The Monday After

Busy weekend in Major League Soccer with the regular season winding down and the playoffs just a few days away.  The attendance story for the week is the juggernaut in Seattle, which saw more than 62,000 for Kasey Keller’s sendoff match. Sales were buttressed by a multi-game package that included this game, but the total sales are extremely impressive.  In its third season, Seattle continues to be an amazing business story.  Soccer is an event in that city and the team has rewarded its great support with success on the field.  Unlike Toronto, which has taken a number of wrong steps both on and off the field, Seattle continues to be a model organization.

Numbers for the rest of the league weren’t as impressive, but the league continues to maintain great numbers this year.  A busy slate of midweek game started with just over 10k in Chicago on Wednesday night while just over 17k saw Vancouver severely damage DC United’s playoff dreams at BC Place.  The midweek games continued with the usual sellout in Portland of 20k plus while a solid 16k plus attended the Rocky Mountain Cup match in Colorado.   On Saturday afternoon, almost 20k were in KC for Sporting’s match with the Red Bulls, while more than 19k were at PPL Park as the Union clinched a playoff birth.  New England finished off their home campaign with just over 16k on fan appreciation night, while DC continued its late season swoon at RFK before a similar number.

FC Dallas disappointed with only10k plus for their home match on Saturday night.  The crowd may have been impacted by the MLB playoffs.  Seattle capped off the night with its big crowd.  On Sunday, the Honda Classico drew a 27k sellout on Sunday night.

Marketing in Chicago: Interview with Fire VP Emigdio Gamboa

On the road tonight, so we thought we would revisit an interview we did from the start of the 2011 MLS season.  Back then, Emigidio Gamboa of the Chicago Fire was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Fire’s promotional efforts for 2011, the team’s use of social media and more.  Now as the season comes to a close, it makes sense to take a look back to see how some of these efforts succeeded.

Today we are lucky to have an interview with Emigdio Gamboa, the Fire’s VP in charge of Marketing and Communications.  Mr. Gamboa was kind enough to provide some thoughts on Chicago’s 2011 marketing efforts and use of social media. How is Chicago utilizing social media?  Some teams are aggressively relying on Twitter, posting frequent training camp updates, linking to blog posts about the team and providing teasers about signings and ticket promotions, while others have been slower to adopt the technology.   How do you anticipate the team using Twitter and Facebook going forward?  Does the team have a policy on players using Twitter?

Emigdio Gamboa: For the past couple of seasons we have made social media a focal point of fan interaction. Over the past two seasons we have developed and implemented a progressive Facebook and Twitter strategy that has seen our Facebook numbers go from 8,700 in Feb. 2010 to over 50,000 fans at present. We see Twitter and Facebook serving different purposes & objectives moving forward.  Our Twitter is a complimentary tool to Facebook in our overall social media strategy.  As it relates to Facebook, we are continuously focused on improving the quality of engagement with our followers paying particular attention to the type & frequency of our postings.  We want to make certain that the content that we are posting is relevant and entertaining so that it is creating a two way dialogue with our followers.

Currently, we do not have a written policy on players using Twitter. We encourage our players to use Twitter & do so in an appropriate fashion.

FB: With respect to ticket promotions, some teams heavily utilize game day promotions to drive traffic while others have moved away from that model.    Should fans expect game day promotions in 2011?  Similarly, some teams have started using Groupon to sell individual game tickets.  The Fire used Groupon to sell season tickets.  Was that a successful relationship? Will you use Groupon to sell individual game tickets in 2011?

EG: Yes, fans should expect to see game day/ticket promotions in 2011.  Currently, we have been promoting a “family pack” offering that includes 4 match tickets, 4 hot dogs & 4 refreshments.  However, we have made a stronger emphasis on improving the overall game day experience.  We understand that we have a diverse and passionate fan base that expect and appreciate different aspects of a game day experience so we try our best to cater to our entire fan base. From the different activities in our fan fest area, to the food, the bi-lingual public-address announcements, etc., this is an area that will continue to evolve.

Our relationship with Groupon has been successful in the sense that it gave individuals who might have not otherwise experienced a match live the opportunity to do so.  Once you experience a match, the likelihood of returning is obviously much higher.

FB: What do the Fire offer as season ticket incentives?  Do fans get special values from being part of the team’s season ticket base?  How many season tickets has Chicago sold this year? How does that compare to previous years?

EG: Following the 2010 MLS campaign the Fire evaluated their ticket sales philosophy and integrated fan input to propose the most progressive season ticket campaign in the club’s 14-year history. Gaining feedback from its supporters about the kind of offers and incentives they want in a Fire season ticket package the Fire developed  a season ticket campaign built by-and-for a supporter. Starting with an unprecedented  move in Chicago sports, the club offered free and reduced parking to a majority of season ticket holders and a 12-month payment plan that allows Fire Season Ticket Holders to pay as low as $15 a month. In addition, the Fire created a referral program, allowing current Fire Season Ticket Holders to receive a 20 percent credit on referral purchases. Those referred receive a five percent savings on the purchase of their 2011 season tickets. The result has seen the club sell over 2,800 new season tickets in the offseason, breaking the previous club best of 1936 season tickets sold set in 1998, the Fire inaugural year.

Our season ticket holders are given a wide range of incentives from access to exclusive team events, gifts and other special offers including free parking (depending on the ticket package), discount on merchandise & concession items.  We strive to provide our supporters with an authentic soccer experience while providing them with extensive access to the club at a cost effective price point.

FB: What type of marketing efforts does the team make to attract soccer fans in the Chicago area who follow the sport (in Europe, Latin America, etc…) but not the team?  Do you use billboards and newspapers or a more targeted approach? Do the friendlies you play against club sides from around the world have a measurable effect on your regular MLS ticket sales?

EG: We have a heavy emphasis on grassroots marketing activities focused on areas in our community where the sport is being played from soccer fields on the south-west of Chicago to fields in places like Palatine, Naperville and beyond. We’ve developed a number of strong relationships with youth and adult soccer leagues to engage individuals who are playing soccer to help drive them to Fire matches.

We do have a targeted approach in placing billboards and other forms of advertising keeping different audiences in mind.  Friendlies have a minimal effect on our regular MLS ticket sales.   However, they serve multiple purposes from branding to different communities, building international relationships to simply improving our level of competition.
FB: The Fire had a long relationship with Best Buy as their jersey sponsor.  That relationship recently ended.  What efforts have you made to secure a new sponsor?  Do you expect to announce a new relationship soon?

EG: Our effort to secure a new sponsor is an on-going process, the jersey sponsorship is a unique opportunity & we continue to meet and discuss the opportunity with potential sponsors.

Selling Tickets in MLS

The playoffs are looming and the last few regular season games are here.  It has been a while since we looked at promotional efforts around the league, so we thought the stretch drive presented a good opportunity to look at ticket sales efforts for the end of the season and start of post season.  We’ll start in Chicago where the Fire are running a “pink” themed promotion as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Through the team website and phone number, fans are offered the opportunity to puchase $30 seats to the game that comes with a commerative T-shirt.  The first 200 people to buy through the promotion also get the opportunity to participate in a pregame even on the field.  The team will play in special uniforms as part of the promotion.

The always aggressive DC United front office is offering a “Drive for the Playoffs”  promotion sponsored by VW.  The team has three home games in one week and is offering tickets to all three matches at rates as low as $57 for the set.  All three games could have significant playoff implications for all of the teams involved. Tickets can be purchased all price levels at a slight discount over typical match prices.  You can see the promotional prices and offerings by clicking here.

Finally, a nod to the Seattle Sounders, who have opened up Century Link Field for their final game of the year.  The match is Kasey Keller’s last regular season home game and ticket sales .  In addition, the team is partnering with a local soccer club to offer special $15 seats that will benefit the club scholarship and field drive with $5 of each seat sold.  60k plus are expected for the game which was part of a three pack with the Red Bulls and ManU games.

Soccer Business Bits: Fox Soccer Renews, College Attendance

Left at the alter by Major League Soccer, Fox Soccer has nevertheless managed to maintain a prominent position in the world of televised soccer.  The network announced that they have re-upped their deal with the English Football Association to extend their exclusive rights for six more years through the 2017/2018 season.  According to the press release, “the multi-platform deal grants FOX Soccer exclusive rights to all FA content in all languages for the United States and Caribbean territories, including the prestigious FA Cup tournament…  England’s national team home qualifiers and friendlies are included in the agreement.”  The deal is significant for Fox Soccer because it guarantees eyeballs for the network for years and ensures content for the network which always struggles for live programming.

Soccer America checks in with an interesting look at the increase in attendance for college soccer programs.  According to the article, seven teams are averaging in excess of 3,000 attendees per match.  UC Santa Barbara is the leader in college attendance with more than 5,000 per game.  One UC Santa Barbara game was the clear winner, with more than 13k in attendance.  The ACC is the leading conference, with averaging more than 1,800 fans per game.  Five conferences are averaging more than 1,00 fans per game.

One final note, there have been a number of stories about the possibility of MLS expanding to Detroit.  The recently purchased Pontiac Silverdome has been proposed as a venue, although with some significant modifications. Now there are stories that appear to have leaked renderings of the proposed stadium.  For more on the released renderings, click here.   For more on this proposal, click here.

Soccer Sponsorship Update

Big news on the sponsorship front from longtime partner Panasonic.  The electronics company announced that they have extended their deal with Major League Soccer through 2014 to serve as the league’s “Official Consumer Electronics Partner”.  In addition, the company announced that they have reached an agreement with US soccer to serve as a similar sponsor/partner for the Men’s and Women’s National Teams. For the national sides, the deal concludes with the 2014 World Cup while the MLS deal goes until the end of the 2014 season.

Panasonic has had a relationship with MLS for almost ten years and has been a constant presence in various forms of television advertising, sign boards and league promotions.  It is encouraging that a corporate partner sees enough value in its MLS relationship to continue to renew the agreement.  It is also important that the company is expanding its soccer footprint by spending on the national teams and increasing its commitment to the sport.   According to the press release, “the sponsorship will give Panasonic category exclusivity across the U.S. Soccer and MLS properties for a wide range of consumer, professional, and B2B products including HDTV (VIERA), Blu-ray Disc, cameras and camcorders (LUMIX), LED signage, TV broadcast equipment, and point of sale systems (excluding payment services systems), solar and eco systems (MLS only), mobile & tablet computers, and select personal care products.”

Panasonic last re-upped its relationship with MLS in 2009.  At the time, the Sports Business Journal estimated the deal at $3 million per year.

Also from the press statement;  “Panasonic is proud to extend our sponsorship of Major League Soccer and to expand our horizons to support the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Men’s and Women’s National Teams,” said Joe Taylor, Panasonic Corporation of North America’s Chairman & CEO.  “Soccer is a brand on the rise in the U.S. with a broad, global appeal and a target audience aligned with our own brand goals.

The Monday After

Quite weekend in Major League Soccer because of an international break, but there will still some items of business significance.  Before we get to attendance, here are a few other stories of interest.  We’ll start in Montreal, where the Impact have announced that they have surged past the 5,000 mark in season ticket sales for the 2012 season.  The has also indicated that almost all of the team’s Category I seats have been sold for the upcoming season.  In addition, approximately half of the team’s corporate suites are spoken for next year.   For more on the status of team ticket sales, click here.

The DC United stadium situation has been in flux for years, with the team exploring options in Virginia, Maryland and the District.   Studies have been commissioned, reports prepared and speeches given yet the team continues to play at RFK Stadium.  The facility is in poor shape, the rent is high and neighborhood largely devoid of dining options.  Yet the stadium has the advantage of easy Metro access and a location centered between a fan base located in two states and the District.  Here is a quick interview from the Washington Examiner with the City Mayor about DC United.  For those interested in stadium politics, the interview is worth a read.

Now on to attendance.  The week started with more than 25k in New York for the Red Bulls/Galaxy match.  In Vancouver, more than 20k were in attendance for a midweek game. On Saturday, the Revs faded back after last week’s high not and barely managed 9k, while Seattle saw its usual 36k for their home loss to Philly.   Meanwhile, the USA played before only 21k at SunLife Stadium in Miami on Saturday night. Monsoon like conditions and the Yom Kippur holiday likely contributed to the limited attendance.

Soccer Business Bits: Becks Gets Richer, Montreal Moves Closer & More

Just a few quick hits from around the soccer business landscape.  We’ll start with David Beckham, who is nearing the end of his Galaxy contract while continuing to play at a high level. is reporting (via the Associated Press), that Becks “personal income” from sponsor ship deals rose 30% last year.  Revenue for the company that handles his personal accounts was almost $24 million in 2011.  Beckham’s enduring brand value is really remarkable.  Despite the quick fade from the initial glow that accompanied his coming to the States and his injury riddled 2010, Becks continues to be an amazingly popular athlete and celebrity.  To read the piece, click here.   To read Grant Wahl’s take on Beckham’s 2011 season on the field, click here.

Elsewhere, Montreal has officially signed its first player to a 2012 in Colombian defender and former Serie A standout Nelson Rivas.   The team is now a full member of of along with th rest of the teams atop the website banner.  A trip to the Impact website offers fans a fun video highlighting the history of the Montreal soccer franchise along with other video about the team and league.  2012 season tickets will be available in five categories, $250, $350, $550, $850 and $1,250.

Finally, NASL announced today that they have signed a deal with GolTV to broadcast a 30 minute television program over the next six weeks (three live shows) on the soccer network.  The show will be titled Team NASL and will  include highlights, interviews and other footage of the lower division league.

Broadcast Blogging: Galaxy v. Red Bulls

As we do every so often, today we present a business blog of a prominent televised soccer event.  The New York/Los Angeles rivalry provides the latest installment in this regular feature.  The match was rescheduled into weekday prime time because of Hurricane Irene and provides a national outlet for the Red Bulls’ diminishing playoff hopes. Despite the absence of Donovan and Keane, the match does allow the league to feature Henry and Beckham for a wide audience.

Following a busy Summer of international friendlies, ESPN broadcasts have been few and far between.  However, the match is still “ESPN game of the week” presented by adidas.  Adrian Healey John Harkes did the honors from the booth and started the telecast with typical banter about the fortunes of each team.  The first round of commercials included the typical spot from Dick’s, an ad from GoToMeeting (Citrix), Jamaica (via American Airlines) and Progressive Insurance.

The telecast quickly returned to commercials after setting the lineups with the always excellent adidas “all in” spot, followed by Budweiser “grab some buds” the former SuperBowl VW Darth Vader ad and a nice ad for MLS W.O.R.K.S.  Continental Tire presented an “analysts corner”.  The stadium looked shockingly empty at kickoff.  Dick’s was the first scoreboard sponsor followed by Chelada and VW. The usual league sponsors were visible on the electronic sign boards, including AT&T, VW, Pepsi Max, Castrol, Continental, Gatorade, Panasonic Home Depot, el Jimador, Makita, Bimbo and Degree.

Halftime ads in advance of the Hot Pockets halftime show included Dick’s, TD Ameritrade, Progressive (twice) and local spots.  The studio team included Max Bretos and Alexi Lalas.  Other spots included AllState, Dunkin Donuts, VW, Continental Tire and more.  The adds surrounded a brief SportsCenter update.

Selling Merchandise in MLS: Interview With Stu Crystal

We have repeatedly posted about the MLS shopping experience. From a shortage of gear at brick and mortar retailers, to the absence of infant sized Galaxy items to the improved online experience, we have repeatedly written about procuring MLS items.  Today we are pleased to present some thoughts from Stu Crystal, Major League Soccer’s Vice President of Consumer Products, about shopping for league merchandise.  Mr. Crystal is a graduate of SUNY Stony Brook and has been with the league for more than 10 years.  Thanks to Mr. Crystal.  Please drop a line in the comments section telling us about your MLS shopping experience.  On, the primary “shop” link brings fans to MLS Gear rather than individual team stores. Is MLS Gear the league’s preferred online shopping destination?  Does the league have relationships with third party vendors that sell official merchandise online?  Certain teams (e.g. DC and NY) appear to have individual team stores that carry a wide variety of team merchandise and apparel, while others seem to rely on MLS Gear.  Why do some teams have individual stores and others do not?  For those that have team stores, do those outlets typically carry more variety than the MLS Gear Shop?  Does the league encourage teams to operate their own shops online?

Stu Crystal: MLS Gear is the official online store for Major League Soccer. We’re testing some online team stores and exploring the option to allow all teams to have official club stores. At this time, we are not encouraging teams to operate their own shops online. We have a centralized option in MLS Gear but are open to team shops if we determine that fans prefer to shop at team branded stores. We hope to have a definitive direction by the start of the 2013 season. We do have relationships with other online retailers, including World Soccer Shop, Fan’s Edge, Amazon, etc.

FB: What types of merchandise (e.g. jerseys, youth gear, etc…) are typically the best sellers?  What items are the least popular? What individual player jerseys are the top sellers this year?  Are there items that aren’t currently available that fans should expect to see soon?

SC:  Jerseys and other core fan items, such as scarves and t-shirts, are the best sellers. We’re currently coordinating with our licensees to add higher end items, such as foosball tables and Dream Seats, for the holiday season.

FB: How has the online MLS shopping experience improved over the years?  What changes should shoppers expect in the coming months?

SC:  Last year, we shifted to working with Sports Endeavors, the dominant online soccer retailer in this country. This partnership allows us to provide fans with the highest level of customer service and an increased variety in what we can offer – footwear, international club items, etc.

FB: One commonly heard complaint from fans is that league merchandise is hard to find at brick and mortar retailers, including those operated by league partners. What efforts are made to increase the presence of league items at these locations?

SC:  We’ve hired someone to focus on retail development, and we’re working closely with Dick’s Sporting Goods to increase the selection of MLS merchandise in our markets. As the league grows and the demand for MLS merchandise grows, we will see an increase in merchandise in brick and mortar retailers.

The Monday After

Busy week in Major League Soccer with Champions League group stage matches, important jockeying for playoff position and the opening of Bell Pitch Downtown in Vancouver.  Before we  get to attendance, here are a couple of thoughts on the inagural match at the league’s newest showpiece.  First, it is unfortunate that the game was not part of a national telecast.  It is always fun to open stadiums to broader audience.  The new field looked great on television, but the curtains used to close off the upper levels looked odd and fairly low rent.   It is expected that a new title sponsor for BC Place will be announced within 2 weeks.  That will make the official name of the venue for soccer Bell Pitch at ____.

Now on to attendance, where a pair of midweek games started the count in a very positive direction.  Sporting drew its usual 17,800+ on Wednesday night while RSL boasted a sellout (and a 3-0 loss) for their midweek tilt against Chicago (20,700+).  Philly followed those number with almost 18k for their match against DC on Thursday night.

The weekend games started on Saturday afternoon with more than 17,500 in Houston for a Fire/Dynamo draw.  The Revs rode a college/youth soccer night promotion to a staggering 21k while TFC gave up a lead late in front of more than 20k against the Red Bulls.  Colorado managed almost 14k for their MLS Cup rematch against Dallas, while San Jose eclipsed 10,500 in one of the late night games while the Galaxy sold all 27k tickets in the other MLS nightcap.  In Sunday action, Vancouver sold out their new arena with 21k, while Columbus managed a respectable 15,500 plus for their Sunday game.


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