The University of Phoenix Stadium has 63,400 seats. Of those only 9,040 were occupied when the United States men’s national team defeated Panama 3-0. Despite low attendances and over 240 stadiums in the country, the U.S. men’s soccer team continues to play at repeated venues. This was the fifth time the national team has played at University of Phoenix Stadium since 2007.
In 2018, the U.S. didn’t play at any new venues and averaged only 59% capacity with only one sellout which occurred at 10,000 seat Sahlen’s Stadium in North Carolina. In 2017, the U.S. played in three new venues selling out Orlando City Stadium, Avaya Stadium, and Finley Stadium. In fact, USA Soccer has sold out its last six appearances in new venues dating back to 2014.
Despite being the most popular sport in the world, soccer checks in at a distant No. 5 in the popularity contest in America. It may be difficult for the sport of soccer to surpass football, baseball, basketball, or hockey, however, it can do better than its current state. One of the biggest issues with attendance is that the national team doesn’t give all of its fans a chance to see them play.
Think about your favorite sports teams and why you love them. For many, it was getting to see their local team play. 22 states have not had that opportunity with USA soccer.
Of the 50 states in America, USA Soccer has played in only 28 of them. Every state with the exception of Alaska and Vermont have a stadium large enough to host a USA soccer match, so why is it that almost half of the country has yet to host the national team?
Would stadium diversity work?
On June 18th, USA soccer will play its first-ever game in the state of Minnesota at Allianz Field. With an opponent still to be determined, the game instantly sold out. Unfortunately, that is the only new venue currently on the 2019 USMNT schedule.
The problem has a solution, but it can’t be fixed if the issue isn’t acknowledged. Low attendance concerns shouldn’t discourage attempts at playing in new settings. Crowds can’t get much lower than they were at the 2019 opener in Glendale.
I propose a U.S. Soccer college tour. Every state in the country with the exception of Vermont and Alaska have college football stadiums with at least 10,000 seats. A tour of U.S. soccer in new venues would open up the sport of soccer to new fans, and new parts of the country. College campus atmospheres are electric and are home to very passionate fans.
As the MLS expands into new cities to reach new fans, the United States men’s soccer team should follow suit.