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Sounders Approaching Original MLS Clubs in Total Gate Draw

In only five years, Seattle has a chance to catch up to clubs that have been around for seventeen.

Otto Greule Jr

From day one of the MLS era, the Sounders have been record setters. That day, March 19, 2009, over 32,000 fans (myself included) were witness to a special night, the importance of which went beyond the 3-0 scoreline. As time has passed, that attendance number became but a distant memory, and today would be a major disappointment. Centurylink Field has now been open in its entirety for six matches, and it has become almost a faux pas to even speak about the incredible digits accompanying every Sounders home match. This week, another 67,000+ crowd will yet again reinforce the statement; Seattle is an elite soccer city.

It has now been coming on five seasons since that first March night, and the projection continues to point up. It's fun to pull up the numbers of some of the top clubs in Europe and look down upon teams like Chelsea for their mere 40,000 average, but perhaps the more impressive numbers come from looking within our own league. From 2009 to 2012, the Sounders moved up to 11th all time among the 21 MLS teams (including the defunct Miami and Tampa Bay sides). They have surpassed every expansion club in league history, save for 1998's Chicago Fire. And sometime, perhaps by the end of this season, the Seattle Sounders will pass the San Jose Earthquakes for most all-time fans through the turnstiles for league matches.

Overall Rankings (Beginning of 2013 season)

  1. LA 5,827,467
  2. NY 4,528,712
  3. DC 4,462,195
  4. NE 4,065,135
  5. CLB 3,990,992
  6. COL 3,832,360
  7. CHI 3,629,904
  8. DAL 3,208,520
  9. SKC 3,125,013
  10. SJQ 2,927,595
  11. SEA 2,387,855
  12. RSL 2,180,000
  13. HOU 1,977,353
  14. CHV 1,960,582
  15. TOR 1,868,879
  16. TBM 1,040,818
  17. PHI 906,114
  18. VAN 678,079
  19. POR 667,505
  20. MIA 568,277
  21. MON 387,124
After Sunday's game, the Sounders total gate for the season will be roughly 472,710. The Earthquakes are the team sitting just in front of Seattle, and they have drawn 148,412. So through eleven home weeks, the Sounders will sit about 216,000 fans short of a team that existed since 1996 (albeit for two years when the original team moved to Houston). To match that this season, the Sounders would have to average 36,000 more fans per game than a team that generally brings in 10,000 fans. It'll depend on the draws of the remaining Galaxy and Salt Lake matches, but the Sounders probably won't catch the 'Quakes this year.

Kansas City and Dallas have seen an improvement in their attendance numbers over the last few years, but they also would likely succumb to Seattle in 2014. Unlike San Jose, those two have played every season since their inception in 1996.

(Warning: from here on out, we're looking at serious speculation. No one knows what may happen between now and 2015, and things could change for the better or worse. It is my hope that all teams bolster their attendance to the point that we have no teams drawing under 20,000. Consider the rest of this for fun.)

Extrapolating the data out, based on the most recent attendance of each club, Seattle should pass Chicago, Colorado, and Columbus in 2015, making the Sounders the top attended expansion team. New England and DC (barring new stadiums in the next three years) will likely yield in 2016, leaving only New York and Los Angeles in the way. New York could be topped as early as 2017 (through 2018 is more likely).

That last hurdle is a big one though. The Galaxy have drawn pretty well since their inception. While people haven't been flocking to Stubhub Center as fervently without David Beckham (averaging 22,000), the club has given itself enough of a head start to survive for perhaps a decade before the Sounders catch up. Assuming the numbers stay the same for the next ten years (they won't) Seattle would catch the Galaxy just in time to be the first to the ten million mark.

Hard to believe when, at the start of the 2012 season, the Sounders were ranked 15th of 21 clubs, ahead of only two contracted clubs and four recent expansions.

I just threw a lot of numbers at you, but the point is this; season ticket holder or walkup, you should be proud of this accomplishment. It's game-breaking stuff, and it is what allows Joe Roth and company to go out and get Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey without batting an eye. Don't let anyone diminish this achievement. It's easy for those of us who experience it every week to forget just how special a Sounders game day is. The players don't forget. The front office doesn't forget. The league doesn't forget. The line continues to trend upward.

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