Soccer Stadium Update: Houston

It has been a while since we looked at stadium construction around the league, but today, Houston’s rising downtown digs is the sole edifice in our sights. Officially, the Dynamo’s new home is called BBVA Compass Stadium.  The 22,000 seat stadium will host its first Dynamo match on May 12, 2012.  The stadium will be shared with Texas Southern Football and other local events.  Total cost of the projected stadium is expected to be about $95 million with the Dynamo ownership (primarily AEG and Golden Boy Promotions) funding about $60 million.

The stadium includes 33 suites in close proximity to the field and 2 party suites.  Construction is moving along nicely.  Those standing on the grass field will have the opportunity to look at 75 foot canopies hanging over the stands.  The downtown stadium is part of a stadium district that includes facilities for a number of Houston’s sports teams.

The team recently started the process of installing orange clad seats in the new stadium.  For those interested in following the pace of construction, there is a great stadium webcam that fans can follow here.  Season tickets start at $250 per seat in the team Supporter’s Section.  The VIP Club seats start at $1825 for the season.  The team is offering 10 different price points for season tickets with highest number of seats going for $400 per ticket.  The pricing list can be found here. The team is also offering partial season ticket plans for 5 or 10 games.

Finally, the Dynamo are the latest team to offer the virtual venue feature that allows fans to view their seats and the field view.  To examine that feature, click here.

The Monday After

The big soccer game on American soil over the weekend involved the Women’s National Team, which packed more than 20,000 people into FC Dallas Stadium as part of a 2-1 victory over New Zealand.  That is a big number for a friendly game against a non-big name opponent, especially given the fairly cold temperatures in the Dallas area.    The two American goals were scored by Alex Morgan, both in the last few minutes.  Morgan has been in the headlines over the last couple of days after it was announced that she would appear in the upcoming Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue as one of three female athletes.  Any publicity is good publicity, especially in the women’s game, which has suffered a significant setback withe loss of the WPS.  Morgan’s appearance in SI will certainly generate conversation about the player/sport.

Elsewhere, there are reports that the Crew are off to a good start selling sponsorships for 2012.  Although the team still lacks a jersey sponsor (now for the second straight year), the team is reportedly 20% ahead of last year’s sponsorship pace.  The linked story provides some great detail about some of the business aspects of the Crew, including efforts to find a sponsor for the seemingly perpetually named Crew Stadium.

Finally, it was another strong weekend for the Americans on loan to the English Premier League.  Thierry Henry played his last EPL match of the year and finished in style by scoring the game winner in extra time in Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Sunderland.  Landon Donovan continued his hot run of form, contributing an assist in Everton’s 2-1 win.

Soccer Busines: Colorado Creative, Legal Trouble & More

Time for some quick hitters from around the soccer business world.  We’ll start in Colorado, where the Rapids have taken a unique step to promote season tickets and reward their best customers. The team’s 2013 jerseys will include the names of its 2012 season ticket holders woven into the shirts.  The campaign, titled, “Be Part of the Fabric of the Team” is part of the team’s “One Club” theme.  According to a quote in the press release attributed to the team president, Tim Hinchey “this is a unique and special opportunity to have our loyal supporters on the pitch with our players in seasons ahead.”

The Houston Dynamo are all over the news thanks to a weekend dust-up at a local club that involved multiple members of the team.  Because of racial undertones involving the incident and because of prior issues involving the same establishment, the event has generated more interest than the typical late night kerfuffle.  In addition, the Dynamo are one of the teams that have managed to infiltrate the mainstream sports culture in their town.  The toxic combination of race, sports, celebrity and the alleged assault of a police officers guarantees that this story will stay in the public eye. For more, click here.

Finally, the Columbus Business First is reporting that the Crew is pitching local businesses by stating that the team has “generated more than $384 million in direct spending in the region since the Crew started play in 1996 and produced $23.2 million in tax revenue for Columbus, Franklin County and Ohio.”  The team is rolling out these stats as part of an aggressive corporate sales/season ticket sames drive.

Happy Anniversary….to Us!

Amazingly enough, Footiebusiness is about to start its 4th year of covering the business of American soccer.    It has been a great ride and one that I hope to continue to enjoy and improve. When I started the site, I had no idea how long it would last, whether there was any interest in the business aspects of American soccer or whether anyone would read what I wrote.  Three years later,  I couldn’t be more pleased with how things have evolved.

Year three was far and away the best for Footiebusiness. Since I started writing, the business developments in American soccer have come fast and furious.  New television deals, jersey sponsorships, expansion, stadium construction and an array of additional items continue to alter the business landscape of soccer in the United States.

I am amazed at the multitudes that come here every day for information about the business of the beautiful game and then keep coming back for more. It has been more fun and more challenging to bring fresh content on a daily basis than I ever could have imagined and it has been the feedback from readers that have motivated the site to continue to move forward.   So to our readers, we offer a big THANK YOU.

I am looking forward to a bigger and better fourth year and invite you to let me know what stories you want Footiebusiness to cover.  As always, if you have an interest in guest posting or just want to discuss the business of the game, feel free to drop a line to Footiebusiness@gmail.com

Thanks again for reading.

Ben

The Art of Making a Schedule: Interview with Brad Pursel

Ever Winter, Major League Soccer releases its schedule for the upcoming season.  In addition to setting out the slate of games, the initial release sets out the national television schedule, establishes breaks for FIFA dates and gives fans an opportunity to plan their Summer of soccer.  We thought it would be worthwhile to talk to Brad Pursel, Major League Soccer’s Vice President of Club Services about the process of putting together the league schedule.  Mr. Pursel has overseen the league’s calendar since 2002 and has been with the league since 1998.

Footiebusiness.com: When does the process of creating the MLS season schedule begin?  What are the first steps?

Brad Pursel: It’s a yearlong process, and the first steps are determining what the competition format is — how many games each team will play, the conference breakdown, when the season starts and ends, how do we play around FIFA dates and other competitions. That’s the starting point, and there are various committee meetings at the league-level and club level throughout the year to discuss the schedule.

The actual schedule development begins in earnest in September and October, and then it all comes together in December.


FB: When do the league’s national television partners become involved in the process? How much input do they have in formatting the schedule?  Has working with NBC been a significant change?

BP: Our broadcast partners are involved in the process from the start. We work very closely with them throughout the year in the planning process to determine their broadcast windows — the number of windows, times, days of the week, etc.

Working with NBC has not been significantly different because essentially they replaced FOX and the process for scheduling games has not changed. NBC has been great to work with and they are going to be a great partner.

FB: Last year the league included at least 5 nationally televised matches as part of the July 4th holiday.  This year, no nationally televised games are scheduled for Independence Day.  What is the cause of this significant change?  Were ratings over July 4th disappointing?

BP: We generally have very strong crowds on or around the 4th of July and the atmosphere was there; however, looking at the ratings from last year, we decided not to do as many games around the 4th this year. Last year the 4th of July was part of a long weekend and this year it’s midweek, so that also factored into the thought process.

FB: How do potential attendance concerns factor into the scheduling process? 

BP: Attendance is always a factor, especially for our big national TV games.  We want games that are going to be well attended but also are compelling rivalries and present great atmosphere for TV. We try to maximize attendance by scheduling games on weekends, especially on Saturdays. We are always looking at data to help drive our decisions.

FB: How has the increase in soccer specific stadiums impacted the scheduling process?  Is venue availability a significant concern?

BP: Having our own soccer specific stadiums where we control the dates has been tremendously helpful in the scheduling process over the years. We still have some challenges in buildings where we’re not the primary tenant or where we’re not controlling the dates, and that has a domino effect to everybody else. But the growth of soccer-specific stadiums has had a very positive impact on the scheduling process.

 

Monday After

Most of the United States was focused on the “other football” this weekend, but there were still some soccer business stories coming out over the last few days.  We’ll start with FOX’s broadcast of the Manchester United/Chelsea match over the weekend.  Once again, the network offered an EPL match over network television via a live broadcast.  Once again, the network included Piers Morgan in its coverage.  Two weeks ago, the live telecast of Arsenal/Manchester United on FOX drew 1.2 million viewers and a .8 rating.

Sticking with the networks, the SuperBowl provided NBC with an opportunity to really show its commitment to its new Major League Soccer partner.  With hours of game action and promo spots to fill, the network’s new sports property did not rate a mention during the game (neither did the NHL).  NBC also announced during the weekend that it will carry the June 3 match between the USA and Canada on the NBC Sports Network.

Elsewhere, the Timbers ran into a bit injury trouble with their new Designated Player signing Jose Adolpho Valencia.  The intriguing Colombian was found to have a knee injury which could sideline him for the entire season.  What makes the injury an interesting subject for this site is the excellent way the Timbers handled the news.  Between Twitter posts from owner Merritt Paulson, to video interviews with team management about the contractual ramifications of the injury, the team did an outstanding job of connecting with their fans to keep them fully informed.  A possible season ending injury to a young star in the preseason would be national news in many sports, but soccer does not yet enjoy that level of coverage. Yet the team effectively leveraged its social media presence to ensure they conveyed their desired message about the injury, the impact and the future.

Transfer Madness

When I started this site back in 2009, I had expected the site to devote a significant amount of ink to the transfer market and the finances involved in buying and selling players.  Over time the focus has shifted to marketing, promotions, broadcast and other business issues facing soccer in the United States.  However, as the January transfer window comes to a close and a number of American players MLS teams made significant moves, it is worth noting some of the uniquely American aspects of the transfer market that were captured by the moves over the last few days.

We can start with Portland, where the Timbers announced the signing of all time Scottish Premier League leading scorer Kris Boyd.  What makes the transfer unique to MLS is that Boyd was actually the subject of a”discovery claim” by the Houston Dynamo.  Thus, Portland had to provide the Dynamo compensation in order to secure Boyd’s rights.  The discovery process allows teams to put claims on up to 10 players per year regardless of their country or pedigree.  For more on the signing, click here.

The Timbers followed that signing by bringing US Youth International Charles Renken to Portland.  The signing of Renken brought another uniquely MLS rule to the fore.  Portland was able to obtain Renken’s rights only after 18 other teams had passed on the opportunity to claim the player.  Renken was originally subject to the league’s allocation waiver draft.

Finally, we’ll conclude with the Timbers’ Cascadia cousins to the North in Vancouver, where the Whitecaps recently added former Philly forward Sebastien Le Toux.  What makes the transfer uniquely MLS, is the terms of the transfer, which included allocation funds.  The funds are a valuable commodity in the league, but are foreign to the rest of the soccer playing world.  The Union can now use those funds to bring additional players to PPL Park without regard to the salary cap.

WPS Shuts Down Operations

We’ve admittedly given short shrift to the fate of the WPS, which announced that it was suspending operations for 2012.  Over the years, we had expressed cautious  optimism about the league both on this site and elsewhere.  The three year old league has definitely had some ups and downs in the last couple of years.  We have documented the league’s struggles at the gate, but things reached a bizarre stage when the former Washington Freedom franchise was sold to a Florida based investor who refused to name the team and the league defending champions closed up shop in consecutive seasons.  That investor, Dan Borislaw is blamed by the league for its ultimate demise.

Despite those strange circumstances, the league continued to pick up new sponsors and open stadiums.  Last year WPS announced that Sahlen’s Hot Dogs was the league’s 6th official sponsor and a new franchise and SSS opened in Buffalo for the 2011 campaign.WPS is good for soccer and good for women’s sports and its self imposed hiatus is definitely a setback.

In March of 2009 we interviewed WPS Director of Communications Robert Penner. At the time, the league was set to kick of its first season.

On March 29, Women’s Professional Soccer will kick-off its inaugural season with a nationally televised match-up at the Home Depot Center.  Pitting the Los Angeles Sol against the Washington Freedom, the opening match will feature Brazilian star Marta and U.S. National Team scorer Abby Wambach.

 

Rising from the ashes of the WUSA, the WPS is seeking to gain a permanent foothold in the U.S. sporting scene.  A  national TV deal, a partnership with MLS and a reduction in team costs are all part of the “new model” .  WPS director of communciations Robert Penner was kind of enough to chat with footiebusiness.com about some of the business aspects of the WPS.  Mr. Penner is a veteran of sports media and marketing and has worked with the A.T.P.,  U.S. Open and NBC.  Most recently, Mr. Penner worked with Puma, a founding partner of the WPS.

 

 

 

Footiebusiness.com: Who does WPS view as the target demographic? When affiliating with the League, who are your sponsors looking to reach?

 

Robert Penner: Our core demographic is of course the young female soccer player age 8-18 who plays at the club and recreational level, but we also want to reach their parents, fitness-minded women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, as well as soccer fans in general. With our world class product and athletes on the field, we think we can accomplish that. The sponsors that we have met with and those that have signed on with WPS, know that we can help deliver this hard-to-reach demographic to them through many different activation platforms.


 

 

FB: How does the media relationship with FSC differ from the media model pursued by the WUSA? What efforts are being made to secure local TV deals?

 

RP: First, we wanted a network that spoke to the core of what our league stands for, in this case world class soccer – so FSC was a great fit for us. In addition, we wanted appointment television so our fans know exactly when and where they can watch WPS every week. FSC has made the commitment to promote our league across their various media partners and online, so that was important to us. At the local level, we are working with two potential regional television partners and hope to know our regional TV schedule very soon.


 

FB: How closely will WPS work with MLS? What are the advantages/disadvantages of a close relationship?

 

RP: We have gained a tremendous amount of insights from MLS. They are our sales arm through our agreement with SUM, so officially we are business partners on the sales side of things. In other areas, there are overlapping synergies with operations for some teams and several teams share stadiums such as Chicago, Bay Area and Los Angeles. DC United and the Washington Freedom have announced several doubleheaders and our new franchise in Philadelphia has had a lot of discussions with the MLS Philadelphia franchise that is coming on board next year. There’s a lot we can learn from MLS, they’ve done a great job building their league to where it is today 13 years after their launch.


 

FB: What are the League’s goals/expectations for attendance/ratings in the first two years?

 

RP: We’ve said all along that we want to keep our expectations in check and we are shooting for 4,000-6,000 fans per game for the opening season, which we think is reasonable and will still make our league model profitable.


 

FB: We have heard about Amway’s deal with the Sol. Who is responsible for securing jersey sponsorship (i.e. the teams or the League)? Can we expect additional announcements about such sponsors prior to the season?

 

RP: Team shirt deals, the inventory on the front of the jerseys, is for sale by the teams. From what we’ve heard there have been some other fruitful discussions so we are hopeful that there will be other announcements over the course of the season.


 

Thanks to Robert Penner.  WPS opens play this weekend on FSC.

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