NASL Attendance Is Growing and Becoming Sustainable

Growth reaching new levels of success for the league
by Eric Harris   |   Friday, May 29, 2015

Defending The Fort - column on San Antonio Scorpions (SASFC) & the San Antonio soccer scene.

There are just three weeks left in the Spring Season, all NASL teams have had at least three home matches and this season, attendance has grown again. Since its inception as its own separate league in 2011, the attendance in the league has grown each season and so far 2015 has been on of the biggest jumps. After 40 games, the league has an average attendance of 6,335, over 800 more than the past season. Adding Jacksonville to the league has created a bump in the league’s attendance but many others have seen large growth as well.

Minnesota United, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Ottawa Fury FC have all nearly doubled from the past spring season. Last spring, Minnesota was bringing in just over 5,000 fans. In the fall they averaged over 9,000 but a crowd of 34,000 proved to be a major outlier as many of their crowds remained below 6,000. This season every crowd at a Minnesota game has had over 9,000 fans. In Fort Lauderdale, they had an average of 3,825 coming to Spring games in 2014. This season it has grown to 6,668. The team’s attendance had been growing throughout the last season but not at the level this season has seen. The last growth in Canada has also been the result of steady growth. Ottawa averaged 2,684 in the spring of 2014, but in the fall they averaged nearly 5,000 with the outlier of a crowd of 14,593. This season they are nearly the same numbers without that outlier.

The most important sign of growth though is the consistency of the crowds are bringing in. In 2014, 11 games from five separate teams had games with under 3,000 fans. This season FC Edmonton has been the only team to drop under that number. This shows that teams are able to raise their attendance numbers without having special events being outliers for their attendances. The more consistent numbers can be the result of many things but likely point to the fact that a deeper and more loyal fan base is growing in these cities, and that is creating a more sustainable growth for the league as a whole. Fans aren’t coming out to see a star of the league like Raul or Miguel Ibarra, but rather the teams themselves.

The total attendance of the league could also reach levels the league hasn’t seen since its best years in the 1970’s and 80’s. In 2014, the spring attendance was 237,010 and this season they have passed that with 15 games still to go. If the league maintains its average the rest of the season it will have over 1 million fans coming through the turnstiles, blowing away last years mark of 742,695. If the league average rises to just over 7,000 fans than they can pass the number of fans that went to the final season of the original NASL in 1984.

This trend means there are a lot of positives in the way of league expansion. The addition of Jacksonville Armada FC has had an impact, with their opening game at EverBank Field drawing over 16,000 and their other games at their permanent home drawing over 8,000 the league has a team joining Indy Eleven averaging over 10,000 fans per match. In leagues across America, expansion teams have had been drawing huge crowds in the past five years. The addition of a team to MLS recently has drawn big crowds for new teams like Orlando City and the New York City FC. The Armada has shown that expansion teams can thrive outside of MLS.

This is good news for the league that has big expansion plans, many of those plans include markets that already have soccer teams. Most recently, the league announced the addition of Miami FC, beating MLS to a team in the city that David Beckham has been trying add one. The league also plans on bringing in the Virginia Cavalry, which could compete with D.C. United for fans in the region. Its not just MLS that the league could be competing with, there are also plans to add a team to Oklahoma City that would compete with the USL squad Oklahoma City Energy. The success of these expansions teams will give optimism to the leagues heads but the next wave of ambitious expansion will certainly face greater challenges.

Eric HARRIS

Nationality:
USA
College:
U of Arkansas
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Fulham
American soccer fan by birth, SKC and Fulhamerican by choice. Watcher of all soccer, professional, WoSo and college. A life long Arkansan, he spends more money on soccer jerseys than a college student should.
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