MLS Popularity Increase Could Have Unpopular Side Effects for Fans



Major League Soccer and its fans have bragged about the rise of soccer and the rise of MLS over the last few years. The growth is undeniable. League attendances are climbing and interest in the game at an international level is reaching the more traditional American sports. In fact, according to a Harris Poll, soccer has recently surpassed college basketball in popularity in the U.S.

The growth of MLS is generally considered a good thing for the sport, league, and its fans. But what are some of the possibly overlooked consequences?

With Chivas USA ceasing to exist in 2015, MLS teams could average over 20,000 in attendance across the league this coming season for the first time in its history. The league also just signed a $90 million national television deal with ESPN, Fox, and Univision to carry three to five games nationally each weekend and on several Wednesdays throughout the year.

At a time when sports are continually costing more and more, MLS has always been the affordable alternative. While a family of four has been unable to afford going to other leagues' games without taking out a second mortgage, families could afford to attend MLS games. However, that has already started changing.

With rising attendances, so are the ticket prices. MLS ticket prices have been climbing steadily over the past few seasons as the league's health continues. While fans can still sit in supporters' sections for most teams at what would be considered a cheap price, even those are threatening to rise.

The league MLS fans should be aware of when approaching this topic is the National Hockey League. The NHL was where the MLS is not too long ago. With league interest waning and a CBA expiring, the 2004-05 season was cancelled, nearly killing the league. While in Canada and a few northern American cities the game was steady enough to survive, many thought most NHL markets would collapse.

Following the lockout, the league changed rules to create a more attacking friendly game that would appeal to casual fans. The plan worked. NHL attendance has increased significantly over the past 10 years, to where the league is as strong all-around as it's ever been.

Prices increased too. Going into what would've been the 2004-05 season, ticket prices were dropping due to low attendance. An average ticket would've cost $41.19 that year. With rising attendances in NHL arenas, the average NHL ticket for the 2014-15 season is $61.62 and rising.

MLS is already seeing that rise. While supporters' sections are still considerably low, the average MLS ticket is now over $40 and climbing. If MLS continues to grow, becoming more and more popular, there's no doubt that number will grow as well.

That's not the only thing that would cost more, either. With the NHL's rising popularity, their television subscription package has risen to $159.96, which is second only to the NFL's Sunday Ticket. Right now, MLS Live, which allows you to see all out-of-market games online, is only $69.99 but that price has been on a steady increase and would likely continue the upward climb as fans are willing to pay it.

Orlando City SC would not be immune to this unfortunate rise. While the club has been very fan friendly throughout its existence, the Lions would certainly take the opportunity to increase revenue with higher ticket prices. So far, that’s not happening, but surely the increased revenue would be too enticing to pass up.

While being a soccer fan in America, and especially an MLS fan, hasn’t always been easy, there have been some benefits. The league has always been a cheaper alternative to the bigger, more popular leagues. But if MLS continues to increase in popularity, as much as some MLS fans would love to finally be considered mainstream, that affordability would disappear.

That's just something to think about if you're wishing for MLS to become the most popular league in America.


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