Blatter is critical of the MLS. To wit:
But don’t forget that soccer — as they call football there — is the most popular game in the youth. It’s not American football or baseball; it is soccer. But there is no very strong professional league. There have just the M.L.S. But they have not these professional leagues that are recognized by the American society.
It is a question of time. I thought, when we had the World Cup in 1994. … But we are now in 2012 — it’s been 18 years — it should have been done now. But they are still struggling.
Consistent with previous form, Blatter is wrong. The MLS ranked eighth in Association Football leagues in average attendance according to most recent data. In a broader table of association football attendances, the MLS doesn’t look too bad:
For a league that has only completed 17 seasons, ranking eighth globally is not bad progress, certainly not “still struggling”. By this measure, the Scottish league has been struggling since the formation of the SFL in 1890 (oh, hang on . . . ). Some observations on these data include that the MLS ranks higher in average attendance to both the NHL (
17,455 0) and NBA (17,274). This places the MLS third among professional leagues in the USA (NFL: 67,538; MLB: 30,884), fourth among professional leagues in the US and Canada (Canadian Football League: 28,103), and fourth among all leagues in the US when the “amateur” NCAA Division 1 BCS is included (46,074).
This success has been achieved with a tedious “foreign” sport in a context with the established MLB (74,859,268 total attendance in 2011), NFL (17,124,389 / 67,538), and NCAA BCS (37,411,795 / 46,074), as well as the NHL (21,470,155 / 17,274), and NBA (17,100,861 / 17,274).
There are many ways to spin these numbers to make the MLS appear better or worse than it actually is, including pointing out that the average attendance of 18,807 is skewed by Seattle’s average 43,144 (the next four clubs are LA Galaxy and Montreal at 23K, Houston at 21K, Portland at 20K), but then Seattle’s attendance would rank sixth in the English Premier League’s current season, behind only Man U, Arsenal, Newcastle United, Man City, and Liverpool. Notably, the entire MLS averages similar to the average for QPR in the current season. While QPR will likely be relegated, their fans do get to see 19 better clubs come through.
One way we can’t spin these figures, however, is the way the perennially clueless Blatter did. If the MLS is not a “very strong professional league”, then only the seven above it might qualify for “very strong”. It’s certainly not “still struggling”.