We spent yesterday in Orlando, the land of Disney, Sea World and most recently the Wide World of Sports preseason MLS tournament (won by New York). Looking around the Disney area, there was little mention of the games, and none of the locals seemed to have any knowledge that it was happening. However, Orlando is not an MLS city, and most of the folks we spoke to were not from the area originally and mostly focused on their tourist industry jobs. However, the lack of recognition about MLS and this mini-tourney got us to thinking about our Dallas interviews from last Spring. Read our interview below and think about how this would play out in your city.
We have discussed the attendance woes in Dallas on a number of occassions. 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?