Major League Soccer Scores with the Fans at Midseason

Article excerpt

Teams in urban areas such as Los Angeles benefit from a large Hispanic population, but Americans have embraced soccer with unexpected ardor -- at the stadium and on television.

At the 47th game of Major League Soccer's inaugural season, the 1 millionth fan to walk through the turnstiles was honored with a ceremony and a party, and league officials celebrated all across the country -- the lucky fan showed up almost 40 games ahead of schedule.

"For a league that had a plan [for attendance] in the midteens, we're thrilled," says Danny Villanueva, general manager of the L.A. Galaxy. "I like where we're at. It is an entertaining brand of soccer, and our sponsors are thrilled with what's going on."

When the league was formed, officials said it needed to average 10,000 to 12,000 fans per game to survive. After 70 games, the league is averaging 20,962. Los Angeles is drawing 34,000 fans per game; 92,000 showed up for a doubleheader that featured the U.S. national team. (Los Angeles plays in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena -- where World Cup matches were played two years ago -- and benefits from a heavily Hispanic population.)

"The initial few weeks stunned everyone with the attendance and quality of play," says Billy Hicks, general manager of the Dallas Burn. "All told, a lot of things have gone right. Attendance hasn't plummeted. It's above what we expected."

League officials are cautious, however, and a lot needs to be done to continue the momentum. …