league even if it has a small profile (although it needs to be noted that the NBA subsided it for years). NWSL is a new league replacing the previous top-level women’s league (itself only around for few years) that folded a few years ago. So, it is having a tough go of it. WNBA gets some minor TV coverage in the States (the Women’s NCAA tourney probably gets more coverage), women’s soccer (except World Cup) gets almost nothing. Given all this, it is not surprising that sponsorships and salaries are much lower than male equivalents.

  3. sportsmarketer

    To equate men’s and women’s leagues, you’d have to control for duration of existence. By that standard, the WNBA after 10 years is far ahead of its male equivalent with respect to attendance.

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