Next month’s MLS Cup will be David Beckham’s last match as a member of the LA Galaxy.
The announcement, following perhaps the MLS’s best season to date, raises the question: “How much has Beckham, and his global brand, contributed to the growth of the league at large since 2007?”
Since the now 37-year-old Beckham made the jump across the pond in 2007, league-wide attendance has nearly doubled, from fewer than 3 million fans in 2006 to over 6 million this season. Thanks Becks! Right? Not exactly.
While Beckham’s LA Galaxy did enjoy 2007’s league-high in average attendance and the league-wide average attendance saw an 8.2 per cent spike, over the next two seasons average attendance per game dropped nearly 2.5 per cent.
Did the novelty of Beckham’s arrival only grant the MLS short-lived stateside relevancy? The overall attendance totals, and only a marginal decline in attendance following a nearly 10 per cent jump, would categorically indicate no.
In fact, Beckham’s signing with the Galaxy coincided with the league’s aggressive expansion plan. Starting with Toronto in 2007 and culminating this season with Montreal, the MLS has grown from 12 clubs to 19. However, it’s MLS’s newfound presence in both Canada and, more specifically, the Pacific Northwest that has really moved the needle.
Starting with the Seattle Sounders’ inaugural season in 2009, followed by the Portland Timbers’ and Vancouver Whitecaps’ in 2011, the MLS boosted their annual attendance to the tune of roughly 1.7 million additional fans a season. Moreover, the league tapped into the pre-existing, and lively, Cascadia Cup rivalry to augment the growing supporter culture.
The Sounders are perhaps the most unique case study in the growth of the MLS. Sharing their home venue — CenturyLink Field — with the Seahawks puts Seattle at a distinct advantage over other teams. CenturyLink allows the team to accommodate nearly twice the number of fans for each game than other teams. Moreover, expanded capacity for their home matchup with the rival Timbers resulted in attendance of nearly 70,000 fans for their most recent meeting in October.
These factors have positioned the Sounders at top of the average attendance list for each of last four seasons, unseating Beckham’s Galaxy who held that distinction each of the previous six seasons.
The Sounders averaged a staggering 43,144 fans for their 17 home games this season, a 12 per cent jump from 2011. While far and away the highest total for the league, the following nine teams’ numbers aren’t too shabby either:
1. Seattle Sounders – 43,144
2. LA Galaxy – 23,136
3. Montreal Impact – 22,772
4. Houston Dynamo – 21,015
5. Portland Timbers – 20,438
6. Vancouver Whitecaps – 19,475
7. Sporting K.C. – 19,404
8. Real Salt Lake – 19,087
9. New York Red Bulls – 18,281
10. Toronto FC – 18,155
All told, the 2012 game average attendance of 18,807 fans per game ranked higher than last year’s NBA (17,274) and NHL (17,455) attendance figures. While MLS teams only have to fill seats for 17 home games compared to the NBA and NHL’s 41, this still probably comes as a surprise to the average sports fan.
Still, as American soccer fans stand at the precipice of a new chapter in post-David-Beckham-Experiment MLS history, Becks’s influence is still undeniable. Since the announcement, prices for the MLS Cup tickets have jumped nearly 20 per cent. Currently, the match boasts a secondary-market average price of $270/ticket with a get-in price at $105/ticket. That average price is over 325 per cent higher than the Galaxy’s home average price of $53/ticket.
Can we credit David Beckham for the recent growth and health of the MLS? Not completely. But his 2007 arrival symbolically legitimized the MLS at a crucial time for the league’s growth. More than Pele’s time with the Cosmos in the ’70s, Beckham’s tenure with the Galaxy was part of an overall strategic plan of brand building. And this is not lost on Beckham either.
“I don’t see this as the end of my relationship with the league, as my ambition is to be part of the ownership structure in the future,” Beckham said in his statement. So don’t expect this to be the last we hear David Beckham’s name in the growing culture of U.S. Soccer.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.