WARNING: THE FOLLOWING POST CONTAINS MATH!
Regular readers may know by now that unbridled optimism isn’t exactly one of my defining traits. But let’s dream big for just a moment. Is there a chance that the planned 19,500 seat capacity of Orlando City’s new soccer-exclusive stadium won’t be large enough come 2016?
First things first; we already know that the current designs allow for 5,000 additional seats to be added on later. But will we have butts to fill those hypothetical seats sooner than expected? MLS attendance has risen fairly steadily, if not dramatically, over the last decade. Even in a down economy and with the lead weight that was Chivas USA dragging down the average, MLS still set a new record high average attendance this year at 19,151.
So let’s do a little math (boo!), mixed with some hypotheticals, sprinkled with just a dash of hope, and see where we end up.
Ready for a math bombshell? The average league-wide attendance number once we remove Chivas USA from the equation skyrockets to 19,823. Compare that to 2012, the last year anyone actually attended a Chivas USA match, and you see a 5.4% increase. So, where would that leave us in 2016? Well, let’s assume the same 5.4% increase happens again, which is conservative considering the improving economy and likely increase in discretionary spending. Average attendance in 2016, excluding Chivas and assuming 5.4% growth, would be 20,893!
So will there be 1,393 ticket-less people banging on the Church Street gates each Saturday?
Not quite. Let’s take out Seattle as well, with their absurdly high 43,734 average attendance this season. Excluding Seattle and Chivas, the MLS average attendance was just 18,398 this year. With our conservatively estimated 5.4% growth, that’s still just 19,391 in 2016, a number remarkably close to the 19,500 seat capacity of the new Orlando City Soccer stadium. Perhaps Orlando City put some though into this after all!
For another point of reference, there have been nine expansion teams in MLS in the last decade. Excluding Seattle again, their average attendance in their second years? 18,872.
My bet is that the 19,500 seat capacity leaves us in a pretty good place in 2016. Sellouts are important, and anyone who has watched a DC United, New England Revolution, or Chivas USA game recently can tell you how bad thousands of empty seats look on TV. It’s much better to have a few hundred people not able to get tickets than it is to have a few thousand empty seats.
That said, if I know Orlando City supporters, we may need those 5,000 extra seats sooner rather than later.