World Cup Gives Bump to WPS Attendance: Is the Abby Wambach Factor Sustainable?

John HowellAnalyst IAugust 2, 2011

Abby Wambach, the Michael Jordan of US Women's Soccer
Abby Wambach, the Michael Jordan of US Women's SoccerFriedemann Vogel/Getty Images

Just from an informal perusal of Women’s Professional Soccer box scores, it appeared that the three-year-old league that is the world’s premier club league for women had experienced a significant bump in attendance after the Women’s World Cup.

After examining all attendance records for the season, the result is even more dramatic than expected. Average attendance has increased from 2,090 per match in 36 games prior to and through the World Cup, to 5,611 per match in nine games played since the end of the World Cup.

The range from low to high pre-World Cup was 864 on May 28 in Boca Raton (magicJack’s home venue) to 8,076 in Western New York. There were three gates under 1,000, with two of them occurring in Boca Raton and the third in Piscataway, New Jersey (home to Sky Blue FC).

There were six matches around the league with an attendance of 1-2,000.

After the World Cup, the two lowest gates occurred at Boca Raton (2,386) and Piscataway (1,593). The highest attendance was also a league record and a venue record of 15,404 at Sahlen’s Stadium (home to the Western New York Flash) three days after the conclusion of the World Cup. That was more than a sellout, considering Sahlen’s only seats 14,000.

There was also a sellout at KSU Stadium in Atlanta of 9,345 one week following the World Cup, and a local record attendance of 6,222 in Boston on July 24.

Prior to and through the world competition, Philadelphia was running in the high 1,000s to the low 3,000s with their most typical gates in the 2,000s. After the tournament, they drew 4,126 (only one home game thus far).

Atlanta had been averaging attendance in the high 2,000s before the World Cup, but in their one home match post-World Cup they set a club record and the third highest attendance in league history at 9,345.

Suddenly stars like Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Marta and most of the 36 WPS players who participated in the World Cup were a must-see attraction.

It is too soon to tell whether the momentum will continue, but in a league struggling for its life even a temporary bump of this proportion will likely buy it another season.

In the meantime, we can only hope that the extra spectators down the stretch of this season will turn into regular attendees for years to come, and that they will bring friends and family with them.

Perhaps the best omen for the league is an observation made by a female Buffalo sports fan who had not seen a soccer game before the World Cup (even on television) and who was strongly biased against women’s sports because of “a lower caliber of play” compared to men.

But after watching the last two matches she exclaimed, “Soccer is the one sport where there’s no discernible difference in the quality of play between women’s and men’s.” She went on to say, “I’d buy a ticket.”

And as Saturday Night Live’s “Pathological Liar” used to say, “That’s the ticket.”   

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