1) Football, 2) Baseball, 3) Soccer, 4) Basketball, 5) Hockey
Looking at the above list, dear reader, what could I possibly be ranking? Is it a list of my favorite sports? No - it couldn't be - because team handball, tchoukball, and water polo are noticeably absent. Is it a list of sports from youngest to oldest? I haven't been around long enough to be sure, but I don't believe neanderthals were skating around trying to go five-hole on the goalie. Is a ranking of major sports in order of the circumference of the balls/pucks used? Certainly not, and if you're in this camp, I don't think you're playing baseball correctly.
What if I told you this list above ranks the average attendance per game amongst the major sports leagues in the United States? *Cue the jaw drop*
That's right - this year, Major League Soccer passed the National Basketball Association as the third most attended sports league in the country. The MLS's figure of 17,872 fans per game was enough to eclipse the NBA's 2010-2011 average of 17,319 as well as basketballs current average attendance figure of zero.
Acknowledging that arena capacity certainly plays a part in these rankings, soccer's jump to third is still quite impressive. The most significant factor contributing to soccer's increased popularity is its expansion into strong soccer markets. Arguably, the MLS has seen the most successful expansion of any sports league in American history.
If David Stern and Gary Bettman could pool their BRI and hockey-related revenue, they'd have about $6.5 billion dollars to put towards the development of a time machine so they could go back to the 1980s and 90s and undo all of their stupid expansion decisions. Bill and Ted can come too; it will be an excellent adventure.
The NBA has far too many teams in weak markets, something that is prolonging the lockout substantially. In (somewhat) recent years, we saw the league leave Vancouver, Seattle, and (briefly) Charlotte. In addition, the Hornets have been owned by the league for quite some time and many other teams are losing money. In the NHL, expansion may have been even worse. Bettman exited Canada for bigger (but warmer and less interested) American markets like Phoenix, Carolina, Dallas, and Atlanta. The commissioner has begun to undo his mistakes by moving the Thrashers up to Winnepeg, but many NHL teams are still reeling financially and competitively. Even the NFL has made a few mistakes, like plopping a team down in the middle of WhoCaresVille, Florida.
The MLS, conversely, has seen its expansion teams become its most successful clubs. This is the way that it should be. Why add an expansion team if it's going to be one of the worst attended teams in the league? Since 2007, the league has added four teams, and they all rank in the top half of league attendance: Seattle Sounders FC (#1), Vancouver White Caps FC (#3), Toronto FC (#4), Portland Timbers (#6), Philadelphia Union (#7).
Through methodical and intelligent expansion, the MLS continues to grow. It will add a 19th team in Montreal next season. With the NBA lockout almost certainly squashing the entire 2011-2012 season, there is more room for soccer fans in America than ever. It's hard to believe that for a given contest, the question "Did you go to the game last night?" is being answered "Yes" by more soccer fans than hockey or basketball fans. Ole!