Blogging the Broadcast: Chivas USA vs. Chicago Fire

mlsIt has become fashionable to live blog sporting events, and we thought we would give it a try for the MLS game of the week (as long as we can stay up).  However, our focus will be on the business aspects of the broadcast.

As an initial matter, the lead in from the re-broadcast of the Champions League final was smart; the lack of advertising during the game was not.  Nevertheless, the broadcast started on time (something of a problem for ESPN MLS broadcasts).  After a brief intro, the booth team of Harkes and Delacamera passed the baton to the “Espnsoccernet.com pregame show, presented by VW” where Rob Stone and Alexi Lalas provided some insight and discussion.

VW was the initial advertiser during the first break, followed by the Marines (a longtime sponsor of MLS) and then the ever present Home Depot (advertising Behr Paint).  AT&T continued its increased presence with a spot, before the parade of local commercials began.

A couple of other notes, it is unfortunate that the Chivas/Blanco matchup is up against the Mexican final.  This is probably the one game that Mexican soccer fans might be interested in watching.  That said, the 10:50 start time is rough for us East-coasters (a 7:00 start time in L.A. would be much better and would probably draw stronger ratings).

Second break started with a “Round Up” spot (new), followed by a 30 second ad for Mike’s Hard and a return of the 15 second Round-up ad and then back to the local commercials and PSAs.

Once back to the booth, we get a dose of ESPN Axis (neat technology) before some insight from Allen Hopkins. Crowd looks good behind the goals, but not so much in the middle levels (but filling in)…and it is game time.

The sign boards are active early, with adidas, Bud, Dick’s and Frazee Paint making early appearances. It takes about 12 minutes for the spots to repeat themselves.

At the 7:20 mark, a VW logo appeared in the top left corner for a brief second.  The sound quality of the broadcast is pretty good and the stadium sounds alive on TV.  A couple of additional microphones in the stands might be nice.

The Philly Union got a mention in the 22nd minute, including the 7k plus in season ticket deposits.

Minute 28 brought Hopkins back in and then minute 31 brought some colorful language that probably should have been edited since the replay was 5 minutes old. Good to see some cross marketing for FSC and Telefutura.

Taco Bell popped up as a sponsor at the death of the half along with VW.

That is one half in the books…we will call it a night.

Soccer Business Bits: Pimping Europe, Red Bulls Seats and More

espnWe’re back from our travels and one thing is clear: America loves UEFA (or at least ESPN does).  In a truly remarkable ad blitz, ESPN promoted its broadcast of the Champions League final across all of its airwaves.  During the broadcast of the NBA playoffs, pop up ads hyping the Barca/Man U match were omni-present, ESPN.Com offered live coverage of the match and extensive pre and post analysis and Sportscenter anchors devoted substantial time to discussing the merits of Ronaldo and Messi.  This was the type of coverage that MLS fans have been begging for and yet it was bestowed upon a foreign final (for the record, ESPN is replaying the game as I type this, at 9:00 Eastern on Thursday).

ESPN has long recognized the enormous market for soccer in the United States (remember the 10 million that watched the USA v. Mexico qualifier a few months back?), yet the Worldwide Leader also has seen disappointing ratings for MLS.  As we have blogged on many occassions, MLS has struggled to attract the “hard core” fan  that loves soccer, but not MLS.  From ESPN,  the disparity in coverage is shocking.  Finding MLS coverage on ESPN.com is a challenge, while EPL and La Liga are front and center.  The “Bottom Line”  regularly scrolls European results while MLS  often appears only during soccer coverage.

There definitely appears to be a “chicken or egg” issue.  Does MLS need better ratings and a better product before ESPN will actively promote the League, or does ESPN need to hype MLS to generate the interest the League needs to grow?

In other news, according to the Sports Business Journal, the Red Bulls have announced prices for the 30 luxury suites in Red Bull Arena.  According to reporting by Tripp Mickle, prices will range from 65k-75k per season.  The boxes include food and beverage (not alcohol) and seat at least 13 people.  It will be fascinating to watch sales of these boxes in this economy, especially with the Red Bulls hoping to sell multi-year leases.

Finally, in DC, Steve Goff is reporting that Real Madrid and DC United have reached an agreement for an August 9 friendly at Fed Ex Field in Maryland.  The matches will not play in RFK, in part, to tap into the Redskin fan base at FedEx.  This will be one of two MLS friendlies for Real this summer. united

Soccer Business Bits: The Morning After

mlsAnother week of American soccer is in the books, with a full slate of games in MLS and WPS and the annoucement of a new U.S. National Team Camp for the upcoming World Cup Qualifier.  As has been a theme in MLS this season, there were more ties than actual results, with four games ending in a draw.  This was another week without an ESPN game, but national telecasts on Fox Soccer for the WPS and MLS and Telefutura for MLS.  Advertisers such as Panasonic and Dick’s stayed as a consistent presence in these telecasts.

Attendance wise, Toronto led the way with a sellout, while KC followed suit.  Just over 16k saw a scoreless draw at RFK, while a suprising 16,500 made their way to Colorado to watch Seattle and the Rapids.  This is a big number for the Rapids.  New York and Dallas struggled again at the gate, with just over 10k at Giants Stadium and FC Dallas bringing in less than 10k for a match up against the Galaxy.  What would the attendance have been with a Beckham appearance? The big shock of the week was 12,500 in Houston.  The Dynamo generally do a great job with promotions for every game, yet, this was a small draw in a game against their shadow selves in San Jose.

In WPS action, 4,400 were in attendance when Chicago hosted St. Louis.  More than 6200 were in attendance when FC Gold Pride hosted Marta and Los Angeles.  The DC match was part of doubleheader for the United Game.  The WPS kicked off first, and reports indicate that many of the United supporters stayed in the parking lot during the WPS match.  Attendance for the two games were joined, so the WPS gets the benefit of the 16k.

Next week, MLS has a full slate with two midweek games and the return of ESPN, smartly televising the Los Angeles super classico.  We will be traveling again this week and will check back at the end of the week, perhaps live blogging some of the business aspects of the ESPN2 broadcast.

The Deal Down in Dallas

fc dallasWe have discussed the attendance woes in Dallas on a number of occassions.   Attendance in Big D (or Frisco) is down this year by almost 40% But for Kansas City and its forced limited attendance, Dallas would be bringing up the rear with its average of 9,300 (that includes an opener of almost 16k) over four games.  With a fairly new stadium in Pizza Hut Park, a local population in Dallas that plays soccer en masse, premier online, independent coverage and a long history as an original team in MLS, FC Dallas would seem to be an obvious choice for success at the gate.  Yet, the team is averaging just over 9k and attendance is dropping fast.

The big question is of course, Why?  There are theories about front office ineptitude, poor performance on the field or a suburban stadium too far from downtown Dallas (does anyone actually live in downtown Dallas??).  We were in Dallas this week and performed a bit of marketing reconissance to check on efforts to promote FC Dallas  in Big D.  We asked everyone we met, from cab drivers to waitresses to business assoicates about FC Dallas and Pizza Hut Park.  The results of our anecdotal survey were pretty dramatic.

Almost everyone we met had heard of Pizza Hut Park, but nobody had every been there.  Most associated Pizza Hut Park with the Roughriders, a Double A baseball team playing at Dr. Pepper Park in Frisco, TX (same location as Pizza Hut Park).   We spoke with season ticket holders for the Mavericks, Stars and Cowboys, all of whom knew nobody that had seen an FC Dallas game, yet almost everyone knew about the Team.  Everyone we spoke with was shocked that FC Dallas struggled to fill the stadium; they all mentioned how popular soccer is in Texas.  Interestingly, almost everyone we spoke with knew where the stadium is located, knew how to get there and said it was “close.”

We saw no advertising for the Team, whether on signs, buses, television or newspapers.  There was no evidence of FC Dallas merchandise at Dallas-Forth Worth airport and we heard no commercials on the radio for upcoming games or events.  The Team is marketing through its website; pre-game happy hour anyone?  Other marketing efforts are certainly being made (our trip was pretty quick), yet they were not apparent.

Our survey was obviously informal, yet it was instructive.  In recent trips to Kansas City, Washington and other MLS cities, we have seen evidence of the local soccer team in a number of different media.  People were aware of the local franchise and some had been to games.  In Dallas, the Team’s impact on the sports consciousness was minimal.

The question is of course why.  If you have any theories, let us know.  Why is this once proud franchise struggling on the field and at the gate?

Soccer Business Bits: Deals Deals Deals

crew-jerseyAs part of our ongoing efforts to discuss MLS marketing efforts, we present a number of deals circulating the League.  In Columbus, the Crew are preparing for the return of David Beckham with the Crew Flex 5 Bonus Pack.  The deal offers tickets to 5 MLS games including Becks’ return to Columbus “free”.  Purchasers can choose from a number of other games to make up the 5.  The package is going for as little as $95 per ticket.

In Colorado, the Rapids have announced a “Festival of Women” prior to their June 20 match at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.  The event features an eclectic mix of speakers, bands, pampering and other female oriented events.  There will be book signings and medical care and family entertainment.  Admission to the event (starting 4 hours before the Rapids take the field) is only $15 and includes a ticket to the Rapids game.

Go to Chivas USA’s home page and face a large banner ad “Bye Bye Blanco”  Chivas is actively promoting the return of the Mexican superstar for the May 28 game at the Home Depot Center.  Tickets for the game start at $15.

Finally, the Houston Dynamo are offering a number of deals on their website.  These include a giveaway of 7,500 “car flags” for their upcoming match against the Earthquakes.  At the same time, the Dynamo are offering a Mcdonald’s 4 pack which includes 4 tickets, 2 Happy Meals and 2 Southwest Chicken meals for $55.  The Dynamo continue to offer promotions for every game, and the match against their  San Jose replacements should be well attended. houston-dynamo

We will be out of town in Dallas for a couple of days.  We will report back on efforts to market FC Dallas in the local area.

Soccer Business Bits: The Morning After

mlsIn a week without an ESPN game, MLS was busy with 14 teams in action in six cities.  On the attendance front, the League seemed to have a pretty good week with the notable exception of 8,200 in Dallas.  Most interesting was the virtual attendance tie between Chivas and the Galaxy in dueling games at the Home Depot Center.  On Saturday night, Chivas got more than 16k in hosting DC United in a 2-2 tie.  The Galaxy got virtually the same number for a Sunday afternoon tilt with Columbus.  Chivas has continued its strong attendance start, with each game seemingly building on the success of the week before. The Galaxy are way down, but the return of Becks is just weeks away.

Elsewhere, NY showed a comparatively big number by bringing about 14,500 to Giants Stadium. For a team that has struggled to top 10k on some nights, 14,500 is a good showing.  As we have discussed before, Red Bull Arena is opening up next year and there is a sense that the team is holding its advertising dollars for next season.  That is not the case in Utah, where RSL brought more than 19k to Rio Tinto.  We have highlighted RSL advertising efforts in the past, and those efforts appear to be paying dividends.

Switching focus to WPS, the Womens’ League was in action in three cities this weekend.  FSC broadcast the Sunday night game from Boston and the other two matches were available on local television.  Just over 6k attended the Sol’s Friday night game at the Home Depot Center as part of its three games in three nights this weekend.  In Boston, 4200 watched the Breakers on Sunday and just under 5k were in Chicago on Saturday.  WPS continues to hit its attendance targets, settling nicely into the 4-6 range.  As the year progresses, it will be interesting to see if the WPS pulls ticket sales from MLS.  The Revs are struggling around 10-13k while the Breakers are pulling 5k on the same weekend.  Would some of those fans be at Gillette if the Breakers weren’t in Boston?

Finally, the 2009 SuperLiga has been announced with play starting in June.  We will discuss the SuperLiga in detail as it comes closer.  This event wobbled a bit last year, after a successful first campaign. This year, some of the big Mexican teams like Chivas and America are not participating.  That should have a dramatic impact on attendance at TV ratings. Nevertheless, the soccer has been pretty good during the tournament and the atmospheres have been pretty lively.  For now, take a look at our write-up on last year’s SuperLiga.

Soccer Business Bits: Seats in Seattle and More

soundersA bit of business potpurri today.  Building on its sellout success, the Seattle Sounders have announced that they are opening additional seats for the rest of the season at Qwest.  The Sounders have averaged almost 30k during the season and are now adding some additional seats for the rest of year, bringing capacity to 32,000, the same amount of seats that were available on opening day.  With 22,000 season tickets and a large amount of additional demand, the additional capacity will enable more fans to experience Sounders’ soccer this year.  It will also increase MLS average attendance for the season.  The team also recently announced new 9 game packages and confirmed friendlies with Barcelona and Chelsea.  With those games included in the 9 game packs (along with MLS CUP), the Sounders may hit that 32k for the rest of the year.

It will be interesting to see if the Sounders can sell the additional seats for every game.  As we have said before, Seattle has continued to hit the right notes with all of their business moves and this seems like a calculated gamble that will increase revenues for 2009.  There is risk if the team finds that it cannot find takers for all seats to every game.  The Sounders might unwittingly find where attendance is capped.  That could create a ripple effect whereby there is less demand next year and some negative press if they ultimately close the newly opened sections.

In Salt Lake City, RSL is looking to build on its solid attendance showing from last week.  As part of that effort, The Team announced a buy one get one free promotion with Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Fans can obtain the vouchers at 35 KFC Restaurants around the Salt Lake area.  The promotion is part of an ongoing relationship between KFC and RSL.

Finally, in Los Angeles, Chivas looks to continue its strong start on the field and at the gate againt DC United on Saturday.  As part of those efforts, they are offering a “kid’s pack” which offers a free ticket for any child under the age of 16 with the purchase of a full adult ducat.  The same package is offered for a number of upcoming games and is capped at 8 sets per purchase.  The numbers have been impressive for Chivas this year and the big “Blanco game” is on the horizon.  It will be interesting to see if the Goats can keep the fans coming.

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