Posted on May 23, 2013 by Ben Berger
The introduction of Major League Soccer to the Big Apple isn’t a one day story. The press conference parade continued on day 2, with the introduction of Claudio Reyna as the first member of the team’s front office. Once again, the partners trotted out Randy Levine, Michael Bloomberg and representatives of Manchester City to promote the partnership. YES mainstay Michael Kay hosted the press conference and the event was telecast live on the network. Manchester City and the Yankees have had a prior relationship through the Legends Hospitality arm. From MLSSoccer.com quoting Yankees President Randy Levine, “”They’re the soccer experts, but we can add a lot through our brand and knowing how to do business here in New York City and making this successful,” Levine said. “Everything we do has to be world-championship caliber, and this will be as well.”
Some other items that were revealed during the last two days have shed some additional light on the deal between City and the Yankees. According to the New York Times, the Yankee component of the deal only came together in the last couple of weeks. In addition, the Yankees’ contribution may be as much as $25 million towards the expansion fee. From a soccer perspective, the Reyna hire seems fairly astute, and the former USA Captain will have two years to start preparing for play in 2015.
Some other final items. All of the major New York area papers covered the story fairly thoroughly, although the clear leader was the New York Times. Perhaps more interesting than the coverage, were the more than 200 comments the articles generated. Other than some criticism of the possible construction of a stadium on local park land, the responses were generally favorable.
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Posted on May 22, 2013 by Ben Berger
Major League Soccer made a huge announcement on Tuesday with the unveiling of the much awaited MLS franchise. That the league was determined to locate a franchise within the 5 Boroughs is no surprise, but the partnership of Manchester City and the New York Yankees was unforeseen.
The wealth of City’s owners is well known to soccer fans, but the wildcard in this relationship is the New York savvy and television power of the New York Yankees. Among Regional Sports Networks, the Yankee owned Yes network is a powerhouse. With large national penetration and lock down carriage agreements in the all important New York Metro area (this includes New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut), the Yes Network offers MLS a huge opportunity to become a tv presence. Even though most of the national agreements do not allow for the broadcast of live games (and that could change for soccer), it seems likely that any relationship will include non match programming. While a relationship with Yes has not been confirmed, it seems almost a certainty given the Yankees involvement. Moreover, with all of the league’s national television deals set to expire in 2014, the presence of a new New York franchise that will likely spend on players will be a big negotiation carrot for the league.
Moreover, the Yankees have the ear of the New York sports media, and despite resistance to the sport among many in the fourth estate, the Yankees can leverage their brand to gain media attention. The Yankees know how to get attention on the back pages of the Gotham tabloids and the announcement drew a fair amount of local coverage. Right now the team has the support of the Big Apple’s outgoing Mayor, a powerful political force in the last year of his term.
Overall, this was as big of a splash as the league could have made with its New York 2 franchise. Both names have enormous cache both inside and outside the sports world and there are enormous available dollars to select premium players. This is an exciting moment for MLS and an important steppingstone. If this relationship fails, it will be a significant blow to the league, but the possibility of success could serve to raise the league to new heights.
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Posted on May 20, 2013 by Ben Berger
The big business story a the end of last week involved the final retirement of David Beckham. Beckham had been playing for PSG in the French league, but it was only last year that he retired from the Los Angeles Galaxy and Major League Soccer. From a business standpoint, it’s hard to argue that Beckham’s tenure in the United States was anything other than an unqualified success. Despite the initial puffery involved with claims of $250 million contracts, early struggles on the field and missteps by Beckham himself, the league saw a period of great growth over the his six years.
On to attendance, where the week started with a solid 18k plus for struggling Toronto as the Reds fell to Columbus at home. San Jose managed a sellout for their Saturday night game with just over 10,500 at Buck Shaw. The sellout run continued with more than 18k at PPL Park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Chester. Vancouver fell just shy of 20k for their Saturday night match and the good run of solid numbers continued with another sellout in Houston as the formerly unbeatable at home Dynamo lost for the second straight time in the friendly confines of BBV Compass.
Seattle drew its usual big number with almost 39k at Century Link as the Sounders continue to play winning soccer in the month of May. On Sunday, the Red Bull reported a sellout for their mid afternoon tilt with the Galaxy. The 25k plus crowd looked solid at RBA and the match was nationally televised by ESPN2 following their Sunday coverage of the last day of the EPL season. On Sunday, United managed a crowd of more than 13k for its strea breaking game.
IN NWSL action, Jeld-Wen Field hosted a crowd of more than 12k as the Thorns played host to the Washington Freedom. A crowd of 4300 watched Kansas City shut out Boston.
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Posted on May 17, 2013 by Ben Berger
Television ratings for Major League Soccer are stagnant and have been for years. Despite improved numbers since the switch from Fox to NBC, (which can largely be explained by the number of additional households in which the NBCSN is available), soccer remains well below the other major sports in television success. While the spectacle of the World Cup draws attention every four years, the sport has failed to gain traction with many Americans. Success at the gate notwithstanding, why has soccer failed to hold eyeballs on television?
One hypothesis, muttered under the breath of soccer fans, yet voiced loudly by mainstream sports commentators, “soccer haters” and others, is that soccer on tv is boring. Fans captured by the breathless excitement of the NHL, captivated by the violence and speed of football or engaged by the cerebral captivation of baseball find little appealing about soccer on tv. Anecdotal evidence supports the contention that soccer on television is boring. In hockey (the team sport closest to soccer in many ways, including in the amount of goals per game), a team is never more than a few seconds from a scoring chance or shot on goal. In basketball, successful plays abound and to most Americans, little compares to the Autumn spectacle that is the NFL.
Soccer is low scoring. To the casual fan, soccer is moments of brilliance surrounded by long periods of tedium. For every match that is a beautiful spectacle, there are five that ponderous affairs with little attacking play, long balls booted back and forth punctuated by back passes, square passes and passes to the keeper. Soccer’s running clock begets mind numbing delay tactics and the play acting is offensive to even the most passionate fans.
So is soccer boring? As a lifelong fan, I say no, but I will leave the last word to my son. He is a huge sports fan, has been to lots of soccer games, an NHL match, baseball games and more. We used to watch soccer together regularly and he could name players on lots of MLS teams. Now, five minutes of soccer is too much, while two hours of hockey, 6 innings of baseball or four quarters of football are fine. The other day, we were watching a Crew match after an afternoon of him playing soccer and baseball. We turned a Crew match on NBCSN when after a couple of minutes he turned to me: “Dad, soccer is boring.”
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Posted on May 15, 2013 by Ben Berger
The American soccer television market is crowded, perhaps overcrowded. ESPN, Fox, NBC, BeIn Sport and Gol all offer live soccer broadcasts to English language markets. There are also a variety of Spanish language providers. This spread of stations provides matches from around the world, year round, on weekends, prime time and more.
Today ESPN announced its plans to go higher by providing fans a daily, hourly highlight and soccer discussion show comparable to Baseball Tonight and other similar sports focused shows. Starting on August 11, “ESPNFC will launch a daily studio show on ESPN2 beginning Aug. 11 that will feature soccer highlights from major soccer leagues in Europe as well as Major League Soccer and the U.S. and Mexico men’s national teams.” During the week the show will be 30 minutes long and will feature many of the ESPN personalities with whom fans are familiar.
Per the official press release, “Soccer’s popularity is at an all-time high in the United States as fans are now more familiar with the world’s top players, marquee clubs and national teams. ESPNFC on TV continues our leadership role in coverage of the sport across all media,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN senior vice president for programming. “ESPNFC will inform, entertain and provide hard-hitting insight on the global sport of soccer,” added Guglielmino. “It will become ESPN’s signature program for soccer, bringing tremendous value to the company, our affiliates and the ad sales community looking to reach core and casual soccer fans in the United States.”
This is a great moment for soccer in the United States. The afternoon show will put soccer front and center on a daily basis. The later afternoon has been kind to a number of popular ESPN shows and the new studio show has the opportunity to positively promote the game for a very broad audience.
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Posted on May 14, 2013 by Ben Berger
Major League Soccer and Topps have announced a six year deal between the entities to make Topps the official trading card partner of MLS. Per the Sports Business Journal, “the company plans to produce special cards of MLS stars such as Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls and Robbie Keane of the Los Angeles Galaxy. Autographed cards — featuring Andrew Farrell, the first overall pick in the 2013 draft by the New England Revolution, among others — will be part of this year’s collection, as well. The card company will activate at league events, including the All-Star Game in July and the season-ending MLS Cup championship match.” The first Topps collection will be released in July and the company has exclusivity for cards, stickers and more. New York based Topps was founded in 1938 and has long been a prominent player in the trading card industry.
MLS aggressively promoted a free week of its MLS Live service during the last round of games. The league has been working hard to put its online package in front of fans, with a weekly free game of the week feature, active promotion via Twitter an increasingly attractive options. The package is reasonably price, provides high quality video and provides access to out of market games not available on the league’s national television providers. MLS recognizes that the league fan base is extremely high-tech and that many of its supporters favor the online option to the traditional out of market package.
One final note. MLSSoccer.com is reporting that FC Dallas is close to naming a stadium naming rights sponsor for the rest of this season and thereafter. Fans in the Dallas area have heard these reports before, but it seems that a deal is finally close. There has been no naming rights sponsor since Pizza Hut walked away from its deal two seasons ago.
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Posted on May 13, 2013 by Ben Berger
Busy week in Major League Soccer with a host of mid-week games and a packed weekend, so we will jump right into attendance. The early games started in with DC United, with less than 11k at RFK to watch DC fall 4-0 in another disappointing outing for the Black and Red. The Red Bulls fell just short of 12k in their mid-week effort, while KC managed its usual 18,500 plus. The typical poorly attended Revs’ mid-week game streak continued, with barely 8k at Gillette for the team’s late loss to RSL. The night finished with Dallas barely crossing the 10k mark for their mid-week match and just over 10k in San Jose . None of these numbers did wonders for the league’s average attendance in 2013.
Not surprisingly, the numbers were better on Saturday night, but still not oustanding. Chicago crossed over the 12k mark, yet attendance remains poor in Bridgeview this season. Later on Saturday, the crowd for the Montreal Impact was similarly disappointing, with less than 15k in attendance at Stade Saputo. As usual, the crowd in Seattle raised the attendance figures with more than 38k at Century Link for the Sounders’ second consecutive win. The Northwest continued its strong attendance push with 21k at BC Place. With the Canucks season finished, the Whitecaps are now the only game in town.
The big attendance surprise came courtesy of the Revs, who managed 16+ for their Saturday night tie with the Red Bulls. Whatever the reason, this is the second consecutive solid weekend crowd at Gillette. The Crew managed less than 12k for their weekend tilt at Crew Stadium. FC Dallas managed more than 14k for their second match of the week at home. The Pacific NW raised the average on Sunday, with more than 20k at Jeld-Wen for the home team’s 3-0 drubbing of Chivas USA.
In NWSL action, the Western New York Flash, played before 2700 at Sahlen Stadium. In New Jersey, Sky Blue drew less than 1500 for their home match, while more than 4k were in Maryland for a DC/Boston match.
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