Here's a different look at #TrophiesNotFriendlies. It takes a different look at things than I do, but agreeing with me has never been what determines if we promote to the frontpage.
There has been a lot of talk about whether the Sounders are placing enough value on competitive games as compared to friendlies, especially when it comes to which games are included with season ticket packages. I have my own opinion about how things should be done, but I have to say that I understand where the Sounders are coming from on this issue.
Let's take a look at, for instance, the demand for CONCACAF Champion's League soccer in Mexico. Mexico's Primera Division has something like roughly the 4th-best average attendance of any soccer league in the world. Every year, lots of Mexicans come out to support their local team in league play. Surely they come out in droves for Champion's League, too, right? Last year, here are their home attendance figures for CCL group play:
2009-10 group stage
Pachuca: 14K, 18K, 8K
Toluca: 10K, 15K, 10K
Cruz Azul: 9K, 3K, 3K
UNAM: 7K, 5K, 4K
12 games, zero sell-outs. Highest average attendance roughly 13K/game from Pachuca. That wasn't some kind of one-year blip, either. From the '08-'09 CCL group play stage:
2008-9 group stage
Cruz Azul: 7K, 5K, 4K
Universidad Nacional: 8K, 9K, 6K
Atlante: 13K, 13K, 4K
Santos Laguna: 8K, 12K, 16K
12 games, zero sell-outs. Highest average attendance roughly 12K/game from Santos Laguna.
What about MLS teams? Since Mexico's Primera Division is undeniably the highest-caliber league in North America, one could perhaps understand if the Mexican fans were to consider CCL games of lower quality than a typical league game. On the other hand, perhaps MLS fans have been intrigued by the idea of bringing in foreign teams for competitive games.
2009-10 group stage
Houston: 8K, 7K, 10K (17K/game in regular season)
DC: 9K, 5K, 3K (16K/game in regular season)
Columbus: 6K, 8K, 6K (14K/game in regular season)
2008-9 group stage
DC: 6K, 7K, 7K (20K/game in regular season)
Houston: 4K, 9K, 14K (18K/game in regular season)
15 games, zero sell-outs. Attendance way below regular season averages.
If you're looking for huge support for CCL group stage games in other countries, it's not there. Saprissa seems to get around 6K/game, which seems to line up pretty well with their league play attendance (I think, it's hard to find solid attendance sources for other CONCACAF leagues), but even then, that's pretty underwhelming given their 23K-seat stadium. What has attendance been like in the preliminary round in the past? Let's take last year as an example for what the Sounders were looking at going into this year:
2009 prelim attendance -- Host
20.8K -- Toronto
11.0K -- Firpo
10.0K -- Pachuca
8.0K -- DC
6.5K -- W Connection
6.5K -- New York Red Bulls
6.0K -- Puerto Rico Islanders
4.3K -- Cruz Azul
2.6K -- San Francisco
2.0K -- Olimpia
2.0K -- San Juan Jabloteh
1.9K -- Jalapa
1.5K -- Real Espana
1.2K -- Herediano
0.7K -- Liberia Mia
0.9K -- Arabe Unido
Median attendance was around 4-5K. Toronto did very well in attendance, which would be an argument in favor of the Sounders putting the Metapan game in the season ticket package. 9 of the 16 crowds would have fit in Starfire. I'm really glad that the Sounders weren't able to host CCL at Starfire, but if they only had demand for around 10K tickets for Metapan, I can see where it might be tempting to go with a crowded atmosphere at Starfire instead of a mostly-empty stadium in Qwest. As for actual 2010 prelim attendance, it was like so:
2010 prelim attendance -- Host
18.9K -- Toronto
17.2K -- Seattle Sounders
13.0K -- Puerto Rico
10.0K -- Santos Laguna
8.0K -- Xelaju
8.0K -- Motagua
6.8K -- LA Galaxy
5.0K -- Cruz Azul
4.2K -- FAS
2.5K -- Marathon
1.2K -- Tauro
1.0K -- Isidro Metapan
0.8K -- San Juan Jabloteh
0.7K -- San Francisco
0.5K -- Joe Public
0.3K -- Brujas
Median attendance was again in the 4K-5K range, which probably won't change that much going forward until CONCACAF member nations become more wealthy and their citizens have more discretionary income to spend on entertainment. Of note, Toronto drew worse this year than last.
Even looking towards the championship round of the tournament, the attendance doesn't get that much better than the group stage, especially considering that most of the remaining teams are Mexican clubs who should be expected to draw well. (55.5K at Montreal on 2-25-09 sticks out as an extremely impressive attendance figure.)
It's safe to say that demand for CCL group stage matches, though, is lower than demand for MLS league play (or even Mexican Primera Division play.) Once that has been established, for the Sounders it becomes a question of how much lower the demand is for CCL group stage matches than it is for league play, and whether or not they will turn off some of their season ticket holders by including all three CCL games.
I would love to see this change. I would be elated if the Sounders could sell out even one of their CCL group stage games, and I would be extremely happy if they can average 25K/game through the group stage. I would also love to seek RSL average 16K/game, Toronto average 20K/game, and Columbus get to maybe 10K/game or so. (More than that for Columbus seems unrealistic.) If all those teams can draw like that, this year's CCL will smash the previous attendance marks. I'm not so sure that those teams can draw that well, though.
US Open Cup
In 2009, there were two games that broke 10,000 fans: the final at DC (17K), and the third round game at Portland (16K). Other than those two games, there was only one game that drew over 5,000 fans (6K at Rochester for Rhinos vs. Crew.) The Sounders could have undoubtedly drawn more than they did at Starfire, but just how many is hard to say.
In 2008, no one broke 10,000 for any game in USOC play. I only count 5 games which wouldn't have fit into Starfire.
If the Sounders were to include a 3rd-round USOC game in the season ticket package, people would have come--but would they overall have been happy about paying for that game in their package? Given the USOC attendance for other MLS teams, it seems unlikely that more than about 50-60% of season ticket holders would have really been excited about that game, maybe fewer. Some people would have obviously been very happy with the USOC game in the season ticket package, but it seems to me that they are a rather vocal minority.
This year's friendlies have so far been underwhelming, which is generally going to be the case in a World Cup year. I would be disappointed if the Sounders stopped scheduling friendlies altogether, though. One day, maybe all friendlies will be lower in demand than all Sounders competitions, but that day is not today. There's a market for the friendlies, and as long as that market persists, the Sounders should continue to have friendlies. I look forward to hearing who the Sounders are going to bring in for Friendly C, and I look forward to seeing who they will bring in next year.
All things being equal, I'd pick a competitive match over a friendly match, if I could only choose one. But usually not all things are equal, and thankfully I don't have to choose one or the other. That's why I'm in favor of trophies AND friendlies, where we have our cake and eat it, too.
See you at Qwest on the 25th.