Let’s not try and sugarcoat anything here. The Columbus Crew SC attendance in 2017 has left a lot to be desired.
The Black & Gold sit at the bottom of the league in attendance, drawing an average of 14,791 supporters through 12 games played at MAPFRE Stadium.
But of course, there are reasons (not to be confused with excuses).
First, Crew SC is coming off its second-worst finish in club history, just 36 points through 34 matches. While the diehard fans will return after a year such as that, the more casual supporters have to be convinced to come back to MAPFRE.
Second, for the first time in the club’s 22-year history, the Black & Gold played two home games in the month of March. If you’ve lived in Columbus long, you know that March is often not an ideal time to be outside, much less standing in a cold stadium.
Meanwhile, Crew SC have had just four home contests through the summer months of June and July and the first half of August.
“We have historically had summer and fall peaks,” president of business operation Andy Loughnane said Tuesday as Crew SC visited Acura Maryville. “Some of that is weather related. Some of that is it takes us a little bit to jumpstart the market in terms of awareness. We did have a few early weather games that don’t necessarily lend itself to some of the general sports market fans that we need to continue to attract.”
According to Loughnane, discussing these issues with Major League Soccer, who makes the schedule for all the team in the league, is an option, but there are other things to consider.
“I think for us, one of the things that we’ve talked about is that we are restricted to a certain degree, more so than some other MLS clubs, simply because we lose six weeks of the year in the 35-week MLS season,” Loughnane said. “We lose six weeks a year to events that take place at Ohio Expo Center. So between the State Fair and the Quarter Horse Congress, we have to compact 17 regular season matches and a friendly into, let’s call it 29 weeks, as opposed to compacting it into the 35 weeks.
So we have to, just by virtue of our lease, we have to play matches in early parts of the year, including cold weather months where, as everybody knows, we historically have not done as well at the gate.”
So it’s a bit of a lose-lose for Crew SC right now.
But the good news is things are looking up. Over these four summer month games, Columbus is averaging just over 18, 272 fans, including a sellout crowd of 20,391 on July 1 against Atlanta United.
“We want to see a continued increase in attendance,” Loughnane said.
“We are last in attendance. We do have the lowest average ticket price in Major League Soccer. The combination of those two things together are areas for improvement that we need to continue to work on.”
FC Dallas currently sits just above Crew SC, averaging 15,219 supporters, while the Colorado Rapids are at 15,380 fans per game. So it is conceivable, given the time of year and the team making a push for the postseason, that the Black & Gold could rise out last place before the conclusion of the MLS regular season.
As Loughnane mentioned, Crew SC’s schedule is confined due to leasing of the land on which MAFPRE Stadium sits. That is owned by the state of Ohio and is used for other things besides Crew SC matches.
In late October, one of the events that uses this land is the Quarter Horse Congress. That is also the same time the MLS regular season ends.
If you’re thinking ahead, this could cause an issue for the Black & Gold, assuming the team makes the playoffs and hosts a home knockout match. Historically, these games have been on the Wednesday and Thursday following the regular season, right when the Quarter Horse Congress will be using the MAPFRE Stadium parking lot.
“Major League Soccer hasn’t publicly released the playoff grid for 2017. But our understanding and our planning really will only have to face a potential alternative parking scenario for a home knockout match,” Loughnane explained. “So Eastern Conference knockout round we anticipate being on Wednesday, Oct. 25 or Thursday, Oc. 26.”
According to Loughnane, this would lose Crew SC “a few thousand” parking spots. The current alternative is that fans would park at the Ohio Connection, located south east of the stadium, and arrangements would be made to accommodate them.
“I’m not suggesting it’s easy. It’s certainly not anything we would ever want. It’s far from convenient,” he said. “However, we have to make the best of it and this is the first time this overlap could certainly come into play.
“Incidentally, and I don’t say this lightly, the state of Ohio and Quarter Horse Congress, who have a right of way, have been really cooperative to allow this to happen. So if it were to come into play, I think we’ve got good partners that are willing to make this work.”
In order for this to be a problem, Columbus would have to finish third or fourth in the Eastern Conference. The team currently sits three points behind the fourth place New York Red Bulls and six points behind the third place Chicago Fire, both of which have two games in hand.
So it’s still an if, not a when.
“But we’ve got to qualify for the playoffs,” Loughnane said. “We recognize we have not done that, so that’s an important next step for us.”
While on the topic of MAPFRE Stadium, Massive Report asked Loghnane where Crew SC stands with a potential new stadium.
A survey sent out to fans in October of 2016 claimed the team was in “preliminary stages of assessing the potential demand for the development of a new stadium in Columbus.” Since then, it was confirmed that Precourt Sports Ventures, which owns the Black & Gold, contracted with consulting firm Barrett Sports Group to gauge what supporters would want in a new stadium.
So where do we stand 10 months later?
“We’re continuing to be thoughtful, thorough and investigative,” Loughnane said. “We are coming up with key insights and when (owner Anthony Precourt) is ready to sort of fully synthesize all of that data and share all of that data, we’ll get back to you guys.”
Is there any deadline on that synthesis?
“The great news is there’s not a rush to get this right,” Loughnane said. “One of the most important decisions that any franchise in any sport can make is a stadium decision. So I think we understand that there’s an expectation for key learnings and we feel the same way, but we’re going to have to be patient as we continue to organize all of the thoughts and options that we have in front of us.”
As for how much of this information will be made available to the public, Loughnane said, “we’ll share as many key insights as we possibly can.”