In the 2018 USL season, we have nine teams playing in minor league baseball stadiums. This is a uniquely American phenomenon, and not just at the USL level. The Kansas City Wizards, before they became Sporting KC, played in a ballpark for three seasons, the New York Cosmos play(ed) at MCU Park in Brooklyn and New York City FC will be playing at Yankee Stadium for the foreseeable future.
This gives us the opportunity for an interesting comparison. In these venues used for both soccer and baseball, which sport has the better average attendance?
I’ll be tracking this over the 2018 season, as the various minor leagues aren’t due to start for a few weeks, but we do have the data from 2017 to take a look at today.
From 2017, we have five stadiums to examine: FNB Field in Harrisburg, Pa., Louisville Slugger Field in Louisville, Ky., Greater Nevada Field in Reno, Nev., ONEOK Field in Tulsa, Okla., and MCU Park in Brooklyn, N.Y. Yeah, I’m choosing to include the Cosmos in this, mainly because it makes the article longer and a bit more interesting. It also helps examine the claim made by a handful of people that New York sports fans don’t support minor league teams.
For the purposes of this article, we’re comparing average attendance as our key metric. It’s likely the fairest direct comparison that can be made, simply due to the immense number of home games in a baseball season. Total attendance would skew the measurements dramatically in favor of the baseball teams.
As a quick example, we’ll look at the Frisco RoughRiders, the AA affiliate of the Texas Rangers that play a few miles away from FC Dallas. Their average attendance in 2017 was 6,812, which was the highest at the AA level and roughly halfway between the average attendances for the two AAA level leagues in the USA. Compared to FC Dallas’ average of 15,222, the baseball team only averaged 45 percent of what the nearby MLS team did. In total attendance, however, the RoughRiders drew 470,003 fans in 2017, which is only two less than Toronto FC. It’s all down to sample size, and the disproportionate size of a baseball schedule. Hence, average attendance as our metric.
With that, let’s begin.
FNB Field – Harrisburg, Pa.
- Capacity: 6,187
- MiLB: 3,983
- USL: 2,429
This ballpark is home to both the Harrisburg Senators of the AA Eastern League, and Penn FC (formerly known as the Harrisburg City Islanders). In Harrisburg, baseball wins, outdrawing soccer by 64 percent.
Baseball 1-0 Soccer
Louisville Slugger Field – Louisville, Ky.
- Capacity: 13,131
- MiLB: 6,868
- USL: 8,613
This ballpark is home to the AAA International League’s Louisville Bats and Louisville City FC. This time, soccer wins, with Louisville City outdrawing by 25 percent. Additionally, this venue’s all-time attendance record is the 2017 USL Cup Final, with 14,456 in attendance.
Baseball 1-1 Soccer
Greater Nevada Field – Reno, Nev.
- Capacity: 9,013
- MiLB: 4,894
- USL: 5,559
This ballpark is home to the AAA Pacific Coast League’s Reno Aces as well as Reno 1868 FC. Soccer wins again by 14 percent.
Baseball 1-2 Soccer
ONEOK Field – Tulsa, Okla.
- Capacity: 7,833
- MiLB: 5,597
- USL: 3,851
This ballpark is home to the AA Texas League’s Tulsa Drillers as well as the Tulsa Roughnecks. Baseball pulls one back on soccer, drawing 45 percent better than soccer.
Baseball 2-2 Soccer
MCU Park – Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Capacity: 7,000
- MiLB: 5,190
- NASL: 4,891
MCU Park is home to both the Short Season A level New York-Penn League’s Brooklyn Cyclones, and for the 2017 season was also home to the New York Cosmos in the NASL. By six percent, baseball beats soccer in Brooklyn.
Baseball 3-2 Soccer
So, for 2017, baseball won. But with the massive growth of the USL, can it continue? I’ll be tracking this for 2018 and I’m curious to see the result.
Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.
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