The Growth of MLS Is Being Spearheaded by the Western Conference

April 21, 2016

The additions of New York City FC and Orlando City SC last season have attested to the expanding popularity and overall growth of Major League Soccer, but there exists an interesting difference between the Eastern and Western Conference. As far as ticket pricing and overall competition goes, it is the West that dominates both fields - and by a considerable margin.

When looking at prices for MLS tickets on the secondary market, it is clear that there is a much stronger demand to see teams that play within the Western Conference. Since TicketIQ began tracking secondary market data, all 10 Western Conference MLS teams have experienced a positive average price trend over the last six seasons, and those prices are significantly higher in 2016 than six years ago. The Eastern Conference barely holds a flame to its counterpart; only four teams in the East have shown an increase in average ticket price since 2010.

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A quick glance at the above graphic shows that the San Jose Earthquakes and Portland Timbers have experienced the biggest boost in average price since the 2011 season. Though the Earthquakes haven't clinched a postseason berth since 2012, the franchise's move into the newly-opened Avaya Stadium has certainly been a big factor in the team's price growth on the secondary market. The average price for San Jose Earthquakes tickets has increased by 275% since 2011, marking the biggest average price change among all 20 MLS teams.

The Timbers have taken a different route to their success on the resale ticket market. The franchise won its first MLS Cup in 2015, and while championships usually bring stronger demand to see a team play, the Timbers have experienced a massive 85% year-over-year jump in average price. The average resale price for Portland Timbers tickets during the 2016 season is $134.91 - a considerable contrast from the team's $73.06 average in 2015.

Of course, ticket prices don't necessarily paint the whole picture. Not only has the Western Conference dominated the secondary market, but also the on-field competition as well. The MLS Cup has been won by a team from the West in each of the last seven seasons. To put that in perspective, the Eastern Conference has won just four Cups since MLS play began in 1996.

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It is also interesting to look at how attendance fares across the league when comparing both conferences. Five of the Western Conference's 10 teams had a 100% attendance rate or higher during the 2015 season. Only one team in the East, the newly-installed Orlando City SC, accomplished the same feat. Simply put, fans are willing to pay higher prices to watch winning teams, and the majority of the league's success derives from the Western Conference.

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Ticket prices, on-field success, attendance - when it comes to growth by numbers, the Western Conference shines. How long the conference's period of dominance will continue for is unknown, though at this rate, it appears that it won't be coming to an end anytime soon.