NWSL Attendance Watch: Week 19

Keith Jorstad August 20, 2013 52

Boston filled Dilboy Stadium to a nearly full capacity better than any other team filled their stadium this season, although it is the smallest venue in the league. (Photo Copyright Linehan Photography for The Equalizer)

The final week of the National Women’s Soccer League regular season was important for playoff seeding, and the fans showed up to see the action.  All four games had above average crowds, with Seattle having a sellout.  Flash fans showed big support for the newly crowned regular season champs with their third largest attended game of the year.

If 3,000 was the magic number, then the attendance numbers for the year were pretty close to expectations.  The median for the league was just over the 3,000 fan mark, which is close to the league average without the Portland home games figured in.  Boston, which played in the smallest stadium, won the capacity battle with several sellouts during the year.

Now onto the playoffs, which could see big gates and solid TV numbers.

Here are the NWSL’s attendance numbers through Week 19 (88 games):

Average Attendance: 4,271
(Average Attendance Without Portland’s Home Games: 2,978)

Attendance Standard Deviation: 3,795

Median Attendance: 3,007

Total Attendance to date: 375,846
(Total Attendance Without Portland’s Home Games: 229,325)

Week Nineteen Attendance Numbers:

Boston Breakers @ Western New York Flash (Sahlen’s Stadium) – 6,311

Portland Thorns FC @ Seattle Reign FC (Starfire Stadium) – 3,855 (sellout)

Chicago Red Stars @ FC Kansas City (Verizon Wireless Field) – 4,910

Sky Blue FC @ Washington Spirit (Maryland SoccerPlex) – 4,241

Average Home Attendance
Team Games Average Capacity
Portland Thorns FC 11 13,320 65%
FC Kansas City 11 4,626 75%
Western New York Flash 11 4,485 33%
Washington Spirit 11 3,625 81%
Boston Breakers 11 2,427 89%
Seattle Reign FC 11 2,306 64%
Chicago Red Stars 11 1,713 49%
Sky Blue FC 11 1,677 34%

NWSL Attendance Archive

  • kernel_thai

    So where do they go from here to keep this building? Expansion? More MLS involvement? Longer season? Higher base pay? There needs to be a lot of things on the table when the league holds meets on chamionship weekend.

    • STT

      Before any of those other things happen, the first two goals are 1) get all teams into appropriate stadia, and 2) fill those stadia.

      PS – an article in New Jersey’s Star Ledger interviewed Hofstetter, and he said the season will be set at 22 games at least for another year. Considering WPS saw 18 as too few and 24 as too much, I think that’s a great balance.

      • Steglitz49

        22 games is what 12 teams play.

        An average of 3000 is brilliant. Four clubs exceeded it, which is what you would expect. The problem is that the one just below the magic 3,000 could never get to it according to these figures, while the others could. This speaks to your point about using appropriate stadia and filling them.

        3000 is a fabulous number. Congratulations and celebrations!

        • Boston Red

          Only playing 14 games is a bit of a waste though. Sometimes you adjust the expected to fit the circumstances.

      • kernel_thai

        Well it isnt the number of games it’s number of months. If they could extend the league into October it solves a lot of the problems with players and short contracts in Europe. It also gives them more leeway with FIFA windows and crazy stretches in the schedule.

        • Boston Red

          But there’s also the factor of college soccer competing for players (as coaches, admin jobs) and facilities. Plus some players are heading back to college to finish degrees.

          It’s a trade-off. Could take off FIFA dates, add friendlies/reserve team play. But longer season means more paychecks.

          • Steglitz49

            Women’s pro-soccer may not be viable in USA owing to the strength of the varsity version of the game. What is your opinion? What is your strategy?

          • Lorehead

            Pro basketball (including women’s basketball) and men’s pro football have strong college leagues, too. If anything, the sport is only viable because the NCAA functions as a U-23 development league. Look at all the college fans in the final Reign–Thorns game who made the trip to cheer on the players from the University of Portland and the University of Washington.

          • Steglitz49

            The WNBA is subsidized by the brothers in the NBA, mainly because of the strength of the commissioner. The MLS does not have those resources — yet. They may never have. They may never want to give the ladies a red cent judging by the ROTW.

            Yet. KC and DC had second and third spectator numbers. Are you claiming that KU in Shawnee Mission are mad on soccer? Or that Georgetown and the Terrapins account for DC numbers?

          • Lorehead

            The Portland Pilots women’s soccer team had an average attendance of 3,313 in 2012. That’s better than the NWSL average, although not DC.

          • GeeOPee

            Its not up to the fans to plan a strategy. Its up to the federations and league to worry about that. My god downplaying the viability of the league and women’s pro-soccer after its first and arguably successful season is just bizarre.

    • Lorehead

      All of my suggestions from before still stand.

      I’d also look at adding two teams and reorganizing into a Western and Eastern conference. The NWSL would have to look for investors rather than locations, but in my opinion, Vancouver and the Bay Area would be good places to start, which would give the league a Western conference of those two, Portland, Seattle and KC and an Eastern conference of Western New York, the Red Belles or whatever Sky Blue ends up as, Boston, Washington and Chicago. The next stage of the plan if all goes well might be to add another two teams, maybe Houston and Denver, and split into West/Central/East.

      A longer season is an excellent idea, perhaps with the same 22 or so games, but more space between them. Try to find better dates for games. Also, schedule around the three North American associations’ call-ups this time.

      Base pay should go up as teams can afford it, but a priority has to be to get some of the teams into better venues. Jeld-Wen and Sahlen’s are fine, Washington seems to be doing well in the Maryland SoccerPlex, but there’s going to be a shiny new soccer-specific stadium about the size of those two in town soon and it would be great if they could get into it, SBFC might be moving to New York, which would be wonderful. The new stadium replacing Memorial in Seattle might be good for the Reign. I’m not as familiar with fields in Boston, Chicago or Kansas City, but they’ve got to move up at some point.

      • Boston Red

        The Revolution don’t have a soccer specific stadium. They share Gillette with the Patriots (one guy owns both… no real incentive to build a soccer stadium).

        • Lorehead

          You’re right; that slipped my mind. Still, I don’t know the area that well, but there’s got to be a decent soccer field somewhere in New England.

          • Boston Red

            The options are a bit limited. Harvard has a great soccer only field (turf) that the Revs used for the US Open Cup, but it only seats 1k. Tufts football field is usable (& grass), but might take some convincing to get it (I think that’s the only college football stadium in the area of an appropriate size. Harvard Stadium is too big.)

            BU has Nickerson Field which is soccer & lacrosse only. It’s in the city and that changes a lot of the attendance patterns, but is the closest to an SSS. Other than that, there are lots of shared HS football/soccer stadiums with turf.

  • nwslfan

    sports is entertainment. on the revenue side, nwsl should borrow from minor league baseball. http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/minor-league-baseball-team4.htm concessions, souvenirs and yep, mascots and moonbounces. keep up the player autographs, great stuff.

  • JD

    Do we know which channel the playoffs will be on? FSC, Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2?

    • Elaine

      It’s on Fox Sports 2. Why do they have to make things so difficult at Fox?

    • Silver Frost

      Comcast and Charter do not carry FS1. Brilliant move NWSL and FOX. I’ll have to watch highlights days later on YouTube.

      • Silver Frost

        Sorry, that should be “FS2″ that is unavailable.

      • TsovLoj

        Does anyone know if DirectTV will have FS2?

        • Elaine

          Yes it’s scheduled to show on DirectTV.

        • stephy_paola

          on DirectTV i think its channel 621 or 618

      • Michelle

        I received a reply from a Comcast representative on Twitter that FS2 will be available everywhere (to folks that have the sports entertainment package) by the end of the year, which of course is no help to me by Saturday.

        Hopefully the finals will be on FS1.

  • luke

    Don’t give me 300 million population or comparing to NBA, NFL and MLB stuff. These are GREAT numbers, best in the world of women’s soccer. I’m really proud for NWSL, players and fans – and I’m not even American.
    Respect!

    • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

      If you don’t benchmark yourself why should anyone expect you to improve? Perspective is the key here. No reasonable person expects any of these teams to pull numbers like the leagues you just listed.

      That said Portland is already pulling NBA numbers… So there is that… With that in mind it doesn’t seem so out of line to look at these other leagues huh?

      Keep in mind outside of football 20,000 seems to be sellout numbers for any other leagues.

      KC needs a bigger stadium (along with other teams pulling tiny numbers). Portland could realistically run out of room in the future and WNY has shown under the right conditions their stadium isn’t big enough, but should be able to constantly pull 10k down the road. These are respectable numbers for a sport played by women (historically).

      • Steglitz49

        “to constantly pull 10k” would be marvellous. Assume that on average the ticket is $20. A season of 20 home games would give you $4m and one of 15 $3m. Assume that revenue sharing splits evenly and that you own the stadium and you pay not tax, with $3m you can have an excellent ladies club and with $4m an outstanding club.

        The nub and rub is that where are the advertisers and marketers and sponsors? Soccer is the world game by far and USA dominates women’s soccer (with Japan and Germany to be fair), yet on what TV-channels is women’s soccer?

        Does Microsoft or Apple own a women’s soccer team? Estée Lauder, Vera Wang, Donna Karan or Victoria Secrets? Hershey?

        Icehockey is a minority sport by world standards, yet the players earn well and 30% in the NHL come from outside USA and Canada. Yet, it is on the small screen in USA while their women dominate soccer. Dominate!

        • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

          The problem is American companies don’t own sports teams, and when they have in the past they have dumped them. Disney and the Mighty Ducks is the most obvious example, but I’m pretty sure there is others.

          Paul Allen (Microsoft) owns the Seahawks, but you wouldn’t know it if you just looked at the team. He also owns the Sounders, but again you really wouldn’t know it. Sure XBox is the primary sponsor, but that’s just because it works with soccer.

          Time Warner owned (I don’t think they still do?) the Atlanta Braves, but again you wouldn’t know it.

          I suspect the reason you want these big companies to own the teams is so the teams can get easy ad dollars. Perhaps it would work because soccer is set up in that sort of way, but even with soccer sponsors don’t tend to own their teams. The most obvious exception is Red Bull.

          • Steglitz49

            It is rare for companies anywhere to own soccer clubs. A few are heavily involved, like VW with Wolfsburg, and Philips and Bayer have the rare honor to have their company names in the team names.

            Nevertheless, you would have thought that successful women might want to invest in a sports enterprise in a sport where USA dominates in the whole world, not just domestically. This chronic lack of support from their sisters holds women back in all walks of life.

          • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

            There are plenty of women that have the cash and there are plenty of women who love the sports, but are there plenty of women that have both of those attributes?

            The more and more you talk about this the more and more I think you must be talking about Alex Sahlen and Sahlen Packing Co. She has the money (or at least the means to acquire the investment) and she has the sponsor to heavily invest in the team. Really it is your dream scenario. Granted it’s a much smaller company than the ones you would name off, but if it works it doesn’t really matter how big the company is right?

          • Lorehead

            Spirit owner Bill Lynch recently told the Post that he’s “not far off” from breaking even, and Sky Blue President Thomas Hofstetter said that they lost less money than expected. “Our No. 1 objective was to come in on budget and we were under budget.”

            That makes me wonder what FCKC’s books look like. It seems like a well-run organization with more revenues than either of them.

          • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

            Ill take these comments at face Gayle because that’s what I (we) want to hear but you have to remember people in these situations can sometimes stretch the truth in regards to profits.

          • Lorehead

            True. And “not far off” is extremely vague—it could just mean he’s optimistic he’ll make a profit in some future year. But the owner of the Red Stars did say his break-even point was 3,000.

          • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

            3000 what? Fans per game? He must not be getting a penny from concessions or parking.

            It makes me wonder how much other teams are getting from those things. Portland must be getting all of it. WNY should be getting a good chunk. Seattle might be getting a little. Everyone else though? Probably close to nothing.

          • Lorehead

            If memory serves, the Timbers have a lease on the stadium, so they get to keep all the money from concessions and don’t pay anything extra to the city to open it for a Thorns game. The city gets the money from parking, of which there isn’t a lot nearby, but the stadium is right next to several kinds of mass transit. When I lived in the neighborhood, I was in walking distance, but I could also get a free parking permit for one of my friends.

          • Steglitz49

            There are, well-understood, fundamental costs to running a soccer team including coaches salaries and travel budget and hire of the stadium unless you own it. Nevertheless, the salary budget for the teams with big money like Lyon and PSG are about $3-3.5m, teams like Potsdam and Frankfurt are more like $2m, after which it is even less. It is peanuts compared to men’s sports in USA. (Most NTs in Europe only reimburse the clubs for the days they use the lasses.)

            That is a long-winded way of saying that subsidizing a women’s soccer team is highly cost-effective. The NWSL spectator figures are way above what other leagues have.

            It seems to this bear of limited brain, that marketers are good and selling stuff that sells itself. Very few can do the needful.

        • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

          And yes. 10k would be awesome. Of course I’m talking pipe dreams, wishful thinking, and such.

          • Steglitz49

            10k is a perfectly reasonable number, not a pipe-dream, given the populous conurbations in USA. Indeed <10k in a few years could be argued to be a failure.

          • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

            If I had to bet I would put equal amounts on red and black if you know what I mean.

          • GeeOPee

            It would only be considered a failure by someone who wants the NWSL to fail.

      • Lorehead

        If Portland and Sky Blue win, and the final is at Jeld-Wen, which I sure hope is what happens because the NWSL chose to sell the rights to a channel that is not on cable in Portland, it will sell out.

        Jeld-Wen has sold out every single MLS game in its history, which means that it’s been too small ever since it was built.

        • http://www.phasedma.com Anthony

          Just to clarify I meant big enough for the Thorns. The Timbers have nothing to do with this discussion (just like the fact the Flash can draw better crowds than the Rhinos has nothing to do with if the stadium is big enough for the Rhinos).

    • Lorehead

      Absolutely. There’s no other women’s soccer league in the world that’s getting those numbers on average, at the top of the table, or for every team in the league.

      To put those figures in some perspective, average attendance of 4,271 is better than the men’s leagues in Saudi Arabia and Uruguay, between the second-tier men’s leagues of China and the Netherlands, and similar to AA baseball. Average attendance of 13,320 is slightly below-average for the Scottish Premier League and better than the men’s leagues of Russia, Australia, Algeria, Belgium, Indonesia, Switzerland, the Ukraine, Turkey and Portugal. The average for the WNBA is 7,834. Steglitz, you’ll be glad to know that average attendance for the men’s Allsvenskan is 7,210.

      • Steglitz49

        Why do you think that in so many of these countries the men oppose the women playing soccer. It is the same reason that they opposed it 90 years ago. It takes money away from the men’s game and because women play for less, they think that they will end up earning less.

        To put it into perspective, the Swede Lotta Schelin is one of the highest paid woman footballer in the world for what she does on the field. Alex Morgan earns more than L8 if you include her advertising and marketing income. Zlatan is Sweden’s highest paid male footballer for what he does on the field, but he is not the world’s best paid player by far.

        • Lorehead

          In English, L8 sounds to me like “Late.” (In Swedish, it’s Lotta, I take it?)

          • Steglitz49

            Her name is Charlotta, which when it is shortened usualy is Lotta, sometimes written L8, which I presume explains why she plays in the #8 jersey instead of #9.

          • Lorehead

            8 is otta or something similar, then?

    • Steglitz49

      Your point is well taken. Indeed, it has been made by several of the commentators elsewhere in the Equalizer fora.

      The challenge is not whether the numbers are wonderful and marvellous. The challenge is whether they are enough. That is the 64,000-dollar question.

      The median attendance just tops 3,000, a number which one owner has as break-even. Not surprisingly 4 teams are above and 4 below. The problem is that the team in 5th place by spectators cannot get to 3,000 on account of their stadium being too small. The other 3 can exceed 3,000. Why were they not?

      Yes, the average attendance in the NWSL, which consists of the 3 nations Mexico, Canada and USA total population about 450m, not 300m, is much better than in England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. So what?

      The associations in several of these countries put money to the ladies game, admittedly only about 1% of their wealth, but individual men’s teams chip in as well. Of the wealthiest soccer clubs, as far as I know, Man Utd and Real Madrid do not have women’s sections but Real runs an academy for girls what ever that means.

      It does not matter that for the CL semifinal between Arsenal and Wolfsburg this season only 1,400 turned up in London while 8,200 in Wolfsburg. Verily, that was an improvement on the season before when 890 watched Arsenal play Frankfurt while in Frankfurt 3,700 turned up. The subsidy is there and is likely to grow.

      • Lorehead

        The number of people who show up to a game in person has more to do with local population density than with the total population of North America. In theory, the potential television market is all English-speakers in the U.S. and Canada (Some teams had a Spanish-language livestream, but I don’t believe any games were aired in Mexico or on Spanish television in the U.S.) but the fact is that not many people in the U.S. watch domestic men’s soccer, either.

        • Steglitz49

          Teams in — Chicago (12,000/sqmi), — Boston (13,000/sqmi), — KC (1,500/sqmi), — DC (10,000/sqmi) — and Seattle (7,400/sqmi) ought to ensure goodly crowds.

          They do. Newspapers around the world has commented positively on the attendances at NWSL matches. They are good. They, unfortunately, could be an awful lot better — and must be.

          • RealAquaBuddha

            Steglitz49 has been down playing NWSL attendance numbers all season, under different screen names too. One suspects he or she isn’t too concerned with improving attendance numbers. He or she is afraid of the NWSL succeeding and surpassing the European leagues in importance.

            Most Americans don’t understand how being considered the best football league(s) is a matter of pride and bragging rights in the world’s most popular game. I would be concerned too if I was a women’s football fan that lived in Europe, with a population of over 400 million people with well established leagues, yet still producing abysmal attendance numbers.

            FYI. DC is 100 square miles, not 10,000. Its a very small city with a population of 600,000 people. Yet still manages to pull in better attendance numbers of larger more populated European cities.

          • Steglitz49

            Your point that “Europe with well established leagues, yet still produce abysmal attendance numbers” is well taken, and reflects the preference of spectators for the men’s game.

            The numbers I quote are the populations per square mile. If you divide 600,000 by 100 you get 6,000/sqmi. DC is actually 61 sq mi and has a population of 632323 which gives a density of >10,000/sqmi.

            The DC metro area is 5.7m inhabitants which is more than most European cities. It is more than live in the whole of Norway and Denmark, and >1/2 of Sweden’s population, for example.

            In short, given the large populations where the NWSL teams are based, the attendances are not as good as one would want, and not viable for a pro-league. I have been a consistent supporter of the NWSL because the world needs a successful and thriving north-American league.