Attendance Numbers Have Some Concerned but Not NSC Stars Front Office
Big Soccer, IMS and several other websites seem to have some supporters of the USSF D-2 Pro League concerned that the new NSC Stars soccer team is not drawing well enough after three games to support the team long term.
The numbers for the first three games were 2,310 for the opener, 627 for a Wednesday evening game with poor weather conditions and a cool Saturday evening of 753 for an average of 1,230. Looking around the league Crystal Palace Baltimore has played 2 games and are averaging 1,050. Miami FC, who has a history of anemic attendance, is averaging 1,368 – just 138 more than the Minnesota Stars. Yet the Stars seemed to be the center of attendance concern, including persistent rumors of other teams within the league concerned with Minnesota’s attendance numbers.
“I don’t think its fair to base an argument on our attendance on the first 3 games of the season with this situation,” said Kris Bjerkness, General Manager of the team. “We have 12 more games to play. I think to base criticism of attendance on the first week of the season is kind of harsh.”
Bjerkness was asked if there is any panic with the NSC front office over the low numbers; he replies, “Not at all! The former pro team here, the Thunder, rarely if ever played a home game in April and many times the home league schedule started in mid-May. In a sense we’re a little bit out the cycle of that past.”
Looking back on past Thunder schedules it was rare for the team to have any home games in April let alone 3. The Thunder sometimes didn’t open their season until mid-May and Bjerkness says he remembers a year when they didn’t start until the NSC Cup youth tournament which is in late May.
As well, Bjerkness says this was a special year with the team just starting and the friction in the league between the USL and NASL and trying to put together a schedule which was not easy. “The compromises that we made in regard to schedules was to help the league. No one else has played 6 games in the first 21 days of the season. In a sense we (NSC) became the relief valve in making the schedule work for the rest of the league. Playing 3 home games in one week early in the season was helping the league as a whole.”
However, in return the NSC was able to schedule home games around every youth tournament that they will put on this summer including 2 games during the world famous Schwan’s USA Cup. The Stars front office said early on that they believed they could market those Stars games to the tournament participants better than the Thunder could because they run the tournaments and have lots of experience in marketing to those youth tournaments. Those tournaments will start in late May and continue through mid-July with the conclusion of the Schwan’s USA Cup.
Barclay Kruse, Media Director for the team, says that the NSC decided purposely not to “front load” things like the underwriting of 89.3 The Current alternative radio station, but instead chose to delay some of that for when the weather was nicer. “We didn’t want to execute some things that would attract the casual fan and have them show up in the last week of April when there was a chance they could hit some chilly and windy weather, which is exactly what we had,” said Kruse. “I’d rather wait and have them come in May, June and July when it could be a lot nicer.”
Building a team in 3 to 4 months seems to have been an amazing feat even if you are a critic of the team and the Stars GM says they just didn’t have the time to pre-sell the season the way they would have ordinarily done. “We had a pretty short sales cycle in those first three games,” said Bjerkness as he pointed out that they have put together a pro team in three and half months time.
Kruse said his department has a lot of things that are still sitting on the “to-do” list as they have been putting in long days just to get the team up and running. He expects the summer interns to be arriving from college soon which he will then put to work on some of the projects that he believes will help attendance. “These are all things that will fall into place at some point in the season and will really flush out in years to come,” said Kruse.
Kruse said there are some promotions coming in future games to groups like the Sanneh Foundation, Minnesota Foster Families and an Armed Forces Promotion which they believe will help their numbers.
IMS has also learned from several sources that the USSF has asked each team to not pad their numbers this year but give accurate counts on attendance. Which means all teams may be down from past years. The Minnesota Thunder were notorious for heavily padding their attendance numbers. Bjerkness says that the team just wants to be honest with the fans in general and he promises that the attendance numbers will be accurate in portraying the numbers of fans at games.
Kruse agreed and said that honest head counts are a goal of the organization this year. He said that the ticket systems they have put in place has had a few snafus so far and that they are still working those out for accurate numbers. But he believes they are getting a handle on it as they move forward.
It’s widely believed in Division-2 soccer that in order to cover travel expenses, most teams need to draw over 5,000 fans per home game to break even and cover their costs. However, with the NSC owning their own stadium (which is paid for) and with so much of the staff already in place, Bjerkness says that the organization only needs to draw between 2,000 and 3,000 per home game to hit the break even number for this year.
“Of course I would have liked to have more people here at the first number of games but I’m also realistic,” said Bjerkness. “With that said we still have some work to do, obviously. We now have a breather here where we can start to work on more group and promotion sales. I’m optimistic and think we’re going to get there.”
The Stars have their first full week of training with no midweek games since their opener in Vancouver on April 11th. They will play next Saturday in Montreal on May 8th and then have another full week of training before hosting the Miami FC Blues on May 15th. Expect the NSC staff to be working hard to bolster the attendance numbers for that Saturday evening game.