Happy New Year: Turnkey Poll & USL/NASL Status

With the New Year looming, here are a couple of quick hits to take you through the holiday and the weekend.

Turnkey Sports published a poll that questioned 1,100 senior sports executives from professional and collegiate sports about an array of year end questions.  Some interesting soccer notes:

1. 6.76% of the polled execs believe that MLS will show the biggest revenue jump in 2010, putting the league ahead of the NHL and NASCAR but behind five other leagues including UFC and the NFL.

2. The US Men’s run to the Confederation Cup finals was the fourth biggest “surprise” of 2009 behind Watson’s run at the open, Woods’ loss at the PGA and the Arizona Cardinals run to the Super Bowl.

3. In a vote on the most memorable championship of 2009, MLS Cup 2009 did not finish in the top 8.

In other news, USSF has denied both USL and NASL the opportunity to be the Division II of American professional soccer.  As a result, the groups will either have to work together or get creative to form a second division in time for the 2010 season.  As I’ve lamented in the past, we haven’t covered the USL/NASL dispute in great detail, but check out the outstanding coverage on MajorLeagueSoccerTalk or Inside Minnesota Soccer who have been tracking the story from the beginning.  For a legal analysis of the USL initiated lawsuit, check out our interview with the American Soccer Show.

Topic of the Year: Bringing the Fans to MLS

During the course of the year we focused our attention on the business of bringing fans to Major League Soccer.  The most popular post in that series was our interview with Messrs. Goff, Ives and Davis.  Check below for that interview and click through the link to follow the rest of our series.

computerAs part of our ongoing series looking at media coverage of soccer in the United States, we have explored the various mediums covering the game.  In Part I, we took a look at the mainstream media.  To read that article, click  here.  Thereafter, we took a look at sports radio. Subsequently, we took a look at local newspapers.  While these media are important, there is no question that the internet is the primary source of soccer coverage and the primary  medium used by soccer fans to get their fix.  To explore the coverage of soccer on the internet, we spoke with three recognized names in American soccer coverage.  Steve Goff of the Washington Post Soccer Insider, Ives Galarcep of Soccer By Ives and Jason Davis of MatchFit USA.  Look below for their thoughts on the coverage of soccer on the internet, and check back for more stories in this series.

Footiebusiness.com:  Your blog covers soccer on a local, national and international level.  What types of stories drive the most traffic (e.g. National Team vs. MLS vs. Red Bulls vs. DC United vs. UEFA)?

Ives Galarcep:  National team stories drive the most traffic, followed by MLS stories and Americans Abroad stories. My Q&As and running commentaries are pretty popular as well.

Steve Goff: USA national team drives the most traffic, followed by DC United.

Jason Davis: National Team, by far.  It’s clear that my potential audience increases dramatically during periods of USMNT activity, and that inevitably leads to more traffic.  It makes sense strictly from a numbers perspective; while a narrow focus might give me a higher profile within a smaller community, the broader national appeal of the National Team give me the ability to attract more readers if my content is good.

FB: Do you pay attention to the sources of traffic on your blog?  Do you find that links from other soccer sites drive traffic or do most of your readers go directly to your site?  Similarly, do you track which links people use on your site to go elsewhere?  Do these factors dictate which stories you cover?

IG: Most of my readers are regulars, with about a quarter coming from other sites. I don’t really track outbound links much though.

SG: Most of my readers come directly to my blog. However, I do receive traffic through secondary sites such as bigsoccer.com and dcunited’s in-house blog. I do not trace the popularity of links that I provide, but based on the number of comments, I have a good idea what’s popular.

JD: Referral links were my lifeblood for a time, and my traffic was almost entirely dependent on whether or not I was linked to by a much more popular site than mine.  As time has gone on, I get more direct traffic than I used to, though the links still drive a good amount of my daily hits.  The links people follow out aren’t generally something I worry myself with; many of them are referenced news stories, so they aren’t necessarily indicative of anything other than the reader looking for background information.  I’m very much an “if it interests me, it will probably interest others” type of writer, so I go with my instincts and try not to over-analyze my traffic, or let things like exit links dictate my content.

FB:  How has the blog changed the way you cover soccer?  Do your sources act differently when they know a story might be headed for the blog as opposed to a different medium?

IG: As a newspaper writer I was more of a team beat writer who focused on team news and features, with my column allowing me to write about a broader range of subjects. Now, with the site (I’m not a fan of calling it a blog, but that’s the label it will have until I re-design it into a more news site format) I can write about a broader range of topics. With my readership more evenly spread out around the country I have moved away from a New York/New Jersey focused site to a national site. Actually, I moved my coverage to a more national approach and the readership eventually took on that shape. As for sources, I think most folks in the American soccer community realize that my site is read by a pretty big audience so if anything it has made securing interviews easier. There are a few instances where some media relations people don’t quite grasp the power of new media, and are still stuck in the old way of thinking that traditional media (such as newspapers) are king, but more and more people are beginning to understand the power of the internet and the influence of websites like mine.

SG: For better or worse, the blog has become the priority because of its immediacy. Indeed, I always inform someone whether the interview is for the blog or paper/web.

FB: You made a bold decision to blog full time.  Has the blog increased in readership since you made that decision?  How do you decide what events to cover live?

IG: To give you an idea of the change when I went independent, the best month I ever had traffic-wise on my old newspaper blog was 375K pageviews in a month. My first month with the new site had 750K pageviews. This past summer, we averaged 1.5 million pageviews per month.

FB:  Do you have any interest/input into the advertising that appears on the blog?  How is the advertising content for your blog decided?

IG: For the first year and a half of the new site I sold all the non-Google ads myself. In the past four months I have begun working with an agency that has been selling ads for me. Most of the advertisers have been soccer specific, or companies looking to target the American soccer fan demographic, which is what my site delivers.

SG: I have no involvement with ads and don’t know the process.

JD: I’m still working on a low enough level that almost all of my advertising comes from affiliate membership, and is therefore commission-based.  They drive almost no revenue, but they give the site more of professional image in my mind.  I can choose the ads that appear, and obviously attempt to have them match the content of focus of the blog.  I do have a few direct partnerships, which obviously guarantee a little money, and I’m hoping to work towards more in the future as long as they don’t compromise the look and feel of the site.

Thanks to Steve Goff, Ives Galarcep and Jason Davis for their thoughts.

Soccer Business Bits: MLS Sues Black & Decker AND MLS in Minn?

Sports Business Daily is reporting that MLS has sued tool manufacturer Black & Decker over an alleged “ambush marketing campaign” by B&D division DeWalt.   MLS fans know that competing tool company Makita is a long time MLS sponsor, and the suit alleges that DeWalt improperly used MLS logs and materials to “confuse” hispanic fans into believing that DeWalt is a sponsor of the League.  We will pull the relevant information on the suit in the coming days from the Court website, but proving damages in such a claim could open up some privately held MLS business information to public scrutiny.  In order to prove they were damaged by the ad campagin, terms of MLS sponsorships will likely need to be revealed.  Because MLS holds this information so tightly, the discovery process in this suit could provide new access to MLS revenue and advertising information.

Makita first signed a three year deal with MLS (reportedly in the mid-seven figures), in October 2004.  The deal was Makita’s first sports sponsorship and was designed to target hispanic audiences.

At a recent Metro Sports Commission Meeting, Chair Paul Thatcher suggested that the Vikings are interested in bringing an MLS team to the Twin Cities.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t offer much more detail than that.  Minnesota has never been a top contender for an MLS team, despite a successful run at the lower rungs of American soccer.  Stadiums are being built in the State, but it seems unlikely that MLS will find its way to Minnesota in the near term.

American Soccer: Legal Stories of the Year

On a few occasions during 2009, we have discussed soccer stories that are legal rather than business related.  Because of sponsorships, contracts, television broadcast rights and a whole host of other reasons, the business and law are closely related in the sports world.  Here then, are our top American Soccer legal stories of the year.

Legal issues started in Seattle with allegations against Colombian striker Freddy Montero.  There were reports of possible rape or stalking complaints filed in Criminal Court.  After an investigation, the prosecutor declined to file charges and there have no further developments.  However, an unrelated civil complaint was filed against Montero’s strike partner, Nate Jaqua not long after the Montero saga came to an end.  The claim primarily sounds in battery, but includes graphic descriptions of alleged sexual conduct between Jaqua and the female plaintiff.  The plaintiff is a former college soccer player.  Other defendants include the Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS and the Houston Dynamo.

Importantly, this is a civil case, which means that while Jaqua does not face potential criminal penalties (e.g. jail), he does face potential financial damages.  In addition, the standard of proof is typically lower in civil court, where fact finders are asked to use a “more likely than not” or 51% standard.  Because this is a civil action, the plaintiff’s identity has been made public.  Moreover, this is an action that is being pursued by her and not the State of Oregon.  Reports indicate that the police have never investigated these charges.

DC United also got involved in a civil lawsuit, when two men filed a claim seeking monies for coordinating the VW sponsorship of the team.  Filed in the District of Columbia by a Brooklyn based attorney, the two Count Complaint alleges breach of contract and unjust enrichment.  The suit is in Federal Court based on a “diversity of citizenship” (i.e. the parties are from different states).  In order to be in Federal Court on a diversity, a claim must be worth at least $75k.

The gist of the lawsuit is that the plaintiffs (Jones and Mair) are alleging that DC United (Macfarlane Chang DC Soccer, LLC) breached a contract with the plaintiffs regarding the location of potential DC United Sponsors.  Specifically, the plaintiffs allege they were entitled to a 22-25% commission on the deal to make VW the presenting sponsor of DC United.

Finally, there is the ongoing dispute between NASL and USL over lower division soccer.  USL is claiming that three of its former teams broke contractual arrangements when they joined the new NASL.  We recommend MatchFit USA’s excellent coverage of this issue.   Also, check out this interview that I did with the good folks at the American Soccer Show about the legal issues involved in the dispute

Posts of the Year: MLS Marketing Interviews

Over the course of the season we interviewed a number of MLS marketing execs, COOs and more.  Check out this interview with Alex Gallegos of Chivas and click through the links to see some of our other chats.  Did MLS teams accomplish their marketing goals?  Judge for your self.

In a year in which most MLS teams are struggling at the gate, one of the success stories has been Chivas USA.  According to these numbers, Chivas attendance is up more than 6%.   As part of our ongoing interview series with MLS marketing personell, we had an opportunity to chat with Alex Gallegos, the Chivas USA Director of Marketing.  Mr. Gallegos is a graduate of Pepperdine University.  He has spent time as Manager of Street Promotions for DMG Records and more recently, the Director of Promotions for KFWB 980 Dodgers Radio Baseball Netork and NFL Radio Network Los Angeles.  Since 2004 he has been the Diretor of Marketing for Chivas USA.

Thanks to Mr. Gallegos.  Please check out some of our other interviews with MLS marketing executives including Davy Ratchford, Director of Marketing for RSL, Dynamo Senior VP Rocky Harris, Revolution COO Brian Bilello and Kansas City VP of Marketing and Communications Rob Thomson.

Footiebusiness.com: What is Chivas doing differently for marketing in 2009?  How has the economy changed/impacted those efforts?

Alex Gallegos: We have instituted a ton of different programs either marketing, community or sales based, they are as follows:

All You Can eat Section
Stimulus mini- 5 game plan

Practices in the Community

Partnerships with the City of Hope, Special Olympics and the American Lung Association

School of the game

Band of the game

Family and kids packs

All aimed at community involvement, affordable entertainment and fan development

FB: In 2009, many teams in MLS seem to be struggling at the gate.  Yet Chivas seems to be doing quite well, and to date, numbers appear to better than last year.  To what to you attribute that success?

AG: A stronger market presence, diversified advertising avenues

A sales dept that is more veteran and versed in the soccer sales ways

Leadership from our CEO Shawn Hunter

A great team that makes it easy to highlight what we do on the field and off

A stronger presence in the community

Great media and corporate partners

FB: How have Chivas utilized online avenues such as social networking sites, SUM’s new online ad network, etc… to market the team?  Do you find that these efforts increase interest in Chivas or impact attendance?

AG: We have had or launched myspace, facebook, txt message, viral video and online ad programs. We are analyzing twitter and launched mychivasusa.com all to give our fans a better place to congregate, tell more fans and spread our word for us. It is helping little by little.

FB: What unique challenges does Chivas face as one of two teams in Los Angeles?  Most teams just compete against teams in other sports, while Chivas must compete against the Galaxy in their own stadium.  How do you deal with the further segmenting of the potential MLS fan base?

AG: We simply identify what makes us Chivas and let the consumer make the choice, we’re not trying to make anyone chose a side,  we’re open to anyone that likes soccer, that likes entertainment or that wants a fun environment and experience for their family.  We touch on things like our game atmosphere, price affordability, access to our players, community programs, customer service etc…

FB: Is it inconsistent/challenging for teams to target “hard core” supporters, non-soccer sports fans and families?  How do you resolve those inconsistencies/challenges?

AG: We make a lot of invites, we have a lot of guests that we invite to our games on us.  We do this so that they can experience our games and make the decision to come back on their own, more often then not they love our games and really are receptive to coming back and telling their friends. Were building fans through multiple programs, one fan at a time.

MLS Stadium Update

There are stadium updates aplenty as we look around Major League Soccer this week.  Here are a couple of quick hits from the world of soccer specific stadium construction.

In Vancouver, the Whitecaps have announced that they will play the first half of their inaugural season in a temporary stadium while BC place (their permanent home) is completed.  The temporary stadium (which is actually quite nice looking) will seat 27,500 and will cost only 14 million to build.  Given the  low cost of the structure, this seems like an outstanding temporary solution.

In Portland, the team has announced the re-design of PGE Park to accomodate the Timbers in 2011.  The $31 million renovation incorporates the existing structure to create a cozy urban stadium.   The renovation will add seats to all four sides of the structure and will include the addition of a 1,500 restaurant.  The stadium will also include an artificial playing surface.

In Kansas, heavy machines are on site to begin construction of the Wizards’ new home.  Kansas and the local county have offered $230 million in incentives to lure Cerner and the Wizards to Kansas. The stadium is set to open in mid-2011, which promises to be quite a year for soccer specfic stadiums in MLS.

In New York, Red Bull Arena is progressing well and promises to open in time for the season opener.  In Philly, the new Union stadium is moving more slowly, but still seems on target for a summer opening.

The next two years certainly promise to be exciting times in MLS construction.  We will continue to monitor the progress.

Business Team of the Year: Seattle Sounders

It’s the time on the calendar when we take a look back at the year that was. We will have a few of these retrospectives over the next week, but the big story in American Soccer for 2009 was the introduction of the Seattle Sounders to MLS.  The crowds kept coming (they grew), the local media coverage remained oustanding, and the Sounders continued to perform on the field.  The Sounders were one of the great American sports stories of 2009; not just MLS. Philadelphia, Vancouver and Portland now have a definite model to follow.

The Sounders also continue to do the little things right; the Sounders’ web page is second to none in the League.  While other teams have deviated from the MLS web template, the Sounders have done an outstanding job of creating an interactive destination for their fans. Live chats with the Team are offered, links to multiple blogs, an outstanding ticket engine, promotion information and more. In addition, the presence of the Sounders’ band offers a unique element in MLS.  They landed the big name sponsor; Microsoft has signed on for $ 4 million for over five years.  They marketed aggressively; billboards, scarves and advertising have been plastered all over the City.

More is promised for 2010, when the Sounders will open up even more seats.  Seattle is reporting a waiting list of at least 6,000 in addition to their 30,700 average.  According to team president Adrian Hanauer, existing season ticket holders are renewal at an extremely high rate and requesting additional tickets.  The team is again considering offering an 18 game plan for its fans that will include 15 MLS matches and other high profile matches like the Barca game this year.

It was a great year for soccer in Seattle.  Congratulations to our 2009 business team of the year.

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