College Cup attendance suffers again at MLS venue

College CupPolicyStadiums

For the second time in three years, the attendance was the big talking point online and in the broadcast booth at the College Cup in Kansas City over the weekend. 

Given the number of empty seats at the stadium formerly known as Sporting Park (Children’s Mercy Park), it’s hard not to talk about it.

Contrary to what you may have heard or seen on TV, there were actually people at the games – 4,047 at Friday night’s semifinals and 4,081 for Sunday’s final – but 4,000 people in an 18,467-seat stadium leaves a lot of empty seats and an atmosphere rivaling that of a closed door friendly.

There are plenty of reasons for such a small crowd – the teams playing, the location, the weather – but these are all factors that should be considered when selecting a venue, something that doesn’t seem to bother the NCAA. Conspiracy theorists might even say the NCAA prefers an empty stadium, which it had the last time the event was at an MLS venue in 2013.

That venue – the stadium formerly known as PPL Park in Chester, Pa. – drew just 4,071 and 5,303 people to games featuring two teams well within driving distance of campus. Unseasonably cold weather – it was in the 20s when it usually is in the 40s – was a factor there.

But even a good crowd at a large MLS venue pales in comparison to a sellout of a small campus venue, which is where the NCAA should be staging these games.

Going the route of having higher seeds host would have had Sunday’s final played at Historic Riggs Field in Clemson. Instead of an empty stadium, the Clemson fans alone would have packed out the 6,500-seat campus venue and made the atmosphere what those of us who regularly watch college soccer have grown accustomed.

If the neutral venue the NCAA is so enamored with makes this a deal-breaker, keeping the College Cup at a consistent well-performing non-MLS venue would be a second option. WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. would be top of that list. WakeMed drew a respectable 8,015 for the final last year and has a lot going for it in terms of proximity to top programs, weather and competition.

Staging the final weekend at a non-MLS venue in consecutive years was the approach the NCAA took in the boom years of attendance for the College Cup of 1995-1998 when 15,000-20,000 turned out each year the cup was staged in Richmond.

If the current MLS stadium strategy is to shift, it will have to wait two more years since BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston and Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa. are slated to host the next two College Cups. Like the plan to overhaul the schedule and make college soccer the two-semester sport it needs to be to have a future, I’m not holding my breathe for anything resembling positive movement in the right direction to happen soon.

But hey, if a pseudo football playoff in Division 1 football is possible, perhaps there is hope for college soccer yet.

College Cup Final Attendance 1995-2015

YearVenueAttendance
2015Children's Mercy Park (Sporting Park), Kansas City, Kansas4,081
2014WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, N.C.8,015
2013Talen Energy Stadium (PPL Park), Chester, Pa.5,303
2012Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Birmingham, Ala.9,242
2011Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Birmingham, Ala.8,777
2010Harder Stadium, Santa Barbara, Calif.9,672
2009WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, N.C.5,679
2008Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas7,690
2007WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, N.C.8,172
2006Hermann Stadium, St. Louis, Mo.5,948
2005WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, N.C.6,922
2004StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.13,601
2003MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio5,300
2002Gerald J. Ford Stadium, University Park, Texas8,498
2001MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio7,113
2000Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.11,421
1999Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.15,439
1998City Stadium, Richmond, Va.15,202
1997City Stadium, Richmond, Va.20,143
1996City Stadium, Richmond, Va.20,874
1995City Stadium, Richmond, Va.21,319
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