Mike Koeshartanto

Where Do MLS Expansion Cities Rank in Our Soccer Market Rankings?

Early in 2016 we did a deep dive into soccer markets in the U.S. and ranked them based on a variety of factors, including participation, attendance, television viewing, social chatter, etc. Just before the New Year, in a conversation about the league’s plans for future expansion, MLS released a list of ten markets seen as viable markets for future franchises. Where do those ten markets fall on our list of top markets?

Below is a table with a few of the factors that went into our rankings, including youth and adult soccer participation, soccer TV ratings, and aggregate attendance at professional soccer events.

Market GESM Rank Soccer Participation TV Ratings Aggregate Attendance
San Diego 9 9 4 46
San Antonio 11 19 15 18
Raleigh 19 11 15 31
Sacramento 24 38 14 46
Nashville 35 32 59 48
Tampa 39 53 51 37
Charlotte 44 70 36 23
St. Louis 50 57 33 29
Detroit 54 28 46 30
Cincinnati 56 42 34 48


These rankings do not take into consideration the infrastructure of a market (i.e. financial backing/ownership group) and the above table only illustrates a small portion of the number of factors that make up our market rankings, but there are some interesting takeaways, nonetheless.

  • San Diego has very high participation numbers and soccer TV ratings, but the lack of a high-level professional team hurts their aggregate attendance.
  • San Antonio is the most consistent of the bunch in our rankings, helped in part by the Scorpions and the consistent hosting of international matches.
  • Raleigh has high participation numbers and TV ratings, but North Carolina FC (formerly the Carolina RailHawks) attendance numbers aren’t enough to boost them.
  • Sacramento has high TV ratings, but outside of Sacramento Republic FC, there aren’t many additional opportunities to boost their aggregate attendance.
  • Charlotte would be higher in the rankings if they didn’t have the lowest participation numbers of the ten markets.
  • Nashville, Tampa, St. Louis, Detroit, and Cincinnati are all fairly entrenched in the 30-60 range for each of the three factors.

Of the four markets in our top 30, San Antonio, Raleigh, and Sacramento all currently have a lower level team in U.S. Soccer’s pyramid. Interestingly, CONCACAF recently announced the 2017 Gold Cup host locations and San Diego, Nashville, Tampa, and San Antonio all made the cut. The U.S. Men’s National Team will also be playing their first match of 2017 in San Diego.

With the rise of Cincinnati and Nashville as markets within the past year, the St. Louis Rams franchise leaving for Los Angeles, stadium proposals in Tampa, and the continued growth of soccer nationally, it will be interesting to see where these ten markets rank when we refresh our market rankings in the coming months.

Categories: Attendance, Domestic, Featured, Major League Soccer, Research