Closing the Book

There comes a time in every blog’s life when you have to say “goodbye.”  For Footiebusiness, now seems like that moment.  After more than five years, more than a thousand posts and hundreds of thousands of views, this labor of love has run its course.   With three kids, a 50+ hour work week and soccer teams to coach, I can no longer devote the time necessary to keep the site fresh and full of the content my readers expect and my standards require. If you keep reading to the bottom, I promise the requisite navel gazing, but if nothing else, I want to offer a round of thanks to the willing interview subjects, patient journalists, responsive PR professionals, and of course, the wonderful readers. It was an intoxicating feeling to discover that so many share my affinity for MLS and devotion to the business side of the beautiful game.  Your comments, e-mails and most of all your devoted reading of the site, made Footiebusiness the life changing experience it has been.

soccer-ball.jpgFootiebusiness will continue in Twitter form, the medium I believe most suited to how soccer fans consume information.  The website will live on, frozen, hopefully providing a time capsule of the progress of American soccer from 2009-2014.  And the if the urge strikes, and a particularly riveting subject matter arises or there is an interview opportunity I just can’t pass up, I will post it here and link to it through Twitter, but for now, the site is closed.

Once again, thank you.

Read on if you like, the rest is just my effort to create permanent memories of what this site meant.

More than five years ago I sat at my computer with my wife out at a work event and my 2 year old sleeping.  It was a spur of the moment effort and in that first night I covered Panasonic’s relationship with MLS and Beckham’s dalliance with AC Milan.  The rest of the week saw stories about the Red Bulls’ television rights deals, the possibility of expansion to Portland and a look at television ratings.  That first week was pretty representative of what the next five plus years would become.

My intention was to write about the “intersection of soccer and money by examining the sponsorships, contracts, labor agreements and financing that are an integral part of the sport we love.”  Footiebusiness met those goals, but site became so much more than that. We interviewed players, executives, authors, league officials, journalists, marketing professionals and more.  In American soccer’s dynamic landscape, expansion, stadium construction, marketing efforts, jersey deals, youth soccer, life after soccer, gambling and fantasy all became fair game for a soccer business website.  Over the years, the business stories became more mainstream, but we managed to carve out a little niche that kept readers coming back and provided an endless supply of material.

Over the years, I was blessed to connect with so many people from teams, the league, journalists, fans and bloggers who provided guidance, assistance and conversation.   When I sat down that first night, I never imagined that Footiebusiness would be a five year project that would find me on the field before a national team game, in the locker room after an All-Star Game, in press boxes around MLS, on the radio, teaching a law school class about soccer and business law and having an absolutely glorious time.

It has been a great ride and a fantastic time.

Thank you so much.

 

Ben

Marketing the World Cup

miamiThe World Cup is about 90 days away and some of the big international brands are starting to shift their marketing power into gear.  Camilo Durana is the Global Director, Budweiser Sports & Entertainment. Mr. Durana oversees Budweiser’s global sports, music, content and entertainment initiatives including the 2014 FIFA World Cup BrazilTM.  Here are some of Mr. Durana’s thoughts on some of the King of Beers marketing initiatives for the coming World Cup, including the Rise as One documentary series produced in conjunction with Fox Sports.

Footiebusiness.com:  What role (if any) did Budweiser play in the production of the documentary series?

Camilo Durano:  Budweiser and FOX worked hand-in-hand to develop these exciting and moving films and we look forward to sharing them with fans all over the world. Together, we enlisted Veteran filmmakers Scott Boggins and Gabriel Spitzer, who have a combined 15 Emmy Awards, joined forces to produce and direct the Rise as One documentary series

FB: What will be done to promote the documentary series? Will there be ads on Fox’s  broadcast network?

CD: To help promote the series, Budweiser and FOX have developed multiple trailers, varying in length, which will appear on the FOX Sports broadcast network globally and will also live online through selective ad placements and be promoted socially across multiple platforms. There are millions of football fans all over the world who consume information and media through multiple mediums, so our goal is to reach the widest football audience whether it be on TV, online, or socially. In addition to its global partnership with FOX, Budweiser also serves as the lead partner of the Kicking & Screening Soccer Film Festival, an annual series of soccer cultural events that brings together football and film enthusiasts to celebrate the beautiful game. Budweiser will debut two of its upcoming documentary series episodes on the big screen when the festival visits New York City from April 8 – 11,  2014. Tickets to the New York City festival are on sale now at kickingandscreening.com.

 

FB: How will the Rise as One campaign be featured during the World Cup Tournament?  What type of broadcast media presence will the campaign have?

CD: During this year’s FIFA World CupTM experiential and social marketing activities under the campaign theme of Rise As One aimed at providing fans a rich experience and uniting them to the game they love. In addition to RiseAsOne.com – where fans can go online to see all the different components of the campaign, Budweiser will globally promote the campaign across TV, digital and social platforms so we are able to engage with the tens of millions of football fans around the world.

FB: How will Budweiser promote the campaign through social media in advance of and during the matches from Brazil?

CD: Budweiser will be promoting the Rise As One campaign leading up to and throughout the FIFA World CupTM on RiseAsOne.com, as well as Budweiser’s supporting social media platforms on Twitter (https:// twitter.com/Budweiser) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Budweiser). Beyond that, fans will see the Rise As One assets appearing on select websites and outlets so we are able to reach and engage with football fans all over the world.

FB:  Why is the World Cup an attractive property for Budweiser?

CD: The FIFA World Cup™ offers a strong and relevant global platform through which we can connect with passionate football fans around the world. We’re looking forward to the opportunities throughout the tournament to bring the excitement of the beautiful game to fans around the world, and to connecting our brands with even more consumers globally. We believe that the sport of football and its passionate global fan base are a perfect match with the AB InBev portfolio of products. While football brings out regional pride and fierce rivalries, it also brings fans across the globe together once every four years though shared passion. With the Rise As One campaign, Budweiser celebrates the world’s favorite game and its role in inspiring fans to celebrate the moments that unite us as a global community. Budweiser is a long-standing sponsor of the FIFA World Cup™, having served as official beer sponsor of the tournament for the last 25 years and will continue through the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

The Business of Playing in MLS: Chat with Richard Mulrooney

rmulrooneyIn January we posted a two part chat with MLS veteran Carey Talley about some of the financial realities of playing in Major League Soccer.  Today we are pleased to continue our series on the business of playing in MLS with  our chat with former MLS All-Star and USMNT player Richard Mulrooney.  Mr. Mulrooney is currently the head soccer coach at the University of Memphis.  During his playing days, he earned 14 Caps with the full national team and made more than 260 appearances in MLS.

Footiebusiness.com: You played more than a decade in Major League Soccer.  During that time, did the League or any of your teams provide any guidance or pointers on post-career financial planning?

Richard Mulrooney: Not until the end of my career did we even have a 401k set up and there was very little talk regarding financial advising.  I had followed my dad’s advice and got the IRA’s and other retirement savings all set up on my own from the first year in the league in ’99.  But in terms of the league setting up classes or really trying to educate us as a whole on financial planning it didn’t happen.

FB: What opportunities were there during your career for players to earn money outside of their regular salaries? Were these options made available by the team?

RM: The options I recall were coaching club on your off days or in the evenings which didn’t interfere with your MLS club schedule.  I knew a few guys who actually got other part time jobs to help make a little extra money but it was difficult because of the odd hours we had as players and the unknown of the daily schedule from week to week.  The team made appearances available to the guys and they gave a bit of money but other than that the team didn’t offer any other ways to make money available to the players that I recall.

FB: Similarly, what type of sponsorship/commercial opportunities were available to you during your career?

RM: There weren’t a lot of commercial sponsorships made to us as individuals so much as there were for the team.  If your team was sponsored by Honda then your team would occasionally set up an appearance at a dealership to sign autographs but that wasn’t an individual deal.  Personally, I was with Adidas and they would ask me to help market their product and I would be taken care of through the contract I had signed with them.  The bigger players in the league possibly had more opportunity for these types of deals but with MLS just starting out it didn’t have the power of like an NBA or MLB player.

FB: Other than the increase in the salary cap, were there changes in the League during your career that made it easier for players financially (e.g. per diem increases, better hotels, etc…)?

RM: After we got our Players Union set up that is when I saw the biggest help financially for me and other teammates.  The raise in per diem made a big difference as well as the 401K being set up. Obviously, the salaries were increased but you had that already if you were a player that played big minutes and your club wanted to reward you for that.  But the overall the Players Union was the biggest help in helping players earn a bit more coin.

FB: You also had experience with the national team, including 14 caps with the full national side.  Does US Soccer provide any thoughts to its players about life after soccer?

RM: Not so much help came from the US team in regards to life after soccer.  And to be honest I don’t believe it’s their job to do that.  They have a job to fill seats in stadiums which helped pay us when we played in front of Mexico or Jamaica. But we had such little time with them outside a week here or there that if it wasn’t spent on the field practicing it was in our rooms resting for games like the ones I just mentioned.  And that left no time to really have talks about our future outside of the game.  I was okay with that and understand it.

FB: Finally, even though your playing career has only recently ended, with the benefit of hindsight, what guidance would you give to players now entering the League about how to plan about their post-career world?

RM: The two biggest things I believe would help any player post career would be to start saving on your own from Day 1 as it really can be good money if spent and saved on the right things.  And the next thing would be still work towards your degree.  You can find work without it but you don’t want to be limited in what you can do because you don’t have the piece of paper.  Take a couple classes each year and by the end of your career you will be that much closer in earning it or that might just be all you needed to have it ready for post career soccer!

Monday After

cityWeek two of MLS action is in the books and it was another outstanding weekend at the gate.  Prior to league action, there were great crowds for the Champions League games in mid-week.  These included big numbers in KC and San Jose (given capacity) and a fair mid-week showing in LA.   It was a busy weekend all around for soccer fans watching at home, with an array of EPL games during the weekend and other European leagues as well, all available on American television.  Also last week a number of international club friendlies were announced that will have top sides crossing the US this Summer.

For the league games, the news was also solid.  On a nice March afternoon in New Jersey, the Red Bulls drew just over 20k at Red Bull Arena.  Saturday afternoon was one of the best days in the Northeast in months.  Philly managed more than 18,500 for their victory over New England, a crowd slightly larger than the Union’s home opener last season.   The national game of the week was in Seattle, and it didn’t disappoint on or off the field, with the league’s biggest names making for a great contest before just over 38k.  It will be interesting to see how television ratings fair without a strong lead-in and without two American teams on the field.

The Dynamo managed just over 18k at BBVA after a larger crowd last week.  Sporting was sold out and raucous for the Stream of the Week match on MLSSoccer.com.  In the late night game, San Jose managed its usual 10k plus.  It will be interesting to see if the Quakes can add at least 5k more fan every match once the team takes up residence in its new digs next year.  Portland continued its impressive run at the gate with more than 20k on hand for a 1-1 draw.  Chivas remained the attendance anchor, with less than 7k at StubHub for the second game of the season.

Mediating the Umpires?

barterMajor League Soccer is about to enter its second weekend with replacement referees because of an impasse that has caused a lockout of officials prior to the 2014 season.  The parties are back to the bargaining table, now with the assistance of a Federal mediator.

Mediation is a non-binding process. Though often confused with arbitration, mediation is typically much less formal and more importantly, is not binding.  The parties simply engage the services of a non-party neutral and ask for his assistance in reaching a resolution.  Typically, the parties offer their positions either in written or oral form to the mediator in advance of the sessions to set the baseline for negotiations.

Once the parties stake out their position and address any issues that the mediator needs to be resolved with the entire group , the mediator will  typically engage in “shuttle diplomacy”  by separating the parties and moving from group to group trying to advance towards a resolution. Once this process starts, the parties typically no longer talk to each other, but address concerns and solutions through the mediator who has the power to determine the pitch and mechanism of the delivery.   Ideally, proposals and counter proposals go back and forth through the neutral until all issues resolved.  At the end of the process, none of the proposals are binding unless the parties have reached an agreement.  There is a truism about mediation that a successful mediation means that neither party is totally happy. The process forces compromise and seems like a perfect route for the stalled negotiations.

A few years back MLB umpires struck and essentially destroyed their bargaining power after it became clear that the games would go on without them.  Last year, NFL referees were locked out, but after some high profile gaffes, a deal was reached and they returned.  Now it is the soccer refs turn, but the deck seems stacked against the officials in this dispute.  There is insufficient media coverage of the occasional bad call to cause a groundswell of support for the union.

 

 

Television Thoughts

sporting kansas citThe ratings are out for the opening match of the 2014 season on the NBC Sports Network, and the news was outstanding for MLS.  John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal tweeted that the game drew 330,000 viewers, the highest number for a match on NBCSN since the first year on the network.  Bolstered by a strong lead-in from the EPL, the numbers are a big win for the league, despite a relatively poor match.  Next week, the NBSCN match between Seattle and TFC will not enjoy the same lead-in, but will feature Bradley and Dempsey, who should be big draws in a World Cup year.   Regardless, at a time when the league is still negotiating its television deals for the rest of the decade, this is a great way to start 2014.

This was not the only television news of the week.  Sporting Kansas City announced that its television network will expand its reach to 9 states and 8 affiliates.  From the presser, “The interest and demand for Sporting Kansas City matches continues to grow and we’re pushing the bar to provide a broadcast network that will bring our club and our stadium into living rooms throughout the Midwest,” said Chris Wyche, Sporting Kansas City’s Executive Vice President of Operations and Executive Producer of the Sporting Kansas City Television Network. “This will provide unprecedented brand exposure in the region and will showcase our games to fans far and wide while delivering quality programming for our partners.”

Finally, the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals are starting up and the primary network carrying the games will be Fox Sports 2.  The former Fuel is not nearly as available as FS1 and the games promise to be largely played in obscurity.

Thinking About 2015

collective bargainThe first week of the 2014 season is barely in the books, but I cannot help but think about the 2105 season as I look at the future of soccer in the USA.  From a business perspective, the 2015 season seems overloaded with significant and important business milestones that will go a long way towards the health and maturity of the league.  MLS may really come of age in it 20th anniversary season.

First, there will be two new teams taking the field in 2015.  The league will get back into the Southeast, with a new franchise in Orlando.  Fan support already seems strong and a stadium project is moving forward.  Orlando is a growing city with only one other professional sports franchise; the perfect market for a league that has succeeded in places like Salt Lake City and Portland.  At the same time, MLS will move into the biggest and saturated of markets, New York City.  If you can make it here……. Success or failure in the Big Apple will be a watershed moment for MLS.  The market is there to be tapped, but much has to go right for the league to find success in the Five Boroughs.  The process gets underway next year.

2015 will also be the first year of a new (and presumably) long term relationship with a new television partner.  MLS is working to become appointment viewing, with a dedicated weekly timeslot.  With Fox the presume suitor, placement no Fox Sports 1 vs. Fox Sports 2 could be key.  At the same time, the league seems primed to improve its relationship with ESPN, the key network in the world of sports.  Coverage on the Worldwide Leader is key for MLS as it continues to grow.

2015 will also mark the start of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.  The CBA expires this December and the players will be looking at the increased television money, expansion fees and stadium construction as a key argument in favor of increased player salaries and freedom of movement.  The last negotiation came down to the wire; will the same thing happen next time.

Elsewhere, there will be new sponsors signed, a new stadium opening in San Jose and new partners to announce.  In a normal year, these would be big moments in league history.  But in 2015, they will be mere footnotes in a season filled with business milestones.

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