Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
It was quite a sight, that of 14,456 fans filling Slugger Field in Louisville for the 2017 USL Cup, but given the season the championship game concluded, it was only fitting that the year for the USL ended with another sellout crowd.
More than two million fans were a part of the 2017 USL regular season, and another 80,000 fans were a part of the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs, as the league continued to surge in the stands. The high-level action drew more fans than ever before across the United States and Canada. Never previously had more than two million fans been part of a second division season in North America, a landmark feat for the league in its seventh season.
Leading the way along with Louisville was the expected duo of FC Cincinnati and Sacramento Republic FC. FCC continued to set itself ahead of the pack with an average of almost 22,000 fans per game at Nippert Stadium, while Republic FC filled the stands at Papa Murphy’s Park, selling out every game of the season with an average of 11,569 fans per game.
The biggest boosts to the league’s 33 percent rise in cumulative attendance, however, were found elsewhere. First, the likes of established clubs in Rio Grande Valley FC and the rebranded Phoenix Rising FC – both of whom moved into soccer-specific stadiums – saw their average attendances skyrocket. RGVFC (7,067) and Phoenix (6,146) finished fifth and sixth respectively in the league’s average attendance for the season.
Secondly, the league’s incoming trio of Ottawa Fury FC (5,365), Reno 1868 FC (5,559) and the Tampa Bay Rowdies (5,895) brought with them passionate fan bases that made the 2017 season arguably the most memorable in the league’s modern era.
Those numbers ensured that nine of the top 10 teams in average attendance outside Major League Soccer in 2017 came from the USL, with the rising tide also seeing the continued ascent of the Richmond Kickers, who celebrated their 25th season with an all-time high average attendance, and San Antonio FC, who finished fourth in the league with an average attendance of more than 7,100 fans.
With the addition of Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, Nashville SC, North Carolina FC and a club owned and operated by Atlanta United – which made its own mark in Major League Soccer this year – for the 2018 USL season, it seems the only way is up for the league and its fans.