Score a deal on soccer tickets
The World Cup is almost over, but Major League Soccer plays through November.
Americans are watching this year's World Cup tournament in record numbers -- 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 team'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. That's more than the average viewership for the 2009 World Series games or this year'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 "piqued the interest of the casual fan," says David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. "It gives the league a chance to get people to sample its product," Carter says.
Already, Major League Soccer ticket sales year-to-date are up 10% compared with last year, says Dan Courtemanche, a spokesman for the league. Merchandise sales are also up. Now in its 15th season, the MLS is still "an emerging league," Courtemanche says, but "the quality of play here is increasing each year."
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. "No one thinks about opening up new franchises if the overall core business isn't sustainable," Carter says.
For now, the number of seats in those stadiums appears to exceed the demand. Soccer's popularity may be growing, but fans will find that games don't typically sell out, and prices compare favorably to other professional sports, says Christian Anderson, a spokesman for FanSnap, a ticket search website.
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 hasn't yet translated to higher ticket prices on the secondary market, suggesting any bump in sales hasn't led to more sellout games, Anderson says.
Here are three factors that do impact the price of soccer tickets -- and how to avoid paying more:
Stadium size. The 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, Ore.; Vancouver, British Columbia; 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 website. 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, while fans of small-stadium teams should consider weeknight games, which tend to be cheaper. 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, soccer's equivalent of the Red Sox or Yankees coming to town, Anderson says.
Star power. The 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 -- also Beckham's team -- and could affect demand for seats at road games, Lehrman says. "Landon's definitely going to be more of a household name," he says.
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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 can't make a game, not by people attempting to make a profit, Lehrman says. Teams' websites 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.
European visitors. Renowned European teams occasionally come to the U.S. to play friendly games. Manchester United, for example, tours North America this summer and will play in the July 28 All-Star Game in Houston. Prices for those games will be higher, in part to cover the traveling team's expenses, and in part because demand is higher. Fans will likely find the best deals on those games by waiting until the last minute -- a highly anticipated game might initially sell out, but some of those tickets will resurface on the secondary market later, Lehrman says.
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