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Major League Soccer: Its Die-Hard and Casual Fans

by 
Ezra Carmel
 on 
October 11, 2023
Major League Soccer: Its Die-Hard and Casual Fans

Soccer – or football as it’s otherwise known – is the most popular sport in many regions of the world, although here in the U.S., it has historically taken a backseat to American football, baseball, and basketball. But recently, the sport has been growing in popularity – becoming a pastime for the average consumer and fully invested supporters alike.

Major League Soccer (MLS) – the top professional soccer league in North America – first took the pitch in 1996, with 10 original franchises including the Colorado Rapids, Kansas City Wiz (now Sporting Kansas City), San Jose Clash (now San Jose Earthquakes), D.C. United, New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls), and Los Angeles Galaxy. We dove into the location intelligence metrics for the stadiums where these legacy franchises play in order to better understand visitor behavior and MLS’ growing fanbase.

Hometown Crowds

Along with other live events, MLS continues to bounce back from a period of limited in-person attendance during the pandemic. As MLS fans return to the stands, stadiums are driving more visits from local communities, which suggests that a growing number of individuals are interested in their hometown club.

Location intelligence revealed that during the 2023 season so far, all of the stadiums analyzed had a greater share of visitors that lived within 30 miles of the venue than they did in 2019. So, while teams with big-name stars can attract visitors from a larger area, the increased share of local fans attending these stadiums indicates that soccer is a growing source of hometown pride and entertainment. 

Football For All

Along with growing local notoriety, Trade Area Analysis suggests that these MLS teams are attracting a wider visitor base and that audiences at MLS games are becoming more diverse. 

Since the 2019 MLS regular season, the median household income (HHI) of residents in the stadiums’ captured markets has drawn closer to the nationwide benchmark. This democratization – which has also been observed in retail brands like Nike – indicates the growth of a diverse fanbase that more closely reflects the general population. This could have implications for advertisers who may want to gear their messaging toward an increasingly mainstream audience.

Multiple Matches

Congruent with MLS fans becoming more local and more diverse, some stadiums are attracting a larger share of spectators who attend multiple games – as they gain more die-hard fans – while others are observing repeat visits falter, perhaps due to an increase in casual fans who attend a single match.

Analysis of the percentage of visitors who visited each stadium at least twice during the 2019, 2022, and 2023 regular seasons through mid-September revealed that, though still just below pre-pandemic levels, the visitor frequency of PayPal Park in San Jose, CA – home of the San Jose Earthquakes – and Audi Field in Washington, D.C. – home to D.C. United – has increased since 2022. And Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ – where the New York Red Bulls play – and Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA – home to the LA Galaxy – both experienced greater visitor frequency in the last two years than in 2019. This suggests that more die-hard fans are filling these stadiums. 

While repeat visits are indicative of attendance by the teams’ committed supporters, a drop in visitor frequency between the 2022 and 2023 seasons could also suggest that more casual fans are getting acquainted with the teams. For example, with the highest percentage of repeat visitors pre-pandemic (62.6%), DICK’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO – where the Colorado Rapids play – likely hosts many die-hard fans who regularly attend matches. Visitor frequency remained close to that standard in 2022 and 2023, but fell slightly during both years, which suggests that new fans are making their way into the stands. 

For each of these stadiums, the share of repeat and casual visitors could continue to fluctuate. As interest in soccer grows, the sport may draw more attendees looking for a one-time activity to attend a single game, while encouraging casual fans to become die-hards who attend multiple matches. Wherever stadiums find themselves in this balance, there appears to be plenty of demand to fill the stands. 

The Breakaway

MLS stadiums are being more heavily attended by locals and driving traffic from more diverse audiences. This points to soccer’s rise to prominence as a mainstream recreational pastime alongside growing and committed fanbases. As the popularity of the sport continues to rise, MLS is expanding with new teams that will bring more fans – the casuals and the die-hards – into the fold. 

‍For updates and more data-driven foot traffic insights, visit Placer.ai.

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