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Major League Soccer has surpassed the NBA and NHL in attendance and is now the third-most attended professional sport in America on a per-game basis.
Sporting News reports that this season, average attendance for the MLS’s 18 teams rose 7.2 percent to 17,872 per game, enough to leapfrog both last season’s NBA (17,323) and NHL average (17,132). The sport, however, is still miles behind the NFL (66,960) and MLB (30,352).
The MLS says that in this nation of immigrants, the world’s most popular sport is booming in the country because of its foreign influence. The teams' rosters include players from 60 countries. Sixteen percent of MLS players are Latino, no doubt attracting the MLS’ strong Hispanic following that accounts for a third the league's fan base.
And look so far as any teenage girl’s bedroom wall to know the most famous foreign player of them all: Englishman David Beckham, who transferred nearly five years ago to the league from Spanish giants Real Madrid for a cool $250 million. The LA Galaxy midfielder, whose contract expires after this season, has spectators flocking to stadiums all over the country, and he has paved the way for legends like Frenchman Thierry Henry to join ranks, as well.
Major League Soccer has also made some savvy business moves along the way, signing television deals with networks like ESPN and FOX, and partnering with NBC in 2012.
Finally, the MLS recognized the Northwest as a passionate soccer hotbed (who knew?), aggressively expanding with the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps. The Seattle Sounders lead the league in attendance with 38,496 per game, more than doubling the league average.
The league’s tally surpasses even the inaugural season, when it averaged 17,406 spectators a game. “It’s historic for us — we exceeded our best with 18 teams, and we only had 10 back then,” said MLS President Mark Abbott. “We have Montreal joining next year, and we believe that we will have a very positive story in that market as well.”
And watch out, English Premier League: the MLS is now the tenth-most attended soccer league in the world.