PITTSBURGH – Empty orange seats. It seemed that the Houston Dynamo barely hosted a televised Major League Soccer game this year without being chided with those three words on social media and in the city’s newspaper.
Congested play-off scheduling exacerbated the problem as Houston hosted three games within 10 days, all at short notice. Dynamo president Chris Canetti acknowledges that empty seating reflects poorly on the team. He also contends that overall attendance figures around the league show that Houston is right where it needs to be.
“One of the things people don’t accept is that it’s freaking hot in Houston,” Canetti told The Soccer Observer during last week’s press conference to announce the Dynamo’s partnership with the United Soccer Leagues’ Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
“That’s a factor, so you’re always going to have problems with some seats going unused.”
Houston’s regular-season average of 19,923 dropped 5.2 percent from its inaugural year at BBVA Compass Stadium in 2012. It ranked sixth in MLS this year behind the three Cascadia franchises, the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Montreal Impact. That figure does not include complimentary tickets, according to Canetti, and represents 90 percent of stadium capacity.
The Dynamo clinched its play-off spot on the last day of the 34-game season leaving the front office with four days to sell tickets for the wildcard clash with Montreal on Halloween night. Houston’s 3-0 victory set up an Eastern Conference semi-final first-leg meeting with the New York Red Bulls less than three days later.
A similar circumstance arose after Omar Cummings netted an extra-time winner in the second leg at Red Bull Arena on Nov. 6 to edge Houston into the conference final against Sporting Kansas City.
“We had zero tickets sold when the full-time whistle blew in New York,” Canetti said.
“We had 63 hours to sell the Kansas City game.”
A sellout crowd was announced for the scoreless first leg in Houston to bring the Dynamo’s total attendance for the three play-off games above 53,000.
“It’s actually quite impressive,” Canetti said. “Nobody likes the schedule. I don’t think the league likes it, but they had to do it the way they did this year with FIFA dates and other challenges.”
Another vacant orange space on the chest of the Dynamo’s jerseys has also attracted critics. Houston became one of three MLS teams without a shirt sponsor when Waste Management Inc. acquired Greenstar Recycling shortly before the season began. Greenstar was in the third and final year of a $12.7 million deal and the Dynamo reached a settlement agreement with the company’s new owner.
“We didn’t have a logo on the front of the jersey but we got revenue for it,” Canetti said. “We’re now trying to replace that for next year.
“It’s hard. There’s a lot of dollars on those deals, and we’re trying to find the right company and the right partner.”
The Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes were the two other teams lacking a jersey sponsor this season.
Forbes’ recent valuation of MLS franchises estimated the Dynamo’s worth at $125 million with annual revenue of $33 million, the fourth highest in the league in both categories behind the Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Galaxy and Portland Timbers. Those findings provide Canetti with comfort about his team’s health despite any perceived black marks.
“Our owners are satisfied with where we are at,” he said. “We’re a valuable franchise producing returns for our owners, and we’re building a very fervent fan base.
“We’re going in the right direction.”