At a time when the biggest pro sports league in America is faltering, the smallest league is soaring. Major League Soccer had a record-breaking season in 2017.
MLS averaged 22,106 fans per game this season, an all-time high and the first season to surpass 22,000. It also drew more than 8.2 million total fans to games, the first season to break 8 million.
Atlanta team smashed attendance records
Atlanta United, a brand new expansion team, is a particularly stunning story. After the team moved, halfway through the season, into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, the Atlanta United set a single-season club record average of 48,200 attendees, smashing the previous record of 44,247 set by Seattle Sounders FC in 2015. The team is one of the highest-attended soccer teams in the world, not just in the U.S.
And in its final regular-season home game, Atlanta United set a single-game attendance record of 71,874. Think about that for a moment: more than 70,000 people attended a soccer game in Atlanta.
“They’ve just taken this city by storm,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit last month. (See the above video for our full interview with Garber.)
Garber continued: “One of the great things about the soccer business, for all of us associated with it, is it’s a bit of a movement. We’ve got these great demographics, rising tides that are pushing the value for everybody. We’ve got lots of millennials who are fans, and played the game, and now we are influencers… That’s being delivered with many of these new teams we’ve been launching.”
In fact, four of the top 20 highest-attended single games in MLS history happened this year.
Columbus team moving?
Not every team had a record-setting year. In Columbus, Ohio, the Columbus Crew saw the third-lowest average attendance in the league, leading team owner Anthony Precourt to consider relocating the team to Austin, Tx.
Garber addressed the situation at Yahoo Finance’s summit. “It’s not proper to say they want to move,” he said. “What they’re doing is evaluating what their options are to determine whether or not it makes sense to move to Austin… no decision has been made.”
He continued: “These things are traumatic. I respect and I understand that. No league, and certainly no leader of a league, wants to move a club… There are times when you make these traumatic decisions, that long-term, can be beneficial for the sport and the league overall.”
Toronto team smashed points record
And in terms of on-the-field performance, Toronto FC set a new record for total points in a season: 69. (Points are accrued based on wins or draws.) Yahoo Sports calls this year’s Toronto squad the “greatest MLS team in history.”
Now the MLS playoffs are underway, which will crown a king after the best season that MLS has seen in its 22-year history.