Monday After

Before we get to the attendance, perhaps the biggest business story of the weekend emerged on Friday when it was announced the Los Angeles Galaxy have re-upped their relationship with jersey sponsor Herbalife.   The Sports Business Daily story reports that the new 10 year deal is worth a reported $4.4 million over 10 years. Here is a link to the team’s official press release video.   The deal is remarkable for its length and long term security and provides an important indication that the business community believes that the Galaxy brand will have staying power beyond David Beckham’s tenure in Los Angeles.  For reference, the recent Fire deal with Quaker (also an iconic brand), is a reported $8million over 3 years.

On the attendance front, it was a weekend of great highs and troubling lows.  On the top end, Montreal opened its MLS home schedule before almost 60k at Olympic Stadium on Saturday afternoon.  Later that day, Chivas USA failed to top 8k at the Home Depot Center, a troubling number for a franchise we highlighted 2 years ago for their success in achieving reasonable crowds in a environment.  Elsewhere, San Jose played at AT&T Park before more than 21k in a rather dull affair against Houston.  Kansas City hit its 19,777 number in their home thrashing of the Revs.  At the same time, Dallas drew 12,200 for their second home game of the season.  In Seattle, more than 38k witnessed the Sounders victory while 16,700 were at Rio Tinto for RSL’s win over New York.

On Sunday, Philadelphia opened its home schedule with its first 19k plus sell out of 2012.  The game was broadcast on the NBC Sports Network.

Soccer Business Bits: Big Day in Montreal, TV Ratings & More

Hard to believe the second week of league action is already here, but the weekend provides another round of home openers and thrilling story lines. None is bigger than the first ever home game for the MLS franchise in Montreal.  The Impact open the home portion of their schedule on Saturday afternoon with an anticipated crowd in excess of 53,000 expected at Olympic Stadium, the team’s temporary home.  The game will be nationally telecast on TSN and is one of three nationally televised matches on the slate for the weekend.  ESPN is the only national television partner without a match during the weekend.  18 of the league’s teams will play on Saturday or Sunday.

Elsewhere, ESPN2’s ratings for the riveting Monday match in Portland are in.  The match drew an average of 337,000 viewers and a rating just over .2  The numbers are down over last year’s opener but are not overly disappointing for a match not featuring Los Angeles or Seattle.  However, the game is significant increase over the ESPN2 average for 2011.  Also recall that the opener last year was on ESPN.

The Washington Post’s Steve Goff is reporting that DC United has signed a two year lease to remain at RFK Stadium and will limit capacity at the stadium to just under 20k.  The upper levels will be tarped and the team will attempt to sell sponsorships for the covers.  The deal also includes a promise to provide certain improvements to the stadium which will be paid for through a ticket fee surcharge.

Finally, ESPN offers this 47 movie devoted to David Beckham’s time in Los Angeles.

Week One MLS TV Viewership

Over the last couple of days, various sources have releases the amount of viewers for the opening weekend of Major League Soccer.  In Canada, the news was great.  According to a press release from TSN, the combined Canadian viewing audience (RDS and TSN) exceed 540k on average.  That is a great number for the opening match.  The first match included to Canadian franchises, so whether those numbers will continue remains to be seen.

Perhaps most remarkable, the press release indicates that more than 2.5 million Canadians watched some or all of the game.  Per the press release, “TSN, along with RDS, are the official broadcasters of Major League Soccer (MLS) in Canada with a national broadcast package that includes 36 games featuring Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC. TSN also has live coverage of 22 games featuring U.S.-based teams, along with exclusive Canadian coverage of the MLS CUP Playoffs, the MLS Cup 2012 and the MLS ALL-STAR GAME.”

At the same time, the NBC broadcast averaged 82,000 viewers.  For context, ESPN averaged just under 300k viewers for its broadcasts last year while FSC averaged just under 70k.  While those numbers appear disappointing, they are acceptable within the realm of the NBC Sports Network’s early struggles to attract viewers.  Per the Sports Business Daily, “[d]espite heavy promotion on the NBC broadcast network and a focus on higher-quality shows, viewership for NBC Sports Network is down 21 percent on a total-day basis from January 2011 to January 2012. In January 2011, Versus averaged 78,000 viewers. In January 2012, the first month of NBC Sports Network, that figure dropped to 62,000.”  The one program doing well on NBSCN is live NHL, which now occupies almost every night of the network schedule.

 

 

The Rise of Soccer Quants

Once again, Footiebusiness Contributor David Laidig back with a great look at an item of interest to soccer fans. Thanks to Dave for another great piece.

The use of analytics is rising in sports, and is a quiet revolution in soccer as well. Using analytics – or
quantitative based analysis – in soccer is nothing new. In fact, in the late 70’s, the manager for Dynamo
Kyiv would post targets of specific game behaviors (such as tackles, interceptions, headers on goal,
and types of passes) for his players, with the targets reflecting the style of play and tactics adopted for
that particular game.1 However, for the quantitative analyst – or Quant – obtaining this data remained
challenging and labor intensive. But in spite of this difficulty, efforts continue with the goal of applying
empirical analysis to tactics, strategies, revenue streams, and maximizing value under a salary cap
or other cost restrictions. For the fan, the last example is the first that comes to mind. Indeed, the
term Moneyball still remains a shortened definition for unearthing market inefficiencies in sports. An
attractive concept – even without Brad Pitt – for MLS teams with less purchasing power than teams in
established European leagues. But the Quants are gaining visibility and influence within the world of
soccer. And behind this trend are new technologies yielding new data and a growing class of soccer
analysts that bring their own perspective to the beautiful game.

Evidence of the Soccer Quants is undeniable. For example, MIT recently hosted the Sloan Sports
Analytics Conference where, for the second year in a row, soccer was the focus of its own session.2
There, interestingly, the biggest data-driven teams were listed as Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, and
Manchester City in England and Dortmund and Hamburg in the Bundesliga.3 And considering that
soccer is a sport that has embraced new media, it is heartening that several outlets provide a forum
for discussions of soccer analytics.4 Even twitter heralds the Quant trend as Gavin Fleig, Head of
Performance Analysis for Manchester City, recently offered to answer public questions via twitter for an
hour while on the train to a Man City fixture. And yes, I kicked myself for watching my kids instead of
my twitter feed.

Some have incorporated this trend towards analysis in innovative ways. For example, the EPL Index
allows fans, for a small subscription fee, to access a wide variety of game statistics.5 And not only is
access available, but fans are encouraged to post the results of their analyses on the site. The result
is a mix of organic social media with quantitative analysis. This not only strengthens public ties to the
league, but also advances the knowledge of the game. In the United States, such access to data is not
widely available. MLS does offer insightful chalkboards for its games, thanks to its partnership with Opta, but the aggregation of such data is time intensive and the information provided is more limited.
However, in spite of difficulties, the appetite for quantitative analysis continues unabated. A recent
example illustrates how grass roots pursuit of quantitative analysis sheds light on fundamental business
decisions.

MLS has recently published a Performance Index, sponsored by the league sponsor Castrol, summarizing
the 2011 season. This Castrol Index assigns a number for each player; a number intended to represent
that individual’s contribution to the team’s wins. Benjamin Leinwand and Chris Anderson used the
Castrol Index and player salaries in their analysis suggesting that the MLS market undervalues defensive
play, and overvalues forwards.6 Using Leinwand and Anderson’s result, teams would be justified in
second-guessing a high-priced Forward contract, and may decide to emphasize Defenders.

However, the Castrol Index is highly correlated with minutes played, especially for the group of players
with less than 1800 minutes (20 full games). The number of minutes played contributes nearly 90% of
the variability to the Castrol Index for players with less than 1800 minutes. For the players with 1800 or
more minutes in 2011, their time was not related to the Castrol Index score – suggesting that the Index
is measuring something else besides playing time for this group.

Thus, by looking at the Castrol Index from another perspective (i.e., its relationship to minutes played),
one can better utilize the information by accounting for its limitations. For example, one might target
players that over perform based on minutes played (but still fall behind the league leaders that get
regular playing time). And an analysis of market efficiency using the Castrol Index should begin by
looking at players with significant playing time, or risk losing the value of an objective performance
measure.7 And with more questions than answers, active debates and the opportunities for teams to
gain advantage will only continue in the future.

As a lawyer who negotiates contracts on a regular basis, I understand that every negotiation is tied to an
underlying assessment of value. I recommend that front office types learn the language of the Quant in
order to better support their technical staff, and make their business more efficient.8 Brad Pitt may play
you in a movie.

1 Jonathon Wilson, Inverting the Pyramid, p. 244.
2For an insightful report of the conference from a soccer perspective, and an interview with Drew Carey, Zach
Slaton’s SSAC entries at http://www.abeautifulnumbersgame.com/ are a must read.
3 Id.
4A few of my frequently checked sites include:

http://www.abeautifulnumbersgame.com/

http://www.thenumericaladvantage.com/

http://socceranalysts.com/

http://transferpriceindex.com/blog/ and
http://www.futbolforgringos.com/ (for analysis of tactics with a quantitative flavor).
5http://www.eplindex.com/
6See full article at http://www.soccerbythenumbers.com/2012/02/how-efficient-are-player-salaries-in.html
7And all of this was done by stat-loving fans looking to avoid real work.
8For reference, the mating call of the Quant is “who wants a Guinness”?

Business Blogging: NBC Broadcasts MLS

At 3:00 Eastern on Sunday, NBC kicked off its three years of MLS coverage on Sunday with a live broadcast from Frisco, Texas.  As we often do for big soccer telecasts, we prepared a business blog of the event.  Generally, the reviews of NBC’s fist broadcat were extremely positive.  Both the booth and studio teams drew high reviews and production values were first rate.

The broadcast started with a voice over promo for soccer on NBC and followed with a high production value introduction.  The live broadcast quickly moved to the field with White and Martino doing a stand-up pitchside.  The studio team was also on-site and Robbie Earle and Russel Thaler provided some good insight into some of the competitive changes facing the league in 2012.  The first set of ads came from the Marines, Dick’s, 5 Hour Energy, Panasonic and Gillette.  Both the Panasonic and Dick’s spots included MLS content.  The broadcast then came back for a quick look at starting line-ups before going to back to a set of ads for Continental Tire, KFC mycleanpc.com.

The broadcast returned with an on-field interview with Henry, an area of focus from NBC this year.  Other ads included E-Trade, Belvita, Wrath of the Titans, Subaru, Kingsford and choicehotels. Continental Tire sponsored Kyle Martino’s keys to the game. Panasonic was the first on-screen advertiser.  There was some choppiness to the broadcast in the 30th minute both we replays and some of the live footage. Arlo White announced Sleep Inn as a partner in the 32nd minute.

Halftime ads included the Marine Corps, 5 Hour Energy, mycleanpc.com, Buick, Allstate and other repeats.  Earle and Thaler were solid during the halftime show, providing good insight and a solid highlight package.  More game highlights from the night before would have been appreciated, but the analysis of the first half was solid.   The “story” focus was apparentl, as the broadcat kept coming back to the Red Bulls’ rookie goalie.

The second half continued the strong performance with the ususal suspects from the sponsors’ bench coming on screen.  Notably, FC Dallas’ new electronic signs were evident throughout and generally added to the professional atmosphere.  The postgame show was generally well done.

Overall, it was a great first effort by the league’s new media partner.  We will check back in later in the season to see how the network has changed its coverage.

The Monday After

First Kick is (almost) in the books with only a sold out Jeld-Wen Field left for Monday night.  Here is a look at the first week of attendance figures from around Major League Soccer.  The first set of games featured Colorado hosting Columbus and Vancouver hosting Montreal’s inaugural match.  21k sold out BC Place for Vancouver’s home opener while just over 14,700 were DSG for the Rapids.  Just over 16k came to RFK for United’s home opening lost to Sporting Kansas City.  In the dueling nightcaps, the Galaxy fell to RSL before a 27k sellout, while San Jose sold out their home opener before just 10,500.

On Sunday, FC Dallas newly named FC Dallas Stadium brought 21k to the MetroPlex for the first telecast on the NBCSN.  At night, Houston was hosted by Chivas USA before a reduced crowd at the HDC

No discussion of attendance would be complete without comment on the great crowds that came out midweek for the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals. In Seattle, more than 23,000 came to Century Link Field for the Sounders’ home win over Santos. In Toronto, TFC opened the Rogers Centre for their clash with the Beckham lead Galaxy.  The match drew a remarkable crowd of more than 47k.

In other attendance news, Chivas USA has announced that it will reduce the capacity for its home dates at the HDC. to 18,000.  The team has struggled at the gate when compared to its co-tenant.  The Goats are also said to be looking for their own stadium site in Los Angeles.

One final note about the NBC broadcast.  We will have more detail on the telecast in our next post, but first impressions were quite good.  The production was top notch, the “between the benches” gimmick was seamless and the broadcast team did a solid job throughout.

The Commissioner Speaks

Last post before the Major Soccer Season kicks off this weekend, s  Commissioner Garber held his regular pre-First Kick media conference call on Thursday.  He reiterated the great attendance success of 2011, noting 87 sellouts league wide, 5.4 million in total attendance and an average of almost 40k in Seattle.

He indicated that the league is taking control of the stadium situation in New York, finding locations, hiring consultants and researching 19 sites near the urban core.  Garber believes that a stadium ready franchise opportunity in New York City will be worth $100 million to a wide array of owners.  This is the first time the league has taken the lead in locating a stadium and the hope is that by presenting a stadium opportunity, the league will attract the most desirable ownership group.

He also confirmed that SUM sold shares to Providence Equity private equity group. Recall that last September, the Sports Business Journal reported that Providence Equity Partners was seeking to purchase 25% of SUM for $125-150 million. Finally, Garber proudly cited to an ESPN Poll that revealed that between those ages 12-24 soccer is the 2nd favorite sport. He bluntly stated that the “Statistic is empowering”.

The Commissioner also addressed a series of questions about the league’s lagging television ratings.  He admitted that the television viewership needs to increase in order to for the league to rise to the next level.  The ratings on NBC will bear watching.

Enjoy the first weekend of games and we’ll be back on Monday with a look at attendance and other stories making news over the weekend

 

 

 

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