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Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League usually aren’t the most popular sports talked about by fans, and for good reason, since they are considered “minor” sports in the U.S. But, not so when it comes to the J.D. Power 2017 Fan Experience Study.
The second annual study measures fan satisfaction with their overall experience at major pro sporting events across seven factors (in order of importance): seating area and game experience; security and ushers; leaving the game; arriving at the game; food and beverage; ticket purchase; and souvenirs and merchandise.
In last year’s inaugural study, only teams in the nation’s four largest markets—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston—were evaluated. This year, the Bay Area, Boston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Philadelphia, South Florida, and Washington, D.C. have been added, while Los Angeles has been expanded to include all of Southern California.
The big takeaway from this year’s study is that Major League Soccer or National Hockey League teams perform highest in 10 of the 11 markets included in the study and that NFL teams perform at the bottom of every market.
Think about that for a moment! Pretty heady stuff when it comes to the fan experience.
The Houston Dynamo, Los Angeles Galaxy, New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, and Philadelphia Union scored highest in their respective markets, while the Chicago Fire, FC Dallas, and San Jose Earthquakes scored second highest. The only MLS teams that buck the trend of rabid fan satisfaction are the Colorado Rapids and New York City Football Club (third) and DC United (fourth).
What’s more, the study finds that an NFL team performs at the bottom in every market. Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins scored lowest in fan satisfaction in each market.
“We know franchises and clubs with winning records generally do not have problems filling seats, but this study is about finding out which teams are giving their fans the best experience for their dollar,” said Greg Truex, Senior Director, Sports Research at J.D. Power. “Whether a team is a perennial champion, a contender or is accumulating draft picks to build for the future, they all need to find ways to get people through the turnstiles.
The teams at the top of their markets understand what it takes to keep fans coming back for more, as well as recommending the experience to friends and family, regardless of the standings.
Truex added: “These results have to make NFL teams sit up and take notice—particularly when coupled with their sagging TV ratings. The league needs to learn what is influencing their low scores and how they can be improved so that pro football is able to retain its overwhelming popularity.”
The study also examines potential causes for the recent ratings declines in football viewership and finds encouraging trends for the NFL. More than a quarter of the respondents (27 percent) say they actually watched more football this year, compared to the previous season, and 62 percent say their viewership stayed the same. Just 12 percent say they watched less NFL games than in the past.
Here are the report’s key findings by market:
Enter the tank: The San Jose Sharks (788) score highest in the market, beating out the San Jose Earthquakes (787) in the closest regional race in the study.
Splash druthers: As the Warriors get ready to move back to San Francisco from Oakland—becoming the first NBA team to sell personal seat licenses (PSLs)—the team hopes to move up from its fifth-place performance (757) in 2017, which is dragged down by low food and beverage scores (699).
Patriots not “doing their job”: While most would think the New England Patriots, winners of two of the past three Super Bowls, would rule Beantown, it’s the Revolution that takes home the top score for overall fan experience (804). The Patriots scored fifth highest (758).
Views and security lead the Revolution: The Revolution gets high scores in the seating (829) and security (829) factors to lead them to the top-scoring spot in this market.
Fenway Franks not cutting it: A poor performance in the food and beverage factor (715) helps bring the Red Sox down to the third-lowest score in the five-team Boston market.
Sweeter on the south side: The White Sox (809) jumped to the top of overall fan experience scores in the Chicago market, knocking the Fire (806) off its perch from last year and making it the only MLB team to rank highest in the study across all markets.
Hey, hey, what’s with the champs?: The Cubs (767) had a storybook season in 2016, but the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field still aren’t living up to fan expectations, particularly when it comes to the food and beverage experience (695).
The Stars at night are big and bright: The Stars (806) gets high performances in ticketing (824), arrival to the stadium (798), food and beverage (751), and leaving the stadium (773) to score at the top in the Dallas/Fort Worth market.
Lacking the luster: A billion-dollar stadium just doesn’t buy what it used to, and for Cowboys fans, the luster has worn off the venue that holds 100,000. The Cowboys (784) score fifth in this market.
Avalanche of enjoyment: It was a historically bad year for the Avalanche last season, but fans are enjoying the effort Nathan MacKinnon and his teammates are making to build the next Golden Age of Colorado hockey. The Avs are bolstered in the 2017 study by high scores in arriving at the game (776), seating area and game experience (821) and food and beverage (741).
In-Com-Plete!: Despite fans’ fervent love of the Broncos in Denver, John Elway’s bunch scores fifth in this market (754), just narrowly beaten out by the Nuggets (758).
Movin’ on up: The Dynamo (814) jumps from the second-highest performance last year to score the market’s top honors.
We have a problem: Just one year after grabbing the top spot in terms of study scores, the Rockets (794) drop to third this year.
Astro orbiter: The other club to outperform the Rockets is the Astros (796), which posts the second-highest score in this market. It’s just more good news for a team that is cruising to the American League Western Division crown this season.
New York is red…again: For the second consecutive year, the Red Bulls (819) score highest in the New York market, barely beating out the New Jersey Devils (813). That means big bragging rights for the Red Bulls because not only are they enjoying a hold on the top-scoring spot in the study’s New York market, but they also outperform archrival NYCFC (794), good for the third-highest score in the market, which is included in the study for the first time this year.
Islanders are fans happier with Barclays Center: The Islanders may not be in Barclays Center for much longer, but as long as they are, fans are starting to embrace the arena at Atlantic and Flatbush. In last year’s study, the Nets scored second in the market, with the Isles fifth, reflecting the discrepancy between the basketball and hockey experiences. But this year, after Barclays Center management tried to address some of Islanders fans’ concerns, the Isles improved to fourth (786), actually beating out their co-tenants (783).
MetLife-less: The Jets (738) score at the bottom in the New York market, but their co-tenants at MetLife Stadium don’t fare much better. The Giants (752) are just marginally ahead, with both teams getting slammed in the food and beverage and ease of leaving experiences at the Meadowlands.
The Union rings the bell: The Union takes the top-scoring spot in the Philly market, aided by top performances in stadium arrival at the game, and seating area and game experience.
Another reason to boo: There was no road to victory for the E-A-G-L-E-S in this year’s study, whose score of 701 puts them in fifth. The next closest team in the Philadelphia market is the Flyers, which scores 51 points higher (752).
Trust the process: Despite years of tanking, the Sixers still score a respectable 759 points, proving it’s possible to provide fans with a good experience even in the face of on-court failures.
The few, the proud: While the Panthers finished 26th among the 30 NHL teams in attendance, the crowds the team did draw were very satisfied with their experience. Satisfaction among Panthers fans (813) is higher than it is among Marlins fans (807).
Dolphins canned: Being the legacy team in Miami doesn’t score the Dolphins any points, as they performed lowest in each of the factors.
Galaxy goes duck hunting: The Los Angeles Galaxy (815), which was second in last year’s study, scores highest this year, while the 2016 J.D. Power award recipient—the Anaheim Ducks—drops to fourth (780).
Honor thy fathers: With the expansion of the market to include the San Diego teams, the Padres (780) put in an impressive debut performance, thanks to a big seating score (815). The Chargers, which has bolted out of San Diego for Los Angeles, comes in at 746, out-scoring only the L.A. Dodgers and Rams.
Battering Rams: The horror stories about finding food and water and a jam-packed concourse at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum were easy to find last season, which is reflected in the Rams’ inaugural L.A. score (720).
The Caps top the Capitol: The Caps top the market in the seating area and game experience, security, and ushers, as well as leaving the game.
D.C. divided on United: D.C. United (752) is the lowest-scoring MLS team across all the markets included in the study and comes in fourth in the D.C. market behind the Capitals (797), Wizards (787) and Nationals (764).
Lack of nat-itude: Nationals Ballpark is the newest of the D.C. venues, but it doesn’t prevent the reigning National League Eastern Division champions from finishing behind the fan experiences at Verizon Center for both the Caps and Wizards and just barely ahead of United’s ancient RFK Stadium, the Nationals’ former home.
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