12 October 2006

We All Know What Mark Twain Said About Statistics

There has been, in the US Soccer Blogosphere, very little comment on a fairly interesting piece by Mark Zeigler in the San Diego Union-Tribune which says that MLS announced attendance figures are pretty much bunk. There are several interesting things in this piece. First of all, pretty much every team is involved with the possible exception of Chivas USA. The average tune of inflation between tickets distributed and the announced attendance is about 8%, and DC United falls right at that mark. Chicago seems to be one of the worst offenders in this regard. The numbers are for the 2005 season.

Now, first of all, I have no problem with tickets being distributed for free. While I pay for my seats, I do it because I want to be at the game. If someone else can get into the game for free, more power to them.

I also don't have a problem with MLS and their teams massaging the numbers as they see fit. First, as Zeigler noted in a seperate article months before, this sort of thing is not uncommon. I have no doubt that the announced number comes from somewhere and includes some dubious counting (such as comps), but I do have a problem if MLS has no idea where the number comes from. That speaks to an organization having little control of its data, and MLS should have very precise knowledge of how many tickets were sold, comped, vouchered, etc... and be able to, if nothing else, internally understand that data. If they can't do that, and put out an explanation as to how they get their announced attendence figure, it makes me concerned about not just the validity of those statistics, but the validity of their internal data and financial controls. I'm not saying MLS needs to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley, but if I'm in a growing league that is in some intense competition for the marginal entertainment dollar, I damn well want to know everything about how the crowds are created. What worries me is the idea that MLS might not know, that they just got an answer and have been going with it. That worries me. Especially since the more I/Os we have are just going to place more strain on the single-entity structure, so establishing these standards so that, if nothing else, a defined truth can be discovered, if only within MLS Headquarters, becomes a necessity.