Scoring a Deal on Soccer Tickets
July 7, 2010
Americans are watching this yearâ€™s World Cup tournament in record numbers â€“ a blessing and a curse for U.S. soccer fans. Although the contest, which ends this weekend, could translate to a boost for Major League Soccer in the U.S., the new attention raises the possibility that fans may find it harder to secure cheap tickets to MLS games.
Ratings for the U.S. World Cup teamâ€™s first three games were 68% higher than for the initial games of the 2006 World Cup, according to the Nielsen Company. The U.S.-Ghana game on June 26 was the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history, drawing 19.4 million viewers. Thatâ€™s more than the average viewership for the 2009 World Series games or this yearâ€™s NBA Finals games. Nielsen now estimates that a third of all American TV watchers have seen at least a few minutes of World Cup play.
The World Cup has certainly â€œpiqued the interest of the casual fan,â€ says David Carter, the executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. â€œIt gives the league a chance to get people to sample its product,â€ Carter says.
Already, Major League Soccer ticket sales year-to-date are up 10% compared to last year, says Dan Courtemanche, a spokesman for the league. Merchandise sales are also up, Courtemanche says. Now in its 15th season, the MLS is still â€œan emerging league,â€ Courtemanche says, but â€œthe quality of play here is increasing each year.â€
Years before the first match of this World Cup, MLS had already been expanding, with new teams joining the league and new, soccer-only stadiums being built in cities like Los Angeles and Philadelphia. â€œNo one thinks about opening up new franchises if the overall core business isnâ€™t sustainable,â€ Carter says.
For now, the number of seats in those stadiums appears to exceed the demand. Soccerâ€™s popularity may be growing, but fans will find that games donâ€™t typically sell out, and prices compare favorably to other professional sports, says Christian Anderson, a spokesman for FanSnap, a ticket-search web site.
Tickets to soccer games are on average only slightly pricier than those for baseball, even though baseball teams play more than five times as many games in a season, according to FanSnap data. The popularity of the World Cup hasnâ€™t yet translated to higher ticket prices on the secondary market, suggesting any bump in sales hasnâ€™t led to more sell-out games, Anderson says.
Here are three factors that do impact the price of soccer tickets â€“ and how to avoid paying more:
Stadium SizeThe Philadelphia Union and Los Angeles Galaxy now play in new, soccer-only stadiums in their respective cities, and devoted stadiums will be opening in the next couple of years in Portland, Vancouver, Houston and Montreal. Soccer stadiums are small, typically seating about 20,000, compared with the 70,000 or 90,000 seats in a football stadium. For fans, smaller stadiums offer a better experience because more seats are closer to the action, but ticket prices also tend to be higher, says Glenn Lehrman, a spokesman for StubHub, a ticket resale web site. Tickets to Los Angeles Galaxy and Philadelphia Union games are among the priciest seats in the league, according to FanSnap.
Big-stadium tickets are sometimes available for pennies on the dollar, Lehrman says. Fans of small-stadium teams should consider weeknight games, which tend to be cheaper, Lehrman says. Fans should also compare different dates, because prices will rise when the home team plays popular teams like the Seattle Sounders or Los Angeles Galaxy, soccerâ€™s equivalent of the Red Sox or Yankees coming to town, Anderson says.
Star PowerThe chance to see a star player like David Beckham boosts demand, Lehrman says. World Cup star Landon Donovan is already back at play with the Los Angeles Galaxy â€“ also Beckhamâ€™s team â€“ and could affect demand for seats at road games, Lehrman says. â€œLandonâ€™s definitely going to be more of a household name,â€ he says.
Soccer fans who want to see a star player on the field can check secondary-market sites like FanSnap or StubHub for deals. The resale market for Major League Soccer tickets tends to be driven by season-ticket holders or other fans who simply canâ€™t make a game, not by people attempting to make a profit, Lehrman says. Teamsâ€™ web sites also offer discounted group or multiple-game package deals. Fans of the New York Red Bulls, for example, can buy single tickets starting at about $22, or tickets to a series of four games for $72, or a family pack of four tickets to a single game for $86, which includes a $20 gift card for food and drinks.