More than 90,000 fans attended games in Week 1 of the 2019 USL Championship season, the most in the league's history, as all four expansion sides including Memphis 901 FC welcomed sellout crowds. | Photo courtesy Memphis 901 FC
TAMPA, Fla. – There has never been an opening weekend like it.
Powered by sellout crowds at the four USL Championship expansion clubs hosting their inaugural matches over Saturday and Sunday’s action, the league welcomed a record 91,425 fans across 17 games – kicking off the biggest season in the Championship’s history with a bang.
Leading the way was New Mexico United, which set a USL Championship Week 1 record with a sellout crowd of 12,896 as fans flocked to Isotopes Park to welcome the club. Albuquerque native Devon Sandoval – who last June was unveiled as the club’s first signing – claimed the honor of being the first goalscorer in NMU’s history as the hosts earned their first point in a 1-1 draw against Fresno FC.
Sellout crowds were also on hand for the debuts for Memphis 901 FC and El Paso Locomotive FC on Saturday night. With USL President Jake Edwards present, 901 FC brought a crowd of 8,062 fans to AutoZone Park for its inaugural contest against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, while Locomotive FC had a crowd of 8,324 at Southwest University Park as it squared off with OKC Energy FC.
“This is the most exciting start to a Championship season we’ve ever seen,” said Edwards. “From the fireworks in San Antonio to the tremendous support being shown for our expansion clubs, we couldn’t have imagined a more promising start to the 2019 campaign.”
Birmingham Legion FC welcomed a standing-room-only crowd of 5,807 to round out the weekend’s action against Bethlehem Steel FC to push the Championship beyond the 90,000-mark, and in the process set a new record attendance at BBVA Compass Field.
One of the marquee games of the opening weekend also saw a sellout on hand as San Antonio FC hosted defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Rising FC before a crowd of 8,058 at Toyota Field. The fans got the entertainment they were expecting, too, with the two top contenders playing to a thrilling 3-3 draw in the weekend’s highest-scoring game.
Sacramento Republic FC continued to draw five figures to Papa Murphy’s Park as well, with 10,086 fans on hand for its season-opener against Real Monarchs SLC, while Las Vegas Lights FC drew a crowd of 8,017 fans for the opening game of its second season in the Championship as it hosted league newcomer Austin Bold FC in Cashman Field’s first official game as a soccer-specific stadium.
Overall, the Championship saw a 29-percent rise in its opening weekend attendance from a season ago, and a 55 percent rise over 2017’s mark. The league’s independent clubs averaged crowds of 6,400 fans, and the overall average for the week sat at 5,305 fans, both the highest for the opening weekend of the season in the league’s history.