MLS Overtakes NBA & NHL as Third Most Attended Sport in US

November 15, 2011

With the ongoing NBA lockout, Major League Soccer (MLS) has surpassed the NBA and NHL in attendance and is now the third-most attended professional sport in America on a per-game basis.

Sporting News reported that this season, average attendance for the MLS’s 18 teams rose 7.2 percent to 17,872 per game, enough to leapfrog both last season’s NBA (17,323) and NHL average (17,132). The sport, however, is still miles behind the NFL (66,960) and MLB (30,352).

The MLS says the world’s most popular sport is booming in the country because of its foreign influence. The teams’ rosters include players from 60 countries. Sixteen percent of MLS players are Latino, no doubt attracting the MLS’ strong Hispanic following that accounts for a third the league’s fan base.

The most popular of all foreign players will undoubtedly be Englishman David Beckham, who transferred nearly five years ago to the league from Spanish giants Real Madrid. The LA Galaxy midfielder, whose contract expires after this season, has spectators flocking to stadiums all over the country, and he has paved the way for legends like Frenchman Thierry Henry to join ranks, as well.

Major League Soccer has also made some stringent business moves along the way, signing television deals with networks like ESPN and FOX, and partnering with NBC in 2012.

Finally, the MLS recognized the Northwest as a passionate soccer hotbed, aggressively expanding with the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps. The Seattle Sounders lead the league in attendance with 38,496 per game, more than doubling the league average.

The league’s tally surpasses even the inaugural season, when it averaged 17,406 spectators a game.

MLS President Mark Abbott, added: “It’s historic for us — we exceeded our best with 18 teams, and we only had 10 back then.We have Montreal joining next year, and we believe that we will have a very positive story in that market as well.”

The MLS is now staggeringly the tenth-most attended soccer league in the world.

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