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AC St. Louis attendance falls, others rise.

Crowds are getting thinner at AB Soccer Park.

At the start of the season, AC St. Louis fans were raising their heads high. With an attendance figure of 5,695 for the first game against Austin, the future looked bright.

But as the year continued, the attendance numbers started to fall. And during this past weekend’s set of USSF Division 2 games, St. Louis attendance was the lowest in the entire league. Even Minnesota, who has been synonymous with bad attendance figures (only around 300 people at the last US Open Cup game) out-sold AB Soccer Park.

So, what is happening? What seems to be the problem?

While the diehards will always attend, the marginal fans might not be showing up. Basically, we need to identify who isn’t showing up.

There are a few things that one might attribute to the possible slide in attendance.

First, has the glamor of St. Louis having a “professional soccer team” finally wore off? Like a Christmas toy, a child will not let that toy go during the first few weeks. After a few months, the child will put the toy in the corner and rarely touch it?

Second, is St. Louis really a soccer “capital”. Back in the 1950s, St. Louis was easily one of the centers for soccer in the United States. With a number of key players in the 1950 US team that defeated England having roots locally, St. Louis was easily a soccer mecca.

But we are now sixty years removed from the success of the 1950s. With higher populations throughout the country, immigrant populations increasing, year round soccer in states like California and Florida and a higher awareness of soccer in this country, is St. Louis even considered a “soccer capital” anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong, St. Louis has produced some good players in the past, like Steve Ralston. But states like the two mentioned above are producing much higher quality of players, as well as more players in general. And with player in Florida and California playing soccer year-round because of their weather, they will be able to continue to produce better quality players.

St. Louis has easily moved down the totem pole in regards to being a “soccer capital”.

Remember, Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, which is far from a hockey mecca.

Third, the financial situation at the team might also be turning people away. Since the Athletica have folded, it seems that AC has had a drop of a few hundred in the stands. Have the Athletica fans just lost interest in the AC team?

Also, is the financial situation with the team causing casual fans not to attend the game? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But if people don’t know if their team is going to be around next year or not, why invest the money in attending their games?

Fourth…is the St. Louis market wrong for summer soccer?

This question can be answered in two ways. First, is competing with the MLS during the summer hurting attendance at AB Soccer Park? While I tend to think this is not the case, some argue that people would who buy the MLS Direct Kick would rather just pack it in for the evening and watch some MLS soccer instead of USSF Division 2 soccer. This could be the case, but I doubt it.

The second answer has to do with the Cardinals. St. Louis is easily one of the biggest markets in the NASL. Being one of the biggest markets, AC has to compete with other entertainment venues for the consumer dollar (which is explained in great detail in Simon Kuper’s Soccernomics, great book).

In most of the other USSF Division 2, their local soccer team might be the largest team in the area. Even Miami and Minnesota, who have other major teams in their area, don’t really compete with other teams for entertainment dollars. Ever watch a Marlins game on TV? The place is empty.

But if you look at St. Louis, the top sport is easily baseball. In fact, St. Louis might have the most baseball-central city in the United States (along with Los Angeles). Other places with great baseball traditions, like New York, Boston and Chicago, also have great football, hockey and basketball traditions. But these other sports compete in the fall and winter, not the summer, thus not competing for the entertainment dollar.

On the other hand, the Cardinals are easily top-billing in St. Louis. And many times there could be a baseball game being played at Busch Stadium the same days that there is a game at AB Soccer Park. Has competing for this entertainment dollar against the Cardinals cause people to “pick and chose” which venue they want to go to.

All of these arguments can easily be considered contributions to the sliding attendance at AB Soccer Park. Recently, a number of fans tried to do a “guerrilla marketing campaign” to get people interested in the team. Still, the games they targeted had the lowest attendance of the season. While all intentions are good, it is impossible to control external events.

Basically, it is hard to tell why attendance is falling. While one of these reasons mentioned above might not be the predominate reason for the current attendance figures, I think that a little piece of each has contributed to the fall.

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5 Responses

  1. I believe you are correct in that there are many reasons that contribute to the attendance problems, some you haven’t pointed out as well. I am part of that “guerilla marketing campaign” and two things I’ve noticed are a) how common it is to hear that people don’t even know we have a team and b) that our immigrant communities are not going to the games. We do actually have some large immigrant communities, and I’m not just talking about the Bosnians. There was even a story in the St.Louis Post Dispatch about a month or so ago that focused on them. It even showed a picture of two African (forgot which country) boys playing soccer behind their flat in the alleyway. I recently was able to recruit one of the United Knights to help out in the campaign effort. He is Croatian, not Bosnian, but there is a large Croatian community here as well. I gave him the materials provided by the team and had him go to the various meeting places where the Croatians hang out. He later reported that although they really like soccer, a lot of them weren’t interested because there aren’t any Croatian players on the team. That makes me wonder if that’s one of the reasons why the large Mexican or Vietnamese or other communities won’t come. I’m sure there are other reasons but in any case, those markets need to be tapped.
    Oh and as far as St.Louis losing it’s soccer cred, I’ll just say that there are a lot of pros who come from here, St.Louis is still one of the largest soccer markets for kids in the country and St.Louis University, though not a powerhouse anymore, is still a respectable college for soccer. The rest can be debated elsewhere.

  2. Plus….people are on vacation….plus we had Fair St. Louis with the airshows and a good concert on Saturday….in addition to the other celebrations like those in St. Charles and Webster….you get my point 🙂

  3. Well, I forgot to make that point, but thanks for reminding me. All the other teams in the USSF “out did” us as far as attendance, and they were dealing with a holiday as well. So I don’t think you can simply attribute it to the holiday, otherwise all teams would have seen the same drop amount, I would assume.

  4. Granted, ACSTL played a home game the week before, but the month away from home coinciding with the financial crisis didn’t help matters at all.

  5. I think that people aren’t attending these games for two reasons. One, there is very little publicity about the teams wins, the articles are normally located in the later pages of the sports section. Two, its the NASL not the MLS i know that a lot more people would come and join in if the team was on a higher pedestal than it is. Unfortunately i believe this is true….

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