Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kaká an Attendance Test for Crew SC (and other aging MLS teams)

An important test both on the pitch and in the stands for Columbus Crew SC this weekend as they host playing legend Kaka and his Orlando City Soccer Club. Head to head, it's the first time these two have played at the MLS level but I've watched them battle it out a couple time in preseason years past (2012, 2013). Expect a good game. There will be another, perhaps more important, test for the central Ohio MLS team in the form of tickets sold.

There's no easy way to sugar coat this, so let's just get it out of the way; Columbus Crew SC has the lowest attended (tickets sold) game through 54 of the 2015 season so far. 10,302 - That's the number.

Any home attendance around 10k (or 50% capacity) puts Columbus (OH) right around the usual suspects, 2015 is no different: Colorado, DC, New England, Chicago, Dallas, (wait a second, this list is going longer than I thought)... have had a few stinkers this year. Which OF COURSE IS FINE. It's early and the teams that have been around the longest are (have always) dragged a bit. One of the things MLS has always done is run after the 18-34 type market. From the early Pepsi Next stuff to Snickers to MLS branded video games (yes, there was one), MLS has pushed extremely hard for the youth market. It's just that instead of Gen X - it's now millennials.

Funny thing about marketing to that age group is that they grow up (most of them, anyway). For whatever reason the Gen X kids didn't really latch on to MLS. I'm in that group and I gotta say that MLS felt like Our Thing. In fact, most of what you read is written by this group. But it's a small group. Maybe it's perfectly fitting that a generation that disliked everything, even things they liked, have largely turned their back on one of their very own creations in MLS.

New MLS teams like Orlando City and NYCFC are very much Millennial creations. Born out of a thirst for not creating a sustainable league for domestic talent but more just having a local soccer event to go to that's just like those exotic foreign leagues they see on the T.V.

Kaka is a living legend for many. The fact that he is still playing and doing it in MLS is paying off just about as much as any market forecast could have predicted. Games down at the renovated Citrus Bowl have been successful, as far as selling tickets. Coming off a prime time TV World Cup, I'm not sure many expected much different though and Kaka is a massive part of that.

The influence of Kaka reaches beyond Orlando, of course. Every one of their away games have announced attendances above 20k and (basically) sold out.

22,407: BBVA Stadium, Houston. March 13th.
25,245: Olympic Stadium, Montreal. March 24th.
21,144: Providence Park, Portland. April 12th.
??,???: Mapfre Stadium (Crew Stadium), Columbus. April 18th.

What's funny about those figures is that they are the only thing that drops down when you click on the expand arrow on the Orlando site. Anyhow. I've been watching "The Crew" long enough now to say that those question marks will turn into something like 14-16k. Even if that many don't show, that's what will be announced. Looking at the Ticketmaster site tells me about as much.

The travelling Kaka tour will, of course, continue on past Columbus and will probably carry steam till the dog days of summer. This weekend's game at Mapfre Stadium will be something of a sobering reminder that hype, marketing and superficial spending only get you so far. For MLS to survive past the age of expansion they have to put effort and energy into the Game. Otherwise, Orlando will be another Columbus in a decades time and you'll be forced to reading some millennial hot take on why nobody is showing up to games featuring Neymar and Daley Blind.

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