Royals are finding their way on the field, but they’ve got a crowd behind them

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC hosts the Chicago Red Stars, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Saturday, April 14, 2018.

Utah Royals winger Kelley O’Hara ran onto the sidewalk, mouth agape, both hands pointing to the train as it passed. Plastered to the side of it was her face next to a giant Royals logo.

It was part of a marketing campaign for the Royals, who rank second in attendance in the NWSL. The Utah Royals have seen a significant drop in attendance since their sellout home opener, but they remain No. 2 overall in the NWSL.

“They’re really into it,” Royals coach Laura Harvey said. “They seem to be real soccer fans: get excited about the things I get excited about, get disappointed at the things I get disappointed about. So that’s great. I’ve always said this product — the league in general — but I feel the product out in the field is one people will want to see. We just have to keep plugging away at that.”

ORLANDO PRIDE AT ROYALS<br>When • Wednesday, 7 p.m.<br>TV • KMYU

Portland leads the league, averaging 15,668 fans. The Royals sit at 11,733, while Orlando is third at 5,988.

“The Thorns are not the new measuring stick to put any new teams up against,” Thorns owner Merritt Paulson said ahead of the season opener, “in terms of, we’ve been doing this for a while, we’ve built our attendance every year. I think if Utah is doing 7,000, 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 people a game, that’s a great start, and they’ll be able to build on that.”

Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen set rivaling Portland in attendance as a goal when he acquired the team. It’s unlikely the Royals will meet it this season, but Real Salt Lake chief business officer Andy Carroll said he expects to see an increase in attendance to an average of 10,000-12,000 by the end of the season.

The Royals put out an aggressive advertising plan that used the UTA, billboards, radio, TV and digital media to spread the word about the team.

“We have to build awareness,” Carroll said. “There’s still a lot of people that aren’t aware, that haven’t been here and haven’t seen them and haven’t seen how much fun it is and how good the players are.”

The club continue to assess the effectiveness of its ad campaign and adjust accordingly, Carroll said. History also shows that soccer draws better in the summer, when school is out and it isn’t competing with the Utah Jazz and college football for fans. That has been the case for RSL, anyway.

URFC’s season ticket holder numbers (5,000) alone best the average attendance of five other NWSL teams. The home opener gave the team a boost in its attendance average, but the Royals still would rank second in attendance even with the average from its second and third matches.

“I think you have that core that keeps showing up every game,” URFC midfielder Desiree Scott said, “and we feel their energy, and we appreciate the fact that they’re coming out and supporting us every week.”

NWSL HOME ATTENDANCE AVERAGES <br>Team • Average • Home games <br>1. Portland Thorns • 15,668 • 3 <br>2. Utah Royals • 11,733 • 3 <br>3. Orlando Pride • 5,988 • 3 <br>4. Chicago Red Stars • 5,111 • 4 <br>5. Houston Dash • 4,290 • 3 <br>6. Washington Spirit • 3,965 • 3 <br>7. North Carolina Courage • 3,865 • 5 <br>8. Seattle Reign • 3,561 • 1 <br>9. Sky Blue • 1,989 • 2

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