Major League Soccer has been around in the U.S. for more than 20 years, but it is still unfamiliar to many North Carolinians with no franchises between Atlanta and Washington. Here is a primer on how popular the league has been around the country and where Raleigh might fit if its MLS bid succeeds.
The teams: The MLS launched in 1996 with 10 teams and now has 22, with 10 new franchises joining the league since 2007. A second Los Angeles team is set to start play in 2018, a team in Miami will join a year later and the league is currently deciding where to put four new teams that will start play after that to get to 28 franchises. Raleigh is in a group of 12 cities vying for those four slots.
By combined statistical area, all 22 teams in the league now are in more populous markets than the Triangle. Three of the 22 current teams are in Canada, with the other 19 in the U.S. All of the expansion candidates are in American cities.
The stadiums: MLS stadium capacities range from FC Dallas’ 16,000-seat Toyota Stadium to the Seattle Sounders’ 68,000-seat CenturyLink Field, which they share with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Thirteen of the 22 stadiums are soccer-specific venues, and the proposed stadium in downtown Raleigh with a capacity of 22,000 would be comparable in size to most of that group.
The fans: Every MLS team is averaging at least 14,000 fans per game so far this season, with half of the league averaging more than 20,000. Average attendance across the league has jumped by more than 5,000 per game this decade and crossed the threshold of 20,000 in 2015.
As the league has become more popular, ticket prices have also increased dramatically. Average ticket prices range from about $40 to more than $100 in some of the league’s bigger markets. This would be a steep increase from current North Carolina FC ticket prices, which are no more than $50 at field level and are between $14 and $22 for the majority of seats.
The season: The MLS season runs from March through December, with teams generally playing once a week in a 34-game regular season that ends in October. Twelve teams then make the playoffs, with a bracket formatted like the NFL playoffs, and the MLS Cup pits the Eastern and Western Conference champions against each other in the middle of December.