If you looked closely at the jerseys worn by the MLS All-Stars, the world famous logo of AT&T was readily apparent. The reason? The international communications provider has been announced as the official communications provider of MLS, and US Soccer. As part of the deal, AT&T was the presenting sponsor of the MLS All-Star game and the logo was apparent around Rio Tinto stadium. At the same time, the deal provides the opportunity for exclusive content and digital enhancments through the AT&T suite of products. Notably, because of he involvment of SUM, the deal includes all three entities.
The press release directs you to the AT&T website, where (less than 24 hours after the press release), soccer is tough to find and the content is not impressive. We will assume that the content will improve over time.
This is big news for MLS. In this economic climate, an affiliation with such an internationally recognized entity is a great deal. This is especially so because Don Garber has sugested that this is the biggest sponsorship in MLS history.
With the Summer of Soccer in full swing, the Wall Street Journal is the latest mainstream publication to provide coverage of the Beautiful Game’s recent burst of popularity. The article discusses the Confederations Cup run, the big crowds watching soccer live this summer and of course the youth participation rate. The article also includes quotes from Don Garber and Sepp Blatter, discusses the attendance in Seattle and the World Football Challenge. The piece also looks at an issue we devote much of our time discussing, the question of how to capture American soccer fans and make them MLS fans. Though breaking no new ground, it is important for American soccer and MLS to appear in such a publication, and the article certainly gives American soccer and MLS a fair shake.
Elsewhere, former US International and ESPN broadcaster Eric Wynalda has resurfaced as Nick Webster’s new co-host on Fox Football Fone-In. Former host Steven Cohen got into trouble last season after making controversial remarks about Liverpool’s past Hillsborough tragedy. Wynalda is no stranger to controversy, and his presence will provide a knowledgeable and familiar American voice to a show that has long been EPL-centric. The show is set to debut on August 10.
Finally, it is All-Star time in MLS. Kudos the Galaxy for promoting a viewing party at a Pasadena bar. The event will include Galaxy players, free admission and more. Another interesting All-Star business note: Adidas is outfitting 3 MLS All-Stars with unique cleats for the big game. Montero, Casey and Holden will wear signature one of a kind boots for the match. Fans are also offered the opportunity through adidas to personalize their own cleats. Click here for more.
Tuesday night marked the opening of the CONCACAF Champions League competition for the 2009/2010 season. 24 teams from around from around the region are competing for the right to represent CONCACAF in the Club World Cup. This is the second season for the competition in its current iteration. The play-in portion of the tournament started in RFK before a paltry crowd typical of the tournament. Over the next couple of weeks, 16 teams will complete the home and home portion of the tournament in order to earn spots in the group stage.
In Europe, the Champions League competition is the most prominent of club events. Club teams throughoout the continent claw for the money, exposure and glamor of a spot in Europe. In CONCACAF, the tournament barely registers a blip on the radar screen of the region’s soccer fans, especially in the US. Teams must invest time, money and energy to compete in the event without the substantial rewards offered in the European version of the event. The teams face extensive travel and generate limited revenue from ticket sales. So from a business perspective, is it worth it?
We say yes. As the tournament gains traction (especially in some of the newer markets), the exposure to international competition creates an enormous opportunity for exporting the League to the rest of the region. At the same time, the elusive American soccer fan who watches only European football gets a chance to see more MLS on FSC in a tournament that makes perfect sense to them.
At the same time, players within MLS have the opportunity to show their wares to an array of potential suitors. Ultimately, this creates transfer opportunities which can generate revenue for the teams and the League. Similarly, front offices in MLS have an opportunity to evaluate talent from around the region, as they watch potential transfer targets play against MLS competition.
This process will take time, and likely will be a money loser for some time. Yet the Champions League is an important business opportunity for Major League Soccer. Ticket sales will come, as will television revenue and popularity over time. Of course, it would help of MLS teams show well in the event.
A recurring theme of this blog is the importance of soccer businesses interacting with soccer fans. Whether it be MLS franchises, WPS, US Soccer or soccer media, we frequently advocate for open lines of communication between fans and those in charge. Through the years, American soccer officials (from all leagues and teams) have done an outstanding job of making themselves available to fans and “new media”. Given soccer’s lack of presence in mainstream media (an improving situation), the web is the most important resource for soccer news and these same officials have historically been receptive to the internet soccer coverage and reporting.
Along these lines, we offer kudos to NBC Universal for reaching out to a number of soccer bloggers and websites to present their side of the debate over the televising of the Mexico/US match. Specifically, Kevin Dugan of NBC Universal reached out with an offer to answer any questions about Mun2. He also offered this brief promotional video and announced that the station will be available on Direct TV and Dish Network as part of a preview on August 12. Longtime soccer broadcasters Phil Schoen and Marcello Balboa will handle the English broadcast (from a studio).
The situation is obviously not ideal, yet we certainly appreciate NBC Universal’s efforts to reach out and make the best of the situation. Far more native English speakers will now have access to Mun2, yet are they the intended audience of Mun2? From a business perspective, the decision to show the game on Mun2 (instead of a different NBC English language channel) should still be analyzed. Mun2′s intended audience is the English speaking offspring of Spanish speaking parents. Will the provision of this network to a larger population of native English speakers for the Mexico/US game really increase the audience for Mun2 over time? We have put these questions to Mr. Dugan and eagerly await his response.
In Portland, the improvements to PGE Park were approved last week by the City Council. We will address this story in depth going forward, but for now, please see our previous stories on expansion in Portland.
Finally, there is this nugget from the New York Times about MLS merchandise sales. As part of a promotion putting MLS jerseys in Toys R US, MLS shed some light on merchandise sales in the League. Seattle is number 1, followed by TFC and the Galaxy. Not suprisingly, Designated Players are the most popular jerseys.
With all the soccer over the last few weeks, we thought we would take a look at the big numbers watching soccer across the States in person. We have neglected our weekly look at attendance in MLS and WPS, so we will start there. Overall it was a very good weekend for MLS teams, and the attendance numbers started strong with a Friday night tilt in Salt Lake City. More than 18k were in attendance for the 4-2 barn burner; this is a good night for RSL. Elsewhere, Kansas City drew a sell out crowd for their Saturday night match against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
In Columbus, more than 13k were in attendance for the Crew’s exciting 3-2 victory over TFC (a game apparently boycotted by traveling Toronto supporters). A crowd of just over 9k was in San Jose for a 2-2 draw between the Quakes and DC United. Just under 17k was in Colorado for the Rapids 4-0 destruction of the woeful Red Bulls. This game was the “re-do” of the failed July 4th fireworks night. Finally, Houston reported 15k for their 1-0 loss to the Revs. For whatever it’s worth, the crowd looked much smaller on TV.
There were three games this week in WPS, starting with a Wednesday night match in St. Louis between Sky Blue and St. Louis. Approximately 3700 were in attendance for that mid-week game. The following night FC Gold Pride and the Sol played to a 0-0 draw before a similarly sized crowd in Santa Clara. Just over 4k were in Boston for the match between Sky Blue and the Breakers. In Chicago, just over 5k saw Chicago hold off Washington on Sunday afternoon.
Elsewhere, the Gold Cup final drew almost 80k for the Mexican whitewash of the US. Big crowds also descended upon Foxboro and Dallas for games in the World Football Challenge.
We love when people e-mail us story ideas, so since we got two today, we thought we would lead with those. First, hidden in Jack Bell’s Goal Blog was a note indicating that ESPN will soon announce a deal to carry Bundesliga matches. Following the recent announcemnt of a similar deal involving La Liga, thecommittment of ESPN to big time soccer continues to be apparent. With the ongoing club world friendlies, Confederations Cup and of course MLS, soccer is all over the world wide leader…except for USA/Mexico.
Huge numbers continue to attend the World Football Challenge, with more than 50k in Atlanta. The attendance for this event has continued to be enormous. Not to be outdone, Toronto played before a sellout crowd in dropping in PKs to River Plate. Soccer’s amazing popularity this Summer has been documented in many places and we won’t rehash that discussion here. Nevertheless, it has been a pretty impressive showing (now if only half of those who purchased tickets for the Gold Cup semis in Chicago were actually there to see the US.
The MLS weekend starts off with a Friday night tilt at Rio Tinto. RSL is promoting its Mangia service, which allows patrons to order food directly to their seats. Mangia allows fans to order food by texting their order to Mangia. The service has been piloted to a small section of Rio Tinto, but for the July 24 match against Dallas, the service will be available stadium wide. Moreover, in an effort to promote the service, hot dogs will cost only a dollar and will deliver for free. This seems like a fairly good idea for a sport like soccer that has no tv timeouts. It will interesting to see if the service succeeds.
For their July 25th match against the Revs, the Dynamo are contributing $10 from each ticket to Nothing But Nets. The well regarded charity purchases malaria nets for Africa families and children. At the same time, the Dynamo are offering a Summer special for the game that includes 4 tickets for $55, 2 chicken sandwiches and 2 Happy Meals. The promotion is offered in conjunction with McDonalds.
Finally, in conjunction with the Earthquakes’ Saturday night match against DC United, San Jose is promoting its Night of Champions pack. On August 8, San Jose will play the first half of a doubleheader with Barca and Chivas playing the night cap. The special offer is a ticket to the doubleheader and the July 25th match for as little as $45 per ticket. Fans can also apply the deal to a number of other games. The doubleheader will take place in San Francisco at Candlestick Park.
Yesterday we took a look at the expansion situation in Vancouver. Today we thought we would take a look at how things are progressing in the City of Brother Love. Click here for our previous post on the Union. The team website is up and running and established ticket prices and season ticket benefits. The Union also have a name, a coach and sharp crest. According to reports, the Team has sold just under 10k season tickets and will cap tickets at around 15k seats in its inaugural season in its 18,500 seat home in Chester.
The Union has a strong supporters group in the Sons of Ben, who have been omnipresent over the last couple of years at an array of soccer events including the announcement of the Team, MLS Cup 2007 and even at a US Open Cup game in Connecticut between the Revs and Harrisburg, PA (about 2 hours from Philly). Its location between DC and New York should make for some good rivalry games that will bring supporters from out of town.
Yet there are doubts. Last weekend, the US National Team drew just over 31k at “the Linc” for a Gold Cup Quarterfinal. This was the first major soccer event in 4 decades in Philly and just months before the Union first kick. While some are lauding the attendance, there is a good argument that the number was disappointing. If soccer demand was so pent up in Philly, why weren’t more in attendance? Efforts to sell the game to Eagles season ticket holders were generally unsuccessful.
At the same time, progress on the Chester stadium is progressing slowly, and there was a recent statement from team officials that the Team might need to start its 2010 season on the road in order to ensure completion. Will people be willing to travel to Chester to see the games? There are also questions about how receptive Philly will be to a new soccer team. Philly is a crowded sports city and the best team in town happens to play in the summer. There is some major mainstream media opposition to soccer in the City of Brotherly Love.
Ultimately, we think Philly will succeed, especially in year one. However, we think it will be difficult for the Union to keep demand for season tickets in excess of 10k for long. A special confluence of factors have helped Seattle and Toronto succeed, none of which are present in Philly. We hope for the best, and do believe that Philly will be a relatively strong franchise over time. What do you think? Vote in our poll.
With all the tumolt surrounding Portland’s 2011 expansion effort, its cousin in MLS expansion, Vancouver, has quietly slid under the radar. With opening kick for Vancouver just 86 weeks away, thinks are quietly moving towards a successful opening. Vancouver is well set up for success. The ownership group seems solid. Billionaire Greg Kerfoot has long been a friend of soccer and Steve Nash adds glamor and splash to the ownership. The Whitecaps have done well at the gate and the market is hungry for higher level soccer. BC Place is well situated and funding is in place for a substantial renovation (well over $200 million U.S.) that will add a retractable roof. Soccer capacity will be limited to 20k.
The team has set-up a slick website, that is unfortunately updated infrequently. The site contains links to BC Place renovations, and a brief discussion of the hoped for waterfront stadium. There were reports soon after the announcement of the franchise that more than 5k season ticket deposits had been received.
In the three months since the franchise was awarded, it has been very quiet in Vancouver. However, with almost two years until Vancouver first kicks off in MLS, that is probably a good thing. Portland’s bid has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, while stadium renovations in Vancouver are continuing without dispute. Promoting a team that won’t play a game for two years is a delicate balance. The Sounders did an outstanding job of building momentum up to their 2009 debut and avoided peaking too early. Vancouver can quitely promote their MLS squad through the current Whitecaps, while quietly putting together the support system necessary to maintain and succeed in MLS. We will continue to monitor developments in Vancouver.
Another weekend of soccer is in the books and it was another full slate for the Beautiful Game in the States. However, before we get to the weekend, a couple of notes. First, Michael Lewis of the Salt Lake Tribune weighs in with a detailed piece looking at the business side of MLS. Lewis notes the importance of the internet in helping fans follow their teams when frustrated with the lack of soccer coverage in the mainstream media. He includes some interesting anecdotes about the “old days” of MLS, when Brian Dunseth found out when his team was folding. Lewis includes some interviews with Don Garber and others and includes some interesting financials. The article is a good read and provides a nice summary of the League’s business growth.
In Portland, the debate over the Timbers’ effort to renovate PGE Park continues. Last week, Justin Curzi published a piece entitled PGE Park: The Numbers Don’t Add Up. Therein, he argues that PGE’s current capacity is sufficent for the Timbers and that a renovation is unnecessary. He doesn’t heavily rely on data, instead making a mostly anecdotal argument, but his comments drew a pretty strong reaction. The comments to the article are definitely worth a read and at least one was published by the paper the following day. The fight in Portland continues, while its cousin in expansion (Vancouver) has been relatively quiet. Despite the 2011 expansion date, Portland is an unsettled situation and we will continue to follow the story.
In Philly, the US Men snuck by Panama in front of 31k. The write-up from Philly is here. It is hard to read much into the crowd, although you would like to think that a soccer hungry city, just months away from getting its own team would have generated a better turnout for the double header. In Seattle, 65k came out to watch the Sounders play a friendly against Chelsea. The crowd sounded great, and by all reports, were heavily favoring the Sounders. A big crowd also showed in in Palo Alto for the Inter/America game in the opener of the World Football Challenge (on ESPN2). Finally, a sell-out was announced for the Galaxy’s home game against AC Milan. FSC will broadcast the match on Monday night.