MLS attendance has seen a steady rise over the years. In 2011, the league averaged 17,872 fans per game. So far in 2015, MLS averages 21,220. This increase can be tied to many things, including the growth of soccer as a mainstream sport in America, the addition of highly regarded players into the domestic league, and the expansion into markets that draw fantastic crowds.
However, the growth that explains the phenomenon is still taking place as MLS is currently on pace through week 22 in the season to outpace 2014 by a wide margin -- almost 2,100 fans per game, which is an 11% increase.
This year, the expansion into the Orlando market has seen a raucous and passionate fan base propel their team and "City" into the conversation of the Best Soccer Cities in North America. Just last week, Orlando City soccer fans were named as "The Most Fan Friendly and Most Engaged Fans" by WalletHub.com in a study in which 172 cities and their prospective soccer clubs were analyzed. Overall, Orlando was named as the 19th best city for soccer fans.
The metrics and methodology used to measure and report such findings may be difficult to understand to the layman, but there is one specific measurement that the business side and fan side can easily understand -- attendance.
Orlando started out its first season in MLS with loads of marketing campaigns, ranging from "Paint the Town," where the team and local artists got together to paint the "City Beautiful" purple, to the magnet drive that now rides on the tail end of almost every other vehicle in Central Florida. These campaigns have proven to be fruitful, as the attendance for the new local sensation look very good when compared to the rest of MLS.
Currently, Orlando sits in second place in average attendance at 33,346 fans, only behind the Cascadia darlings Seattle, who average 41,324 per game. However, a more insightful way to look at attendance is by the capacity filled, which looks at the facility attendance capacity and the amount the team is successful at filling. Orlando, for instance, plays in the Citrus Bowl, which can sit well over 60,000 people. But the front office has set the capacity (outside of special events like opening day) to 25,500, which will be the approximate seating for the new privately funded stadium that should begin construction soon.
When looking at the percent of capacity filled for each MLS club, we also find that Orlando stands second, behind only the San Jose Earthquakes, who have played a few of their home games at Levi's Stadium and Stanford Stadium, both of which have a much higher capacity.
Now, both of these teams, along with Sporting KC, NYCFC and Seattle, all have over 100% of capacity filled. This is the case because they have either played games allowing more seats to be opened up for demand or played at a venue which held more seats then their home field.
Perhaps this is the reason why Orlando ownership has decided to increase the seating available for the new soccer specific field being built in downtown Orlando. What should also pique their interest is how steady attendance has been throughout the first MLS season.
After the welcomed aberration that was opening day, where Orlando saw over 62,000 in attendance, the trend looks very steady. There have been highs and lows whenever particular teams come into the city, but the attendance has held steady, averaging 30,511 fans over all of the home games -- not including the opening day match with NYCFC.
This number would still be high enough to place Orlando as the second most attended MLS franchise over the 2015 season.
So here's to us, here's to Orlando and here's to all those geniuses who knew without doubt that Orlando could be the Soccer Capital of the South, and maybe -- just maybe -- the new face of MLS.