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Soccer Beating Baseball to Ticket-Buyers

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Depending on where sports fans live, the Boys of Summer may not be on the diamond but on the pitch.

So far this season, nine of the 18 teams in Major League Soccer are outdrawing Major League Baseball teams in average attendance. The Houston Dynamo's more than 17,000 fans per game, the Philadelphia Union's 18,180 average and the New York Red Bulls' 18,200 regular attendees are all a better draw than the Florida Marlins, who are drawing an average of only 16,975 to their home games. Toronto FC has been in the league for only four years, but its average attendance of 19,900 is 1,000 per game shy of baseball's Toronto Blue Jays, while the Los Angeles Galaxy's 22,200 puts it ahead of eight teams in Major League Baseball.

Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil heads down the field as Toronto FC's Ty Harden defends during the first half of an MLS soccer game Saturday in Sandy, Utah. Nine of the 18 teams in Major League Soccer are outdrawing Major League Baseball teams in average attendance.

The MLS attendance figures are even more impressive in places where soccer is outdrawing major league baseball teams in their own city. Since moving to their new home at soccer-specific LiveStrong Sporting Park earlier this year, Sporting Kansas City has drawn nearly 19,200 fans to every home game. The same can't be said for the Royals, who are struggling to bring roughly 18,600 fans out to games.

"Major League Soccer is the new kid on the block. We've only been around 16 years compared to Major League Baseball, which has been around for 142 years, and other leagues that have been around for decades," says Dan Courtemanche, executive vice president of Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing. "We don't necessarily have the tradition in all of our markets that some of the major sports leagues in this country do, but we are fortunate that in some of our markets, including Seattle and Portland, there's a tradition dating back to the North American Soccer League that's carrying over into MLS."

One of those former NASL teams getting a big boost is the Portland Timbers, which had its initial run from 1975 through 1982, hung on as F.C. Portland in the Western Soccer League from 1985 through 1990 and re-emerged as the Timbers in the USL from 2000 through last year. The team was bought by Merritt Paulson and his father, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and has been averaging 18,627 fans per game during its first MLS season at refurbished and soccer-specific Jeld-Wen Field. That average attendance figure is already better than the crowds of fewer than 18,600 that attend Marlins, Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays games.
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