This year's Black & Gold squad has been blazing a trail on the field, no doubt, but Crew fans have come together in 2014 to set a new record of their own. With the current amount of tickets sold for Sunday's match against Philadelphia, the Crew is set to break the all-time club record for total attendance in a single year at Crew Stadium.
The record attendance for MLS matches in Crew Stadium was 283,129 in 1999. Including tickets sold for this Sunday's encounter, the Crew is currently projecting total end-of-year attendance of at least 284,000, which will set a new record.
It's another terrific point of progress for a club which has led MLS in average attendance growth since the 2011 season, with a total increase of 38.5% since that season, an impressive figure considering that the growth came over a span of seasons where the Black & Gold qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs just once. Overall, the club attendance is up 5% this season after rising nearly 12% from 2012 to 2013 (leading the League) and just over 18% from 2011 to 2012.
"What do we attribute the growth to? The experience at the stadium and the product on the field has helped, no doubt about it," said Mike Malo, the Crew's Sr. Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. "As we continue to improve the experience, Gregg [Berhalter] has continued to back the home-field advantage with us playing well at home. When you look at things like sellouts this year, breaking that record with five, that says a lot about the marketplace and there's a strong understanding and appreciation for our game."
The Black & Gold have continued to make improvements to the squad, both internal and external, with the biggest change being the impending brand evolution to Columbus Crew SC. According to Malo, improvements like that have led to fans becoming more emotionally connected with the squad, key to the surge.
"There's been good momentum with attendance, the experience with the team, the brand, focusing on the fan experience – all of those things have helped build the momentum," said Malo.
Also behind the significant growth has been the hard work of a dedicated staff.
"Our sales and marketing departments have done a great job talking to the right people and creating value for our product," said Malo. "We provide a great value for a professional sports experience. The theme nights and group programs have been really strong this season – we're going to reach that top tier in group sales across the league this year."
As of mid-October, the Crew currently ranks fifth in average group tickets per match and sixth in average individual sales in MLS. The club is also up 25% year-to-date in Season Ticket Membership renewals, a figure that places it three months ahead of schedule in that regard.
“Everything is lining up for continued growth heading into 2015, which is very encouraging for the club,” Malo said.