Pitch Perfect: MLS Stadium Fan Experience Ratings

by | Oct 9, 2018 | Lloyd Brown, MLS Soccer, News |

Major League Soccer (MLS) has seen great growth in recent years, as several expansion teams have been added, with more scheduled for the 2019 season. The league is well balanced, with close competition in the points race.

Now that the season has drawn to a close, we are pleased to release our 2018 MLS Stadium Fan Experience Ratings. Our ratings are based on the FANFARE system, which considers seven different aspects of the fan experience. Once you’ve had a chance to check out our ratings, we invite you to share your opinions and thoughts in the Rate It section found at the bottom of each review. The rankings resulted in several ties, as most of the stadiums are of recent construction and are soccer-specific in design.

We had four teams (Atlanta, Portland, Orlando and Kansas City) tied for first place in our ratings:

Atlanta United, Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Exterior of Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Photo by Steve Allen

The combination of the world’s most technologically advanced stadium, a successful team and a record breaking fan base helped Atlanta United claim a portion of the top spot in our ratings.

Portland Timbers, Providence Park

Providence Park Main Entrance

Providence Park Main Entrance, Photo by Sean Rowland Stadium Journey

While Atlanta plays in one of the newest stadiums in the league, Providence Park proves that age is not a barrier to a great fan experience. Built in 1926, the home of the Timbers has successfully blended in recent renovations without taking away the historic character of the venue. It is our second pitch to finish atop the ratings.

Orlando City SC, Orlando City Stadium

Orlando City Stadium, View from Lower Level

Orlando City Stadium, View from Lower Level, Photo by Chris Green, Stadium Journey

Despite the stadium’s bland name, Orlando City Stadium is one of the most colorful stadiums in the MLS. It is a purple masterpiece, with 49 seats done in rainbow hues in memory of those lost in the Pulse nightclub shootings.

Sporting KC, Children’s Mercy Park

Children's Mercy Park Pitch

Children’s Mercy Park Pitch, Photo by Cory Sims Stadium Journey

Located in the vibrant Village West entertainment district. Sporting KC proclaims itself the “Soccer Capital of America.”  While that may or may not be true, we know that its Cauldron supporters group helped earn it a piece atop our list.

Seattle’s CenturyLink Field claimed second place in our ratings:

Seattle Sounders, CenturyLink Field

As one of two MLS teams utilizing NFL stadiums as their home pitch, the Sounders have lots of seats to fill. The club pioneered the creation of supporters groups in the U.S., creating a massive fan base in the Emerald City. The other MLS teams have taken note, with very successful results

Vancouver comes in third place in our ratings:

Vancouver Whitecaps, BC Place

The first Canadian team in the MLS also faces the dilemma of filling its massive stadium. The Whitecaps use draping over the second deck at BC place to create a more intimate setting. They are also the first team in the league with a retractable roof, providing their fans with a comfortable viewing environment in Vancouver’s ever-changing weather.

DC United and Toronto FC tied for fourth place in our ratings:

DC United, Audi Field

Audi Field is the newest stadium in the MLS, with a 2018 debut. It scored highly for its extra legroom and staggered seating patterns that provide unobstructed views of the pitch. The concessions offered at Audi Field are also cited as a great improvement over their former stadium.

Toronto FC, BMO Field

Toronto FC continues to expand it stadium to keep up with the demand and now seats 30,000. Its supporter groups reflect the diversity of Toronto’s metropolitan area, and they play a major role in the growth of the fan base.

Coming in at fifth place are FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake City:

FC Dallas, Toyota Stadium

Tailgating is a major part of the FC Dallas fan experience, drawing fans from throughout the DFW Metroplex to the stadium in Frisco. A strong concession program also earns a lot of positive comments from their fans.

Real Salt Lake City, Rio Tinto Stadium

Soccer in Utah has taken on a Spanish League flavor. The stadium is known locally as the Riot (as in RioT for Rio Tinto). Despite being the smallest market in the MLS, Real Salt Lake City draws between 18,000 – 20,000 fans per game.

LA Galaxy and Minnesota United FC take the sixth position in our rankings:

LA Galaxy, StubHub Center

As one of the original 10 teams in the MLS, LA Galaxy has a long and proud history, which it shares through exhibits along the concourses of its stadium. The team originally played in the 100,000 seat Rose Bowl, but has relocated to the soccer-specific StubHub Center in a LA suburb.

Minnesota United FC, TCF Bank Stadium

The Loons are the only MLS team calling a college football stadium home – the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium. One unique tradition after a Minnesota United win is the fans serenade the team with Oasis’ “Wonderwall.”  The Loons will be relocating to the brand new soccer- specific Allianz Field in 2019.

Los Angeles FC claimed our seventh spot:

Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles FC

Even with the premium areas offered to the high rollers, and in L.A., there are plenty of them, the excitement in the stands and particularly among the support groups is nothing short of electric.

There is a two-way tie between Philadelphia Union and the Montreal Impact for out eighth spot:

Philadelphia Union, Talen Energy Stadium

Philadelphia Union’s Talen Energy Stadium has one of the most dramatic backdrops in the MLS, as it sits in the shadows of the Commodore Barry Bridge along the Delaware River. The Union’s concessions program scores well, as it offers many of the specialty foods that Philadelphia is known for.

Montreal Impact, Stade Saputo

Stade Saputo is in Montreal’s Parc Olympique, next door to the iconic Olympic Stadium. The Impact is in a multiyear renovation of its home, with improvements to its concourse, the concessions area and the seating bowl. Fans recommend the poutine and the Montreal Smoked Meat sandwiches very highly.

Four MLS franchises (Houston Dynamo, Colorado Rapids, New York Red Bulls and San Jose Earthquakes) finished in the ninth position:

Houston Dynamo, BBVA Compass Stadium

BBVA Compass Stadium score very well in the areas of sight lines, fan energy and food and drink offerings. Its location near both Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center make it a great candidate for a long sports-related getaway weekend to the Houston area.

Colorado Rapids, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park

The Colorado Rapids home pitch is part of the largest soccer complex in the world. It is surrounded by 24 soccer fields that are open to the public. A unique pedestrian bridge links the tow sidelines and is a popular viewing spot above the action. Don’t expect silly promotions and loud music at this venue… soccer is the total focus!

New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Arena

The Red Bulls are the first corporately owned team in the MLS. Red Bull Arena differs from most of the other MLS facilities as it is circular in nature and has a more encased design. Not surprisingly, it offers multiple flavors of Red Bull Energy drinks at its concession stands.

San Jose Earthquakes, Avaya Stadium

Avaya Stadium utilizes food trucks to offer a wide variety of food through its concessions program. Another unique feature of the stadium are sideline suites located just a few feet from the action at field level.

The Chicago Fire takes our tenth spot:

Chicago Fire, Toyota Park

The Chicago Fire’s winning ways seem to be extinguished when they left Chicago for the suburbs. On the good side, Toyota Park offers great sight lines and an expansive menu in the concessions area. However, losing seasons, metal bleachers and a lengthy commute from Chicago have been turnoffs for Fire fans.

The Columbus Crew FC holds our eleventh position:

Columbus Crew FC, Mapfre Stadium

Mapfre Stadium holds the distinction of being the first soccer-specific stadium in the MLS. It offers a picturesque view of the downtown Columbus skyline. At press time, there is a possibility of the team being sold or relocated to Austin, Texas.

Coming in at the twelfth position is the New England Revolution:

New England Revolution, Gillette Stadium

Sharing Gillette Stadium with the New England Patriots is far from the ideal situation for the Revolution. The size of the stadium and the distance from their fan base in Boston both work to their detriment. The team has made no secret of their desire to build a soccer-specific stadium closer in to the city. Until a new venue materializes, Gillette Stadium serves as little more than an adequate home for the team.

Our thirteenth and final position is taken by New York City FC:

New York City FC, Yankee Stadium

New York FC is jointly owned by Manchester City and the New York Yankees. Not surprisingly, the home pitch is Yankee Stadium, making NYFC the only MLS team playing in a baseball stadium. Unfortunately, the configuration of a baseball stadium does not work for soccer, as one sideline of the soccer field is quite distant from an entire side of the stadium. Also, the constant need to re-sod the infield areas for a soccer game results in a less than professional playing surface. NYFC has also been forced to move their games to another location due to scheduling conflicts with the Yankees. When NYFC began play, there was an assumption that a soccer-specific stadium would be constructed in one of the greater NY boroughs. That has not happened. The team is actively scouting potential sites in the area for a new stadium of their own to be built.

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