Division 2 attendance: ‘A Game of Four Tables’

Clarke Stadium - Division 2 attendance

Clarke Stadium | Photo credit: FC Edmonton

Through the end of the NASL spring season and roughly halfway through the USL season, we have plenty of meaningful attendance data to overanalyze, from which I’ve drawn an interesting few conclusions and issued some mostly meaningless awards.

Let’s start off with the NASL spring season. The “The Miami FC” FC wrapped up their title in absurd fashion, Puerto Rico FC finished with only one win and the rest of the league was separated by only 13 points. Off the field, things were pretty interesting.

Despite finishing a mediocre sixth, the Indy Eleven and their Brickyard Battalion continue to show up en masse in Indianapolis, leading the league in attendance with 8,020 fans per game. This earns them the coveted “Loudest Point Award.” They also take home an additional two awards: the slightly lesser “Bob Saget Award” for having the fullest of houses, averaging 76.2 percent capacity, and the not-really-prestigious-at-all “Hardenedest Bastards Award” for topping the tables in my fan support delta, subtracting their attendance ranking from their finishing position. Indy fans are the opposite of fair-weather fans, coming out strong despite the performance on the field.

Honorable mentions go to FC Edmonton for growing their crowd support by nearly 75 percent over last year, and to The “The Miami” The Miami FC and the Cosmos for also growing by double-digit percentages.

In not-really-but-also-kinda-honorable mention, the fans of the San Francisco Deltas take home my “You Tried Award,” for having the biggest negative gap between final position and attendance, drawing a league-worst 2,375 per game. They’re a good team! Why is no one watching?!

Overall, the NASL averaged 4,519 fans per game through the spring season, down slightly from last year, but all-in-all not too shabby considering the loss of Ottawa, Ft. Lauderdale and those other guys.

Onto USL, where my data analysis yielded something of interest:

There’s a significant difference in terms of attendance between the independent teams, affiliated teams and MLS-owned and/or operated reserve teams.

In the USL Independent Class, FC Cincinnati decided that a sophomore slump is for scrubs and losers, and are not only averaging an absurd 19,886, but they’re up more than 2,000 from last year! This earns them my “What Are You Waiting For, Don Garber Award” for putting half the MLS teams to shame.

But that’s not to say anything against the likes of Sacramento, Louisville and Phoenix, that all win my “John Stamos Award” for filling their houses up to and above capacity. A sellout crowd of 6,200 or more is still a sellout crowd, and any team that packs their fans in for every single game deserves recognition.

All in all, the USL independent teams have out-averaged the NASL, hitting 8,276. And if we remove Cincinnati from that number because they’re completely skewing the curve, they still hit an excellent 5,954.

Let’s move onto the affiliated teams. For this section, I could have included the likes of Reno, RGVFCT and Bethlehem, but for the sake of fairness they’re classified as reserve teams, as the MLS mothership controls their soccer decisions. Only fair.

Among that remaining 10, San Antonio FC take home the “Don’t Call It A Comeback Award” for surpassing all previous records of home attendance at Toyota Field (so far), currently sitting at 7,130. The overall San Antonio attendance record still belongs to the Scorpions’ inaugural season pre-Toyota at 9,176, but this year is still impressive nonetheless. They also hold the “Dave Coulier Award” for having the highest average capacity filled of all USL clubs that aren’t in the sellout club. Their 85.9 percent is not quite a Full House, but still pretty damn full.

The affiliated class as a whole averaged a respectable 3,877 per game. Another shout-out and award, this time to both RGVFC and Orange County, for more than tripling their home support over last year, giving them my “Three’s Company Award.” And another sympathetic-yet-not-subtle dig at a team going through some shit, the “New York Minute Award” to the Rochester Rhinos, who are down to a depressing 43 percent from last year. They really need to go get their ducks in formation and take a head count, or this could get worse.

And now, the reserve class of USL teams, all of those teams that are either entirely run, or at least partially controlled, by teams in MLS. Taking the “Turn Out for What Award” by leading their class in attendance, are the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros at 7,144, showing the rest of MLS how to properly run a reserve/affiliate team under your own technical direction, but with some degree of autonomy. The next two, Reno and Bethlehem, continue that trend, where independent branding and operation, as well as playing in a nearby but separate market are recipes for solid attendance.

Portland show that they really do care about anything Timbers related, drawing the highest of the poorly branded two teams, and win the “Not Last Place Award” for their efforts. Further down the table, we find three teams that currently hold the “Something’s Fucky Award” for suspicious numbers. Toronto and Seattle are averaging 105X, where x=8,3; and Swope Park are at 1,035. They’re the only ones that close to 1,000, and something feels manipulated and slightly inflated, and possibly made up. These are exactly the sort of figures I’d expect a team to put out showing that they’re north of 1K, but only just.

And our final award for this point in the season goes to the Whitecaps and Red Bulls II, the “What Are You Even Doing Award” for drawing a miserable, borderline pointless 667 and 565, respectively. These numbers are embarrassing. At least go give out some tickets to the local soccer kiddos and their families, to get that at least to 1,000.

To conclude, we turn now to a moment of mature and reasoned analysis: It does kind of matter whether a team is independent or affiliated, but not nearly as much as distinct branding and a separate market. Yes, there is a significant drop from independent to affiliate, but the drop from both of them to the reserves, especially if we hold RGV, Reno, and Bethlehem, is dramatic.

I wonder if the USSF and USL decide to revamp how reserve teams operate in the league, to possibly take it more seriously.

You can follow John on Twitter @JohnMLTX.

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