Taking the Global Perspective
Low attendance of “B” or second teams playing in lower professional divisions is a global reality. Many complain about the lack of support for second teams in the USL Championship and USL League One, yet while we might not like it, the situation is not unique.
My League One Fun podcast co-hosts have lamented the lack of attendance at “two” teams, with Orlando City B taking a brunt of the mockery. But it appears neither the USL nor the teams should be too embarrassed.
Take, for example, the second tier of Spanish football. In aggregate, the very well established Segunda Division averaged only 8,645 fans per match during the 2017-2018 season, according to Worldfootball.net. This compares to nearly 27,000 for La Liga matches. Part of this stems from larger stadiums in first tier clubs like Real Madrid. Another reason is that during that some seasons “reserve” teams played in the Segunda which draw a pittance of the first team’s support. For the season in question this included Barcelona B, which was relegated finishing 20th.
As the table shows, average attendance in the Segunda (also called La Liga 2) was only 32% of the La Liga top flight. This compares to the USL (now USL Championship) ratio to Major League Soccer of 22.5% for the 2018 season. Given many of the Spanish clubs have been in existence for generations – and some over a century – the difference in support for second division U.S. clubs is not as wide as one might expect.
“B” Team’s In U.S. Draw About The Same As Spain
Using data from both soccerstadiumdigest.com and worldfootball.net, we can compare stadium draws for both first and second teams. Since it’s founding, New York Red Bulls II have been lamented for having poor attendance, as they played in the same stadium as the first team.
After their move out of Red Bull Arena into a new home field at Montclair State University Soccer Park, attendance – at least announced attendance – improved somewhat, but remains among the lowest in USL Championship. During the 2018 season, the Red Bulls’ second team averaged just over 800 screaming fans. This was 4.4% of the over 18,500 spectators who came out last season for the first team.
Yet compared to Barcelona B, which also played in the second tier of Spanish football, this ratio is about the same. Barca B drew only 4.0% of the fans of the first team in the season that ended May 2018. Granted the 2,600 fans for Barca B was over three times more than what Red Bull II drew. Which is similar to Barcelona averaging 3.5 times more fans than the senior Red Bull squad. Keep in mind that the Camp Nou seats nearly 100,000, Red Bull Arena about 25,000.
This is not unique to La Liga either. The Bayern Munich Reserve (Bayern II) side which plays in the fourth tier of German football also draws only a pittance of the first team. In fact, the entire league where Bayern II play averaged only 1,427 fans per match in the 2017-2018 season, according to weltfussball.de.
U.S. Second Teams Trying Something New
A second team located in a city without other professional soccer, branding itself differently than the parent club, or both, may help improve attendance. FC Tucson in USL League One may be a good experiment. The club is close enough to parent Phoenix Rising FC that player loans can easily be made, while it is far enough away that it will not rely on hardcore first team supporters for fans.
Philadelphia Union’s second team is located in Bethlehem, PA and that may have helped it draw over 2,300 fans per match last season. This year’s move and re-branding of the Seattle Sounders 2 to Tacoma, WA may help the team draw more than the 3,370 average ticket sales per match last year.
More people watching and being fans of soccer locally is a positive for the sport to grow nation wide. However, it is clear to me that we should not be too hard on those teams that draw small crowds for second teams. It’s unfortunate, but it’s just the way it is everywhere.