With attendance records galore and the closing of a suddenly beloved venue, the 2017 MLS season ended yesterday with plenty of pomp and circumstance.
First, let’s discuss the attendance records. Atlanta United FC set a record for season attendance, becoming the first MLS team to surpass 800,000 fans in a season and breaking the record of 752,199 set by the Seattle Sounders in 2015. And, with the crowd of 71.874, Atlanta United FC broke its own match attendance record set last month, when 70,245 fans were at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
These numbers helped MLS set an all-time season attendance record, surpassing the 8-million mark for the first time and a per-game average above 22,000 for the first time.
Still, not all the news is great. The boosts in 2017 MLS season attendance came primarily through the Atlanta United and Minnesota United expansion numbers. Without a million-plus fans attracted by those teams, the season-to-season numbers for MLS were actually down from 2016 to 2017. We recalculated attendance numbers, taking out Atlanta and Minnesota. The league averaged only 20,935 fans per game and tallied 7.114 million fans without those two teams, compared to 21,692 fans per game and a total of 7.375 million fans in 2016. Now, there were some external factors to do with that dip — primarily, the lower numbers posted by Orlando City SC after the move to a new stadium from Camping World Stadium. So we ran the numbers again, plugging in Orlando City’s 2016 numbers into 2017. That also yielded a dip in the numbers: 21,239 fans per game and a total attendance of 7.221 million fans, both declines from 2016. It’s very easy to revel in the numbers when you add a million-plus fans via expansion, but the dips should be causing some concern in MLS offices. (One thing to note: raw attendance numbers tell only one small part of the story. We’re not privy to MLS revenue figures, so there may be less concern if revenues were up even though attendance was down.)
The other big news from the year-end play: the last MLS match at RFK Stadium drew over 41,000 fans to the venerable facility. Yes, the place is run down, and yes, there’s no compelling reason to save it. But it’s unique history does merit reflection, and it’s great that the old place was rocking one last time.
Photo courtesy Atlanta United FC.