Thursday, April 22, 2010


Much has been made this season about the Rapids attendance. Less than 12K at the home opener followed last weekend by a sub-10K crowd has people talking. Multiple threads at BigSoccer plus blog posts as well have stirred the pot. The "conventional wisdom" is that the problem is that the Dick is all the way out in Commerce City.

Well its not. At least not based on what attendance was like when the Rapids were downtown at Invesco Field. The "conventional wisdom" is that downtown stadiums are good, and suburb stadiums are bad. Here's the average attendance per game for the last 3 years at Invesco and the first 3 years at DSG Park. I chose 3 years at Invesco because not only does it balance the 3 years in Commerce City but also because it encompasses the whole time KSE has owned the team.

2004: 14195
2005: 13638
2006: 12056
2007: 14749
2008: 13659
2009: 12331

As you can see, 2007 and 2008 outdrew 2005 and 2006. 2007 even outdrew 2004. So it appears that more people are coming to Commerce City than were going to Invesco. Still, it could be a new stadium bump that's wearing off.

One thing that Invesco had that the Dick doesn't is the ability to pull large crowds. Primarily these happened on the 4th of July for the fireworks show. so how much were the Invesco numbers affected by the 4th of July crowds? Here are the averages recalculated using just 18,000 for the 4th of July number at Invesco (the same as they can get at DSG Park).

2004: 12596
2005; 12039
2006: 10642
2007: 14749
2008: 13659
2009: 12331

Looking at these numbers its pretty clear that any advantage that Invesco had was due to the large 4th of July numbers. 3 of the top 4 years under KSE have been at DSG Park once the 4th of July crowd is normalized.

Many people think that the 4th of July crowd is an aberration though, so here's the average of the non 4th of July games each year:

2004: 12210
2005: 11613
2006: 10117
2007: 14510
2008: 13294
2009: 11806

Things get a bit closer together, but again the Commerce City location is clearly outdrawing the downtown location.

Compared to other Soccer Specific Stadiums as well, DSG Park is much closer to downtown than most. Only BMO Field in Toronto and Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus are closer to what Wikipedia lists as the "downtown" of their cities. The location is also (wrongly as I understand it) blamed for attendance issues in Dallas, but you rarely see people blaming the distance to downtown LA for attendance issues with Chivas. People have also said that the additional distance people now have to go to get to Commerce City is a problem, but out of the teams that moved from another location into a SSS, only Columbus and NY had shorter moves. Again, Colorado and Dallas get blamed for this while Chicago and LA moved further than Colorado.

At this point I think its fairly obvious that what's hurting Rapids attendance isn't the location. Worst case is that people are indifferent to the location, and best case more people are actually coming out to the Dick. So there's clearly a problem but its not the location. What is it? I think there are a number of factors.

First, KSE has had no interest in the team. Clearly from the perspective of the greater organization the Rapids were purchased for the purposes of getting a new real estate development partially funded by local government. The original plan for DSG Park included large commercial development on the lands right around the complex and the Cantina was going to be a full-time restaurant, not just a game-day bar. KSE would be the owner of the land and would make money on the rents from all the businesses. The economic crisis killed this idea and now KSE is just trying to make money off the stadium and fields. I think commercial development would help make game-day more than just tailgating in the lot pre-game, but until that happens KSE needs to treat the Rapids like they treat the Avs and Nuggets and not like a tax write-off.

Second, ticket prices are far too high. Right now the cheapest actual seat in the stadium is $20. The new Supporter's Terrace is cheaper but its standing only and not suitable for families. A Nuggets playoff ticket is $13.50 and a Rockies ticket is $16. Not only that but they also raised season ticket prices this offseason. We are currently in the biggest recession of my lifetime, the team hasn't made the playoffs in 3 seasons, they can't fill the stadium, they haven't invested in a DP, and last year they cut the big name friendlies in half. Even the most dedicated fan has to wonder what the raised ticket prices are getting them, because its clearly not going towards improving the team or the game-day experience. The best move the Rapids could make is to announce a reduction (or at the very least a freeze) of ticket prices in 2011. The only other option is to sign a big name as a DP and get a major team in here for a friendly so at least the fans can see that their money is being used for more than buying Arsenal shares.

Third, make it easier to get out to the Dick. RTD runs special buses from Market Street Station for CU and Broncos games. The Bulldog Supporter's Group has had great success the last two games in running a bus from the British Bulldog downtown. The Rapids should work with RTD (or possibly a private company thanks to that stupid federal law that was passed a couple of years ago) to run a couple of shuttles from Boulder and downtown every game.

Fourth, and probably biggest, just win baby. Denver, outside the Broncos, is a bandwagon town. The Rapids have never been more than mediocre and lately they've just been bad. Make a commitment to put a good product on the field. That means making your big offseason move more than trading Burpo and Gibbs for Larentowicz and Thompson. Make it clear to Paul Bravo and Gary Smith that just squeaking into the playoffs isn't good enough anymore. The Rapids have never finished above 3rd int he conference. A priority should be to finish in the top 2 and get home-field advantage in the first round.

This turned out to be longer than I expected, and to anyone still reading, I appreciate it.


jayd8888 said...

I agree with you Jason and I would like to add the announced attendances at INVESCO were much more suspect back in those days. Just to further blame KSE I like to post here the similar numbers of the Avs.
Source ESPN
2004: 18007
2005: NA
2006: 18007
2007: 17612
2008: 16847
2009: 15429
2010: 13947

To me it looks like KSE does not comprehend that attendance will suffer once the fans believe that they are given anything less than the top rate. That the Rapids actually got a bounce from the new location but that darn KSE monster can’t stay out of its own way.

Bonji said...

The only point I'd make is that comparing Invesco to a downtown soccer specific stadium isn't totally fair. At Invesco there was no atmosphere. Presumably at a SSS there would be more. I don't think this is a case where you can just look at the data and draw a conclusion.

The location argument comes from anecdotal evidence. I've talked to many soccer fans (5-10) who all say a variation on the same thing, "why would I want to go out to Commerce City to watch the Rapids?" That implies two things. 1) Commerce City is an undesirable location and 2) the Rapids aren't a team worth making the trip for.

Location also has to do with the surroundings. DSG Park isn't a place that draws people for anything other than events. You go for a few hours and leave. There aren't shops, restaurants or other amenities that make a place interesting or special.

So no, attendance isn't poor just because of location of the stadium, but it is hard to argue it isn't a factor.

Jason Maxwell said...

I think that points to the fact that tis not the location, its what you do with it. As I mentioned in the post the original plan was for a commercial district around the stadium. If that was there I doubt we would hear that much about the location. KSE has to make a reason to want to go to Rapids games, otherwise it won't matter if the team is in Commerce City or Coors Field.

Aljarov a.k.a Al Clark said...

None of what you're saying really addresses the fact that the attendance is way down in 2010 even versus previous DSG seasons, despite what is actually a pretty decent team playing good football.

Jason Maxwell said...

Way down after two afternoon games, which traditionally draw poorly. The next game is a Wednesday night game, also usually a poor draw. Let's see if its still "way down" come August.

I'm not claiming there isn't an attendance problem BTW. I'm just pointing out that the location isn't the cause.