Bang for your Buck: What’s the Best Value Ticket in MLS?



This week, Nashville soccer reporter Ben Wright (@benwright) broke down every Supporters Section season ticket price in MLS. Nashville SC, the latest franchise set to hit MLS in 2020 has a ticket price which would rank the team seventh in 2019 and it got me thinking, which teams are the best value? Where is the cheapest, and which fans shell out the most just to see a goal?

Firstly, a look at 2018 numbers. This is essentially a look at value in terms of the data present at the time many fans purchase their season tickets prior to the start of the season. People familiar with me will know I like to indulge in expected goal (xG) statistics so for the sake of my own amusement, this is kind of like expected value (xV): using last year’s numbers to determine the value of 2019 prices.

Using last season’s numbers obviously won’t make for good reading from a purple point of view given how bad the campaign was but before you get to the goals or points, the black and white is that Orlando City simply has the fifth most expensive season ticket in the league. A Supporters Section season ticket will set you back $425, essentially $25 per regular season MLS match. Only D.C. United, the Portland Timbers, Atlanta United, and Sporting Kansas City are more expensive, with the latter two the only ones that will cost supporters more than $500 per season ticket. At the opposite end of the scale, three teams price their season tickets at under $300, with Real Salt Lake the cheapest at $280 a season or $16.47 per game. The other two are the Montreal Impact and Colorado Rapids. The average across the league is $388 or $22.82 per game.

So that’s the simple stuff, but where’s the value to be found? It certainly wasn’t Orlando in 2018. The Lions ranked second worst for $ per point at $19.32 based off 2018 numbers, behind only San Jose’s astronomical $31.67 after the Earthquakes picked up a measly 12 points at Avaya Stadium least season. The Chicago Fire picked up 22 points at home last year, the same as Orlando City, but their cheaper ticket takes their value down to $17 per point. Unsurprisingly, given their cheap season ticket and strong home form, Real Salt Lake came out on top with a $ per point average of $7.57. New York City, the New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, and Montreal are the other four teams with sub-$10-per-point value. The league average was $13.35 per point.

Finally, $ per goal. Despite being the ninth highest scorers in 2018, Sporting Kansas City’s crazy season ticket cost of $540 (largely down to a mandatory $60 CID tax, according to Ben) saw the fans in the Cauldron stump up $15.88 for every goal scored at Children’s Mercy Park. Fans in Portland and Orlando were the only other sets of fans to hand over more than $15 per goal, at $15.83 and $15.18, respectively. Once again RSL came out as best value, with the 38 home goals scored at Rio Tinto averaging out at $7.37 each. Houston was in second place with $8.61 per goal while value could also be found north of the border as the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC round out the teams averaging below $10 per goal. The league average is $12.02.

Now for the 2019 numbers — note that I’ve removed the Portland Timbers, who have only played one home game in 2019 but added FC Cincinnati following their expansion. Using the current points-per-game rate, Orlando City’s 2019 home form is actually worse than last year, meaning we can project the Lions to only take 21 points at home this year. It’s the joint third worst points-per-home-game rate behind only Colorado and Cincinnati and level with the New England Revolution. The value is currently at a rate of $20 per point, second worst behind SKC’s inflated $21.18 value. In terms of best value, the Houston Dynamo lead the way at $7.82 per point with LAFC, RSL, and Seattle all coming in under $10. The league average has stayed at a pretty similar rate of $13.73.

In terms of goals, Orlando is on pace to score two more goals this season than 12 months ago. At 1.75 goals per home game, the Lions are the 12th-highest scorers at home in 2019. Strangely, despite a $ per goal value of $14.29, which would see them remain as third worst in last year’s standings, it actually keeps them middle of the pack at 12th in 2019.

Here’s the stuff that really caught my eye though. Having scored four goals in their five games at Yankee Stadium this season, New York City FC fans are forking out the most, at a staggering $29.12 per home goal this season. A total of nine teams have clearly struggled offensively in 2019, as they all have a $ per goal value higher than the league-leading $15.88 value offered by Sporting Kansas City in 2018. In descending order of cost, these are: NYCFC, Vancouver, Montreal, New England, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Columbus, LA Galaxy, and Minnesota United. Notably, SKC is not one of them, with 19 goals already in 2019, putting them on a 2.38 goals-per-game pace behind only LAFC’s 2.5. Yet despite the high-scoring nature of these teams, the best value is currently in Colorado, whose cheap season ticket, coupled with potent attack, means Rapids fans at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park only average $8.06 per goal. The drop in goals from many of the teams means the league average has increased to $15.59.

So how do they stack up against my new and completely legitimate expected value theory? The most dramatic swing can be seen in San Jose with Quakes fans seeing a staggering $18.63 reduction per point. Elsewhere Chicago, Houston, Seattle, and LAFC fans can also boast better value. Meanwhile New York City FC fans have come off worst,seeing a $6.47 hike to their points value. They’ve also seen a $18.12 increase per goal with New England, Vancouver, and Montreal being the other teams hit with a double figure swing.

The best off for goals are the Rapids, who have earned $4.07 back per goal. Averaging out the two value swings (difference in $ per points and goals values), we can scientifically prove that San Jose has seen the biggest boost in satisfaction with an expected value (xV, it’s a real thing!) increase of $10.33, while Chicago ($4.14) and LAFC ($2.94) fans are also pretty happy with the way their value trended upwards. At the other end, fans of NYCFC (-$12.43), Montreal (-$9.31), New England (-$8.40), and Vancouver (-$8.04) are all likely pretty annoyed as their ticket value plummeted from what they bought into. Orlando meanwhile, is the last of the eight teams with a positive swing in expected value, seeing an average increase of…wait for it…$0.11. Confirmed: That thing you’ve been feeling is 11 cents worth of xV.


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