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Americans are no different to the rest of the world, as they love soccer and they love to go to the stadium to watch it. FIFA World Cup USA 94 recorded the highest average attendance with nearly 69,000 spectators per game with total attendance of nearly 3.6 million for the all tournament, which still remains the highest in FIFA World Cup history, despite the expansion of the competition from 24 to 32 teams (and from 52 to 64 games) since the 1998 World Cup.
Furthermore, the World Cup played a key role in triggering soccer culture in the US and over the years we have seen an increase in quality of the games, a development of soccer-specific facilities, increased football stars presence, and above all the MLS fan base has grown dramatically over the past decade. In particular, last season they have broken their record for the number of spectators, with an increase of 12.5% in average attendance. This result places soccer as the third sport in the US for the number of average spectators, in front of NBA and NHL.
Which makes it the seventh most attended football league in the world.
Seattle Sounders – Case Study
Seattle Sounders is the most successful team of MLS for spectator’s attendance, filling their stadium in every single home game. They have a solid number of season ticket holders (34,000 in 2014) and for the last seven seasons they have registered the highest average attendance of the league.
Some of the measures Seattle Sounders have been taking to develop and engage with their fan base are:
Seattle Sounders youth development plays an integral role in promoting the long-term vision of the club. It allows kids and families to get closer with the club and build a new fan base. Seattle Sounders has one of the highest numbers of young football players and even if they change sport when in high school they remain attached to the club.
March to the match
It has become one of the more iconic events for the Sounders FC fans, this begins 90-minutes prior to the match and brings together Sounders FC supporters by marching all together alongside the Sounders FC official band while singing and chanting fight songs. This is a special build up to the game and increases the sense of belonging to the team
The MatchPass is the Sounders’ loyalty program that allows fans to collect points that can then be redeemed with special prizes. Fans can accrue points by purchasing game tickets, buying merchandising and through food & beverage spending at the stadium. The points can then be exchanged for ‘money can’t buy’ rewards such as opportunities to meet the players, match day side-line passes and access to training sessions; in addition MatchPass members can also get discounts and special offers within the stadium and apart from match days. Using the MatchPass loyalty programme not only allows the fans to collect, but it is hugely valuable to the club, enabling them to increase data capture and influence the habits of their supporters.
Sounders FC Alliance
The Alliance is a body made up of Sounders FC season ticket holders, which embodies the spirit and passion of Sounders community. The Alliance allows their members to get more involved in the affairs of the club and every four years they can choose their representatives to the Alliance Council whose main role is to serve as a liaison between the Alliance and ownership.
In short, Sounders FC ability to build a hard-core fan base can be outlined in:
• Knowing your fans – identify your target audience and keep it engaged
• Putting the fans in the centre – give them the voice and make them feel part of the club
• Providing an authentic experience to the fans – money can buy experiences for loyalty and offering a rewarding ROI
Written by: Michele Tiozzo, Sports Business Institute Barcelona