Where do colleges look to improve fan experience? MLS

Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders

With attendance at college football games in a slump, athletic directors are looking to Major League Soccer (MLS) to upgrade the fan experience at stadiums across the nation.

It’s no secret that attendance at college football games has been down in recent years; ironically, many big games in power conferences aren’t sold out because fan don’t want the hassle of fighting large crowds when there’s a perfectly wonderful high-definition experience waiting at home, complete with beer cooler and easy chair. MLB, the NFL and the NHL have all addressed this by upgrading fan experiences across the board (better food, more comfortable seating, flashy scoreboards).

As has MLS, which has employees dedicated to improving the fan experience. It’s this pool of expertise college administrators, including several from the prestigious Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Pac-10, are hoping to tap. From the Wall Street Journal:

In May, a group from Florida’s athletic department became one of hundreds of sports teams to visit Sporting Kansas City, the reigning MLS champion, and Sporting Innovations, the team’s spinoff consulting firm focused on fan engagement and technology.

The trip wasn’t as unorthodox as it sounds. As colleges seek out ways to enhance their stadiums and entice a generation of absentee fans, they are looking at MLS teams as models, even though the average MLS crowd is about a quarter of the 75,674 that the SEC averaged last season, the top figure in college football.

“The word is out,” said Portland Timbers president of business operations Mike Golub, “that it’s a special game experience.”

Indeed. When you consider how far MLS has come in the last five years — selling a foreign sport played on an absurdly large playing field to a sporting audience already saturated with sporting options — you’ve got to be awed by the high success level.

Image by Roshan Yadama of Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders via

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August Publications