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Rhode Island is the Perfect Market for a Professional Soccer Team

Rhode Island is the Perfect Market for USL team

With the announcement of a downtown Pawtucket soccer stadium has to come to the reality check of can it succeed. According to the announcement of the project the venue will seat 7,500 fans and the team that will anchor the stadium will be apart of their USL Championship league.

For those not familiar with the American soccer system that is the second tier in structure beneath MLS. Unlike the Minor League Baseball system, however, the connection between the second tier and the first-tier (MLS) isn’t as direct. For example, an MLS team can have a USL team but the bulk of USL teams are unaffiliated. Even with an unaffiliated team though MLS players can be loaned to a USL team usually to gain them more playing time. 

From a Rhode Island perspective, there isn’t much to base it on in terms of potential attendance. Last season Triple-A Pawtucket drawled on average 5,254 fans per year last season. That average, however, was a low for the franchise -12% to the previous year and -29% from five years prior. A lot of factors played into that decline (e.i. Stadium amenities, public perception of the team, and trend of the sport) and it is hard to draw a comparison between baseball attendance and potential soccer attendance.


However, down in Newport Rhode Island, a Summer Collegiate baseball team called the Gulls posted 15% year-over-year growth and up 3% from five years prior. For a third Ocean State comparison, the AHL Providence Bruins have averaged north of 7,000 fans every season since 2010-11 but have seen year-over-year declines in their average for the past three seasons. 

Revolution, MLS, and USL All Posting Negative Attendance Trend

If other sports aren’t a fair comparison there are a number of professional soccer relegated options in the New England area. The closest pro-soccer venue is at Gillette Stadium where the New England Revolution play. The Revolution posted a rough 2019 attendance average dropping 8.8% front the previous year. Their average in 2019 was 17,783 fans totaling out to 284,535 fans across 17 regular season matches. Now there are some pundits that look at the Revolution’s attendance decline over the past five years and see that as a sign that a Pawtucket USL team couldn’t draw. But that take is simply incorrect and ill-informed. The Revolution’s attendance decline is driven by the team’s lack of success of the pitch. Once they started to win matches again in the second half of 2019 the fans returned to the stands in droves.  Simply put, the product on the field matters. 

As a whole MLS saw a -3% year-over-year trend. While Pawtucket doesn’t play a game until 2022 the rival for the team could be already sitting down I-95. The Hartford Athletic FC which just completed its inaugural season was able to average 5,025 fans which ranked 12th out of 36 teams. In totality, Hartford was able to attract 85,244 fans across 17 home matches. As a league USL Championship averaged 4,476 fans per match in 2019 down from 4,916 the previous season but some of that can be attributed by three additional expansion teams being added in 2019.

Trend of the Sport in the United States 

Overall 2019 was an odd year for American soccer. Attendance was down in both MLS and USL, and the MLS national television numbers also dropped. On the flip side, the NWSL posted record-high attendance and the Women’s World Cup was a hit for the sport. Expansion continues to be rampant across MLS and USL, the priors franchise fees are now in the hundreds of millions. Currently, the expansion fees are propping up the leagues with many franchises continuing to not turn a profit.  

The sport of soccer is growing, but the balance between the favoritism between the foreign and domestic product is consistently moving. In addition to competing with foreign leagues for eyeballs, the domestic leagues have a tendency to pillage each other’s geographic locations and oversaturate markets. 

Rhode Island already has a strong soccer base

Rhode Islanders love soccer. Consistently the Providence media market ranks in the top ten in the United States when it comes to nationally broadcasted soccer matches. In the 2017-18 Premier League season the Providence market ranked 4th nationally in NBC’s broadcasts of the matches. That came in behind Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond.

With that being said, the soccer market as a whole in Rhode Island shouldn’t be considered top 5 material when it comes to the domestic product. According to Gilted Edge, a Soccer Marketing group, the Providence market ranked 37th in the nation in 2018. The group’s study focuses more on the domestic product (MLS, USL, NWSL, etc.) and as a comparison, the Boston market ranked 23rd in their study.

That being said all of the market data does support the notion that a 7,500 seat stadium in Pawtucket should have the necessary fan base to draw regularly. Overall the key in any new sports team is to connect with the local market and build a strong base.

Need for additional events

The main problem that I see with the stadium is as of this moment the only team that will play there is the USL Championship side. Overall there will be a serious need to be other events at the venue. Personally, my preference would be to attract a professional women soccer team to the venue.

Pawtucket will have options outside of soccer. It could be local sports, concerts, and other events. Another possibility is the Boston Cannons. The Cannons who currently play at Veterans Memorial Stadium could be looking for a long-term home by 2022. Plenty of options and candidly the artificial turf portion of the venue will make it far more versatile than a baseball stadium.

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Written By

Tanner founded Trifecta Sports in Spring of 2016 and has grown it from a blog into a multi-faceted media entity. He covers the New England Revolution, Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston Cannons, New England Patriots, and the Providence College Friars.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John

    December 9, 2019 at 7:50 AM

    I’m a Rev’s fan but I would still drive from MA to see a team in Pawtucket and I would support them!

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