Did Game of Thrones Hurt MLS Attendance? My Investigation:

The SKC Dipshit’s investigative report into some dragons show keeping people away from the parks

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For years, if you liked a show or book or something about Kings and Wizards and Dragons, you were remarkably less cool and worthy than a person who liked a sport. If you knew about the Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog and SaGa Frontier but you didn’t know who Patrick Roy was or what the Memphis Grizzlies did, you were lower on the societal totem pole than somebody who did. That was just the way things were. It was cooler to like a sport than it was to like a fantasy thing. The societal hierarchy went as such, and we accepted it:

  1. Jocks
  2. Nerds

Except all of that changed in 2011 when HBO kicked off Game of Thrones, an action/drama/softcore taboo porn series based on the series of novels by author George R.R. Martin. This groundbreaking work of television, along with Avengers movies, the Walking Dead show which I think is still going, and the Star Wars revival, has completely upended the hierarchy of coolness in American culture over the course of this decade. Currently, we stand with a much more splintered and malleable hierarchy of American coolness, which I will define for us here. 

The final season of Game of Thrones took place between April and May of 2019. According to everyone online, it was not good, and people only stuck around watching it because they’d spent significant chunks of their formative years caring about the world. This is what’s known in some circles as the “Sunk-Cost Fallacy” and in others as “Being a New England Revolution Fan”.

We reached two cultural ends on April 14th, 2019. For one, this was the night of the airing of the first episode of Game of Thrones‘ eighth season, the final time that Game of Thrones fans would sit down to kick off a season of their favorite show.

This was also the night when Sporting Kansas City’s sellout streak ended.

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Sporting Kansas City had sold out 125 consecutive matches at Children’s Mercy Park prior to April 14th. The SKC faithful had been loyal and dedicated for over seven years, starting with a win over the LA Galaxy in April of 2012 (which I’m fairly sure I attended), and… well, ending with a 5-2 curb-stomping at the hands of Mexican club Monterrey on April 11th of 2019. Only a few people over 17,000 attended a sloppy, rain-soaked match which culminated in a 2-2 draw. One unlucky fan was on the receiving end of a Kaku strike. While some might say that the sellout streak was “mostly bullshit anyway”, as several US Open Cup games against USL competition were counted as sellouts despite clear swaths of empty seats, its end was still a culturally saddening moment for the SKC faithful, prompting questions as to why this happened.

Some fans blame the fact that ticket and concession prices were raised once again. Some fans blame the fact that the 10-2 Concacaf Champions League loss completely demoralized both the team and fanbase, leading to a series of poor performances which currently have SKC near the bottom of the MLS table. Others blame one particularly mercurial fan’s move to Southern California during the latter half of 2018.

I, however, am going to take a brave stance. I blame Game of Thrones.

I’ve crunched the numbers. I took the attendance of the seven Sunday night MLS games whose time slot would’ve interfered with the Sunday evening Game of Thrones experience (I was fairly lenient on these. As long as the matches ended around 4-5 PM PST, I counted them, as I assume the commute back from most stadiums might interfere with getting home for the 6 PM PST airing time of Game of Thrones). I compared those numbers to those teams’ 2018 averages. The results are as follows:

MLS versus GOT

Overall, that’s about a thirteen percent decrease in average attendance during games which took place while Game of Thrones was airing. Of those seven games, five of them showed a drop of more than five percent in average attendance. All five of these dips happened at matches at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City and Whatever They’re Calling the Galaxy Stadium Now in Los Angeles County. Sporting KC and Los Angeles Galaxy have been typical strongholds of good attendance in this decade, so the average drop of 18.4% in attendance between the two, I think, is remarkable.

Los Angeles FC is very good this season and has a great in-stadium experience, so the fact that their fans are picking Vela and Diomande over Danaerys Targaryen and John Starks or whoever is not all that surprising to me. FC Dallas are an inexplicable entity, beholden to no laws of culture or nature or whatever societal law states “don’t drive to Frisco for a soccer game”, so I’m not surprised by the way they’ve kept up their numbers as well.

Now, to be fair, 2019’s Sporting KC is ass and Kansas City has been cursed by a vengeful weather god during 2019, and both of those facts can provide ample reasoning for these Sunday night attendance dips. But we didn’t really know that yet during that match against the Red Bulls, to be fair.

The Galaxy, however, are pretty good this season. They’re on track to reach the playoffs, they’re playing entertaining soccer, and they have one of global football’s shining stars as a starter. By all logic, they should be doing as well or better than they were in 2018 with regards to attendance. In fact, the Galaxy had higher attendance numbers in home matches against the Dynamo on Friday, April 19th (21,503) and against the Union (24,053) on Saturday, April 13th than in any of the Sunday night matches which interfered with Game of Thrones.

So, what does all this mean? Probably very little. And I’ve probably just wasted a good chunk of time having just finished the semester and not having a work shift until next Tuesday. But the math has been done. The numbers have been crunched. And the correlation is there: When Game of Thrones was on, MLS attendance numbers dropped, even in places with historically very good attendance. The correlation is there! And as we all know:

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I tweet about soccer at @SKCDipshit on Twitter, I make tweets about normal things at @joebush_joebush on Twitter, and other things are on Facebook, also this is the Ko-Fi if you want to reward my rigorous effort in the science of sports attendance statistics with money. Aleko Escandarian’s second goal in the 2004 MLS Cup final was a handball.

About Joe Bush

The guy behind JoeBush.net and a lot of other things
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