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Published: Aug 17, 2016 4 min read
Sporting Kansas City v Seattle Sounders
The Seattle Sounders consistently attract the most fans of any team in the MLS.
Otto Greule Jr—Getty Images

Sports enthusiasts may find the results of a first-ever Fan Experience Study from J.D. Power to be surprising. The top overall fan experience doesn't take place in any NFL stadium or NBA or NHL arena. It's not provided by any Major League Baseball park either.

Instead, according to the survey, Major League Soccer came out as the overall top-performing league. How could this be? Isn't MLS the least popular of the major pro sports in America?

Well, actually, average per-game attendance at MLS matches surpasses that of pro basketball and hockey in the U.S. But because there are fewer MLS teams and they play fewer games than, say, the NHL, the latter has a huge edge on overall attendance—roughly 21 million tickets sold per season, or three times more than the MLS total of about 7 million.

In any event, things like ticket sales and fan enthusiasm aren't factored in to J.D. Power's study. Instead, the report ranks teams based on customer satisfaction categories such as the comfort of sitting and watching the action, how smooth and easy (or not) it is to arrive and leave at games, the quality and value of food, beverages, and souvenirs, the ticket purchasing procedure, and the all-important factor of "security and ushers."

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"Additional factors that were measured—but not included in the official ranking—were loyalty and future intentions; team performance (on-field); and team image," the J.D. Power report noted.

But why weren't they factored in? Doesn't team performance reflect on the overall quality of the fan experience? Aren't the loyalty of fans and the likelihood of their return solid indications of how good the customer experience is?

The researchers have an explanation for why the factors above were excluded. "We know the food tastes a little better and drinks taste a little colder when the home team is winning, but we stripped away fan emotion and evaluated which teams excel in providing fans the best at-game experience, regardless of the final score,” said Greg Truex, senior director at J.D. Power.

And Truex noted that it's the MLS teams that are doing a better job than the other leagues at providing fans with the best bang for the buck. “It’s clear that forward-looking teams, like those in MLS, are harnessing their opportunity to create positive fan experiences across the full spectrum of touch points and are, in turn, shifting share of wallet,” said Truex.

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The MLS's New York Red Bulls scored the highest in the study of any metropolitan area pro team, while the Chicago Fire also ranked ahead of all other pro sports in its city for customer satisfaction. In Los Angeles and Houston, the other big cities included in the study, the local MLS teams ranked second for fan experience.