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D.C. Attendance Rankings

Metro columnist/blogger Marc Fisher and I have had a running dialogue about the attendance for local sports teams over many months. The latest skirmish came when Fisher included this line in a recent column:

The Washington Diplomats of the North American Soccer League -- their cheerleaders were the Honeydips -- lasted a bit longer, from 1974 to 1981, but, like today's D.C. United soccer squad, struggled to attract fans.

This seemed to me the cheapest of cheap shots, from a man who seems to delight in antagonizing soccer fans no matter the context. And so I asked Marc why this was so. He said he has nothing against soccer fans. I said, considering the circumstances and the fact that D.C. is a lame sports town, United could not possibly be described as "struggling." He wrote this:

Soccer fans are forever making all manner of excuses. Why can't they just be happy that their team is drawing the size crowd it draws....You're right that this is a mediocre sports town, but I don't see how that justifies the endless whining from United fans--it's a fact of life that all franchises here but for the Redskins have to deal with. The ones that are managed well do well; the others will just drift.

I attempted to again argue that United, when looked at with anything approaching fairness, does not "struggle" to draw crowds; that their baseline for success--as with the Wizards and Caps and others--is not 90,000. "If cordoned-off upper decks aren't a sign of struggle, I don't know what is," he wrote.

And I know this is a tired argument, and I know it has no real significance other than scoring bloggable points, but anyhow here's my point: When judging teams, consider their peers and their game. That's all. If you put, say, a feisty Butler basketball crowd in the Alamadome, it would look dumb. Pitiful. Ridiculous. But put that same crowd in Hinkle Fieldhouse, and it looks great. Don't compare United to the Redskins; compare United to its peers. As I wrote to Marc, "It's all about context, and in the proper context--fourth/fifth-tier pro sports league, vs. New York Red Bulls and Washington Capitals and stuff like that--United does smashingly well."

Anyhow, that's just words. You can read Marc's many words on the topic from this morning over here. I grew up a baseball kid, and have no desire to see the Nats draw poorly. But when you're sent blog posts like this from well-respected bloggers, with the intro, "So there really is no such thing as a Nats fan, eh?" and then read about United's "struggles," well....

What follows are the numbers for the local teams, after the jump.

Washington Redskins
2006 Average: 87,631
Total Bodies: 701,049
League Rank: 1st out of 32
Full Seats Ranking: 5 out of 5. They might be drunk and violent and occasionally homophobic, but bless them, Redskins fans show up or the games. You could build 80-foot towers at FedEx and lock people on the top floor with no windows and no oxygen and only Kangaroo TV modules to follow the score, and they would still pay $100 for the honor of being there, and probably attempt to tailgate.

Maryland Basketball
2007 Average: 16,822
Total Bodies: 319,616
League Rank: 2nd out of 12 (eighth in the country).
Full Seats Ranking: 5 out of 5. Maryland draws and draws and draws. When I get complaints from fans of smaller schools about our coverage, this is always my argument.

Maryland Football
2006 Average: 49,393
Total Bodies: 345,752
League Rank: 7th out of 12 (41st in the country).
Full Seats Ranking: 3.5 out of 5. You know, I honestly don't understand why The Post doesn't devote more coverage to the Terps, in all sports. They play 20 minutes from our offices, and they pack people in there. Terps football games have the feeling of big events, even with bad noon starts and terrible traffic.

D.C. United
2007 Average: 20,458
Total Bodies: 265,953 (two home games remaining)
League Rank: 2nd out of 13
Full Seats Ranking: 3 out of 5. Yeah, those upper decks are unsightly. But no one thinks MLS teams belong in 40k venues. And a United game is, bar none, the best fan experience in the metro area, which has to count for something. And if you consider the league's youth and budgets, vis a vis the other pro leagues, you have to be extremely obstinate not to be impressed. Also, they have micro-brews at their tailgates.

Georgetown Basketball
2007 Average: 10,441
Total Bodies: 177,501
League Rank: 5th out of 16 (41st in the country)
Full Seats Ranking: 2.5 out of 5. The big games last year had a big-game feel. The school plays in a massive arena far from campus. My understanding is the McDonough games rock. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Washington Wizards
2007 Average: 18,372
Total Bodies: 753,283
League Rank 12th out of 30
Full Seats Ranking: 2.5 out of 5. I will never forget the sight of empty seats at those two home playoff games last spring. Yeah, the Wizards had no chance. But still. Also, will attendance numbers change in the post-O'Malley years?

Washington Nationals
2007 Average: 24,217
Total Bodies: 1,961,579
League Rank: 25th out of 30.
Full Seats Ranking: 2 out of 5. Regardless of the official numbers, I've been to too many games where you could close your eyes and listen to the crowd and have no idea which team was at-bat. And not just Mets and Cubs games, as Fisher suggested. I'd love to see what the Nats would draw for an intra-squad game. Plus, those empty upper decks that so bother Fisher at United games are not much different at plenty of Nats games. But again, they're in a bigger, better, more high-profile league, and everyone agrees that they warrant a bigger stadium.

Washington Mystics
2007 Average: 7,788
Total Bodies: 132,396
League Rank: 8th out of 13
Full Seats Ranking: 1.5 out of 5. Not sure how much higher this figure will ever go, frankly.

GW Basketball
2007 Average: 3,403
Total Bodies: 44,233
League Rank: 11th out of 14
Full Seats Ranking: 1.5 out of 5. And I'm not trying to pick on GW; it's just a program I'm familiar with from covering them. They have a cozy on-campus arena, a team (last year) that was coming off its best season in school history and an exciting style of ball. And they draw flies.

Washington Capitals
2007 Average: 13,929
Total Bodies: 571,129
League Rank: 27th out of 30
Full Seats Ranking: 1.5 out of 5. But maybe it'll be better this year. And that whole club seats issue isn't the team's fault. Still, if a major Metro columnist wanted to target a team for struggling to draw, this might be the one.

By Dan Steinberg  |  October 3, 2007; 11:37 AM ET
Categories:  Caps , College Basketball , College Football , D.C. United , Nats , Redskins , Terps , Wizards  
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Comments

Good On you, Dan! Keep up the good fight. No one from United is slagging baseball, redskins or hockey, that's a fallback crutch from people that feel threatened by soccer (for reasons unbeknownst to me, there's room enough). Considering DC United draws better than the average for the entire English championship league (thier AAA) and 4 or 5 premiere league teams, you'd think he'd use that as a baseline, but I really don't think Marc is interested in facts.

Oh well, someday we'll hoave or 30k stadium, and it will be sold out and stay sold out and all those who hate soccer will get ulcers worrying themslelves over the rise of that danged 'ethnic' sport that brown people play. Meanwhile we United fans will have fun and tape the redskins game for afterwards.

Posted by: DCAustinite | October 3, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I thought you hated Georgetown?

I'm sorry I blew my biggest Washington Post reply on Fisher's space. I should've done it here, or on the Soccer Insider, or Caps Insider....

(hey, if you can double post, so can I)

Posted by: Kim | October 3, 2007 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Kim:

Your reply on Fisher was sound, well reasoned and balanced, and therefore not likely to be read by anybody over there. :-)

Posted by: DCAustinite | October 3, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

You failed to mention most Caps game at Verizon have more out of town fans than Caps fans, espically vs Philly, Pittsburgh, NYR, Boston, Buffalo, etc

If it wasn't for this, ticket sales would be even worse.

Posted by: Crosby87 | October 3, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a soccer hater, but I have to admit that the lions share of any whining from any sport in this area comes from the soccer fans. I never really hear fans from the other sports bash non-fans of their favorite team. There is definitely a perception out there that United fans are very sensitive and bash non-soccer fans, accurate or not.

Posted by: G-town | October 3, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Maybe one of the best posts ever on this Bog. And I love the Young Media (Steinberg) v Dinosaur (Fisher) feud!

Posted by: Kev | October 3, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

"There is definitely a perception out there that United fans are very sensitive and bash non-soccer fans, accurate or not."

I would say it's a perception. We definitely bash writers who enjoy taking cheap shots at soccer. But really one guy says something about baseball getting a sweetheart deal on the stadium and suddenly it's indicative of how soccer fans whine about other sports. I'm not calling you out on this, by the way.

Posted by: DCAustinite | October 3, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

"If someone has a good source of WNBA data, lemme know"

Good luck on that one. Those books are probably cooked worse than Enron's.

Posted by: Kev | October 3, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

DCAustinite,

I hear ya, and thats why I wanted to add that the perception may be way off, but I do think its out there.

I think United fans might be developing a bad wrap as whiners from a few bad apples.

Posted by: G-town | October 3, 2007 12:31 PM | Report abuse

G-town:

Cool. yeah, every sport ha got 'em. I think normally and historically DC United fans have not cared, but this whole deal with the stadium, which is a complete sweetheart deal for the city and yet somehow Fenty is trying to screw up has made some of us extra sensitive. Adding Marc Fisher into the mix, who quite frankly is just talking right out of his a$$ right now (I mean, A fellow reporter is calling him on it), sets responses to 11.

Posted by: DCAustinite | October 3, 2007 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Generally I think Marc is a resonably smart and pasionate guy, but I've never been able to understand why he doesn't like soccer with such virulence. Maybe some of the big kids wouldn't let him play when he was 5 or something.

As for out of towners filling seats, that happens almost everywhere. Plenty of peopel either move and then go to see their home team when they come to town or like to travel with the team and support them on the road. If I owned a team I really wouldn't care who bought the tickets, except maybe for some of the biggest rivalry games, as long as the buyer's money is green.

Posted by: EricS | October 3, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

God bless you, Dan, for being a fact-checking, non-knee-jerk journalist with a fantastic blog.

Sincerely,

A DC United/Redskins/Orioles/Caps supporter. (See folks? It *is* possible to support more than one sport - much like it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time)

Posted by: Riz | October 3, 2007 1:08 PM | Report abuse

When I read the bit about struggling to attract fans, the very first thing I did was google the MLS attendance because I was under the impression that the United actually had good attendance.

And I discovered that was indeed the case.

I couldn't figure out if it was a comment made from ignorance or a pure cheap shot.

Posted by: Paul | October 3, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

fisher has NO IDEA what he is talking about, and therefore should not be taken seriously whenever he discusses soccer ... period.

Posted by: littles | October 3, 2007 1:16 PM | Report abuse

You are young media, aren't you?

Then get a fellow youngster a jizzob at the pizzost.

Posted by: ScottVanPeltStyle.com | October 3, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

No matter what anyone says to the contrary, soccer is growing in this country. I'm sure the numbers will prove this out...
I see sports like hockey, which is in a major decline, being eclipsed by soccer. This is happening all the while having to play in huge stadiums unsuited for soccer crowds or even soccer games. When MLS is able to grow enough to be able to get more than just a handful of bignames, baseball should defintely look over its shoulder because it will be eclipsed too...

Posted by: arlington soccer fan | October 3, 2007 1:44 PM | Report abuse

I feel dirty after reading Fisher for the last two days. Time to move on. Watch the Hoyas attendance shoot thru the roof this year Dan. Final Four Baby!!!

Posted by: Chico | October 3, 2007 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Arlington Soccer fan:

hockey is broadcast on outdoor life network. MLS is on ESPN2, ABC, and Fox soccer channel. It has probably eclipsed hockey already, which is a shame because they are both good games and needent compete for resources (which they don't really). I think hckey really, really did a number on themselves with that strike.

Posted by: DCAustinite | October 3, 2007 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Considering an MLS document was unearthed that showed that D.C. United comps about 25 percent of its tickets, has far less of a home schedule than any other local pro team and the average ticket price of a United game is less than even an Nats game, it certainly is suspect to use those figures.

Posted by: Reality Check | October 3, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Dan, you've never been? Mark December 15th on your calendar and come check out the game against Radford at McDonough, you won't regret it. I understand why we need to play at Verizon (transportation, capacity, fussy neighbors, etc), but when those retractable wooden bleachers get rockin, it makes me hungry for our own full-size arena.

Posted by: danj | October 3, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I'm Portuguese, and the MLS draws bigger crowds than my league. Americans should be proud of their attendance for MLS.

Posted by: umbra | October 3, 2007 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Using Marc Fisher logic, if RFK only held 20,000 people then DC United would be an overwhelming success. He seems more concerned with the percentage of filled seats as opposed to how many people are actually there. United draws close to the same numbers as Wizards, Caps, maryland b ball, G'town b ball. He is an idiot!!

Posted by: Luigi | October 3, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Dan, great work on this, the one thing missing from your chart that's extremely relevant is the number of home games played by each team. Yeah, the 'Skins draw 90k, 8 times a year. United's numbers, and for that matter the Nats' numbers, look better when you think about the large number of home games they play in comparison. There's a significant relationship b/t the # of home games and the number of fans for a football team. There's no arguing their popularity, but the numbers have to be put in context.

Posted by: kilroi | October 3, 2007 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Considering an MLS document was unearthed that showed that D.C. United comps about 25 percent of its tickets, has far less of a home schedule than any other local pro team and the average ticket price of a United game is less than even an Nats game, it certainly is suspect to use those figures.

------------------------------------------
Reality check? How about a fact check. The cheapest DC United tickets are about $18 while the Nats sell tickets for $5, even as low as $3 (if you remember the end of last season).

Posted by: Anonymous | October 3, 2007 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Considering an MLS document was unearthed that showed that D.C. United comps about 25 percent of its tickets, has far less of a home schedule than any other local pro team and the average ticket price of a United game is less than even an Nats game, it certainly is suspect to use those figures.

Posted by: Reality Check | October 3, 2007 03:16 PM

Here is the article: http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/soccer/20060927-9999-lz1s27goal.html

Please note that the data is for the 2005 season. Many long-time fans of MLS teams often felt attendance figures were suspect, and this article seemed to confirm their suspicions. However, please note that these same fans now often feel that today's numbers from the league are more on the mark, and furthermore, please note that this year's DC United attendance is up 20% over the "soft" 2005 numbers.

I'm not sure what the number of home games or the ticket price has to do with the integrity of the attendance numbers.


Unrelated to the above post, but to the idea that soccer fans are overly defensive and lash out at other sports, I think it is sometimes true. However I think many, if not most, soccer fans now are just plain sports fans. I have season tickets for soccer and college football, and also attend baseball, college basketball and occasionally hockey.

The thing is, this all started because Marc Fisher said that DC United struggled to draw fans in an article about their home stadium having its "final" game - despite being in the middle of the MLS season. He didn't write that the Nats struggled, he didn't write that the Caps struggled, or the Hoyas, or the Terps, or Wizards, or anyone else currently playing in the area. And it is not the first, but rather merely the latest in a line of such comments from him, and that is why it is soccer fans that responded, I think.

Sorry for the long post!

Posted by: Rob | October 3, 2007 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why the Post doesn't lavish more coverage on the Terps either. Just thought I'd share that.

Posted by: Lindemann | October 3, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

and my wordy post was not long enough!

One more point on the struggling DC United existence - let's go to the bottom line. I'm not sure what DC United's is, but as a season ticket holder every year, I used to have to frequently give away tickets for games I could not attend.

This year I've found a buyer for every one.

Posted by: Rob | October 3, 2007 4:44 PM | Report abuse

I've noticed a real difference in water cooler sports talk around my office this year. We have an office full of sports nutcases. I'm officially the 'soccer' guy. (Although, I follow other sports as well). Normally, I don't even bother bringing anything about soccer. This MLS season (dunno if it's the Beckham effect or what), I've been constantly talked to about soccer...European, MLS, major tournaments. Wierd. And 2 or 3 other people have even asked to come along to DCU games. (I'm a bit afraid to show them my craziness!)

In any case, thank you Dan, for not letting Fisher get away with one of the tiredest soccerbashers' refrain. (I think that's a big part of the hegemonic belief that 'soccer will never make it in America' schema---the bashers are never called out by other professionals) Soccer 'struggles' to draw fans. In relation to American Football and Baseball, yes. In relation to other 10 year old leagues... not so much at all, in fact it might be ready to be called a success, though limited at this point.

Posted by: jimbo | October 4, 2007 7:52 AM | Report abuse

drunk, violent and homophobic. that certainly sums it up. god bless us, every one.

Posted by: sears | October 4, 2007 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Haha. . . attendance "struggles" or not, lets face it, in the last 10 years DCU has been the ONLY constant winning team in town.

-Snyder has ruined the Redskins.
-Abe in his cheapness has done nothing with the Wiz.
-Leonsis is just as incompetent as Snyder.
-I wont judge the Nats.

Soccer ain't going anywhere in DC, like it or not. People (American and foreign) in the area embrace the team and kids who didn't have anywhere to go to play pro-soccer in the US now do.

Media coverage is still limited, but as the USMNT improves, it will get even more, its just a matter of time.

Posted by: Vic | October 4, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Say what you want about soccer, but it actually thrives in a city such as Los Angeles while the NFL fails. In fact, every sport other then NFL football does well in the city of Los Angeles.

Posted by: Rick Rottman | October 4, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Fisher licks me.

Posted by: kwamesnani | October 4, 2007 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Fisher really is clueless. I feel sorry for him.

Posted by: Dave | October 4, 2007 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Dan, true to my word, I've bookmarked the Bog. I'll be checking in often and that's because you really one me over while filling in for Goff while he was at the WWC. The Bog is great, but I also appreciated your dead tree coverage. Also, I'm adding to the kudos here for calling out Fisher. You weren't mean about it and you supported your argument with facts. Any sports fan can appreciate a debat like this as we have them amongst ourselves all the time, albeit with probably less facts and more unprintable words, but you get the point.

Keep up the good work. Cheers!

-Dan

Posted by: AlexandriaDan | October 4, 2007 2:01 PM | Report abuse

And...i'm going to check into a grammar remediation program you won me over not "one" me over. Wife's suspicion confirmed, I'm a grammatical idiot and poor speller. Oh well.

Posted by: AlexandriaDan | October 4, 2007 2:03 PM | Report abuse

AlexandriaDan called it right. Steinberg did a great job filling in on the Insider and the Bog is great. Thanks!

Posted by: noname | October 4, 2007 5:32 PM | Report abuse

How about the numbers for Maryland Women's Basketball? 2006 National Champs and a trip to the NCAA tourny again last year.

And I wouldn't mind seeing the numbers for the Ravens and the Orioles as well, just for comparison.

Posted by: Laura | October 17, 2007 12:42 PM | Report abuse

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