Monday After: Vancouver Sponsors, Fake Grass & More

alex morganLast post of 2012 will be our regular Monday After feature.  No new post on New Year’s Day, but I will return with a final update on the Business Story of the Year on January 2.

We’ll start this week in Vancouver, where the Whitecaps ended 2012 by publishing an informative and comprehensive aggregation of their partnership aggregations in 2012.  The team produced article includes video about many of events, and provides additional exposure for the team’s commercial partners.  The team should be applauded for putting this list together.  We’ve repeatedly written about the loyalty shown by MLS fans to to sponsors, offering a last acknowledgement of their 2012 contribution provides one last benefit and provides further evidence of the team’s commitment to its sponsors.  To see the final review, click here.

Frequent readers of this site know that I find the turf/grass debate overplayed.  Regardless, many fans (and many players and coaches) have strong feelings about the safety factor of natural grass versus its imitators.  Last week, there was some discussion of placing World Cup Qualifiers in the Pacific Northwest using temporary grass fields.  Major League Soccer’s website has a good aggregation of the arguments on both sides of the issue and some information regarding possible locations of the upcoming matches.  You can find a link here.

One final note.  With the National Women’s Soccer league gearing up for its first season, reports of player allocation, draft rules and other items are starting to emerge.  Jeff Kassouf does his usually thorough job of covering the women’s game and you kind find more about the roster process here.

Business Story of the Year: Your Vote

Over the last couple of weeks, we have set out our top four business stories of 2012.  Now it is time for your vote.   If you want to read our descriptions of the four finalists, click here.  Cast your vote.  Polls close on Sunday night.  If you pick “other” drop a comment with your suggested winner.

mls

Making the MLS Schedule

mlsEvery Winter, Major League Soccer releases its schedule for the upcoming season. Two weeks ago, the league announced the home openers and the full schedule is soon to follow.  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.

 

Business Stories of the Year: Part II

nbcStarting last  week (and in no particular order), we began the process of discussing the top American soccer business stories of the year.  Here is the first entry.  At the start of next week we will conduct a vote to see which of the entrants you think is the winner.

San Jose Stadium (Finally)

On October 21, 2012, the San Jose Earthquakes set a dubious record with more than 6,200 participants in the ground breaking at their new stadium.   While the importance of having the Guinness Book of World Records mark the event is debatable, there is no question that moving forward with this long stalled project is great news for the team and the league.  San Jose  had a great year on the field and to cap this off with the start of construction of a new 18,000 stadium shows great progress for a team that was forced to depart for Houston just a few years ago.

After multiple fits and starts, the team appeared to cross some final hurdles and appeared ready to start the construction process a few months back.  A while back, the team held a ceremonial ground breaking at the start of the demo process.   Although the event included a fair amount of pomp and circumstance, the demolition does not guarantee construction.    A rendering of the proposed stadium is here.

The Stadium will seat 18,000 and is set to open in 2014.  According to the Mercury News, the facility “sits at Coleman Avenue and Newhall Street, across from Mineta San Jose International Airport.

NBC Makes a Mark

In 2011, NBC and MLS announced a three year deal that would make the Peacock the rights holder to the second level television package for the league.  During the 2012 season, soccer fans got a taste of the big time promotion and top level production values that NBC promises as part of its relationship.  Arlo White and Kyle Martino proved an excellent broadcast team and the network’s “between the benches” approach offered a great perspective.  The network’s companion coverage on MLS 36 was excellent.

During the Spring, the NBC Sports Network did an excellent job putting MLS in front of their NHL audience.  When Fall came and went without any NHL hockey, MLS arguably became NBCSN’s most important live property.  With no hockey to show, NBCSN devoted extra air time to the MLS Cup Playoffs.   Ratings were solid, showing a significant increase over the FSC broadcasts from 2011.   The ProSoccer Talk website has also become an important online stop for fans looking for soccer news.

Monday After: Happy Holidays

quinnI know many of my readers are on vacation, off from work or spending time with family this week. However, I want to take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful holiday season and Happy 2013.  I don’t say this enough, but this site would have shut down long ago without your contributions, readership and interest.  So thank you for your readership, and have a wonderful week with your friends and families.

That said, I will still have some posts up this week.  I will likely not have any new content on Christmas, but definitely some new content for the rest of the week.  Don’t forget to share your thoughts on the business stories of the year.

First, I want to recognize the Houston Dynamo for their wonderful gesture directed towards the community of Newtown, Connecticut.  A number of Dynamo players and staff will travel to Newtown in early January for a “Soccer Night Out” in the grief stricken community.  Team General Manager Chris Canetti is a Connecticut native and he will lead the Dynamo delegation.  The Qunnipiac University soccer team will also be involved in the event.  For more on the event, click here.

One final note.  The league announced the schedule for home openers last week.  The season opens on March 2 with an array of fascinating matches and continues the following day with another set of top games.  The national television schedule will come later, but Portland hosting New York, Philly hosting Sporting and Houston hosting DC are all possible games for the league’s partners.  The Canadian networks will likely focus on Vancouver and Toronto from BC Place.

 

Business Stories of the Year

wpsOver the next couple of days (and in no particular order), we will present the top American soccer business stories of the year.  Late next week we will conduct a vote to see which of the entrants you think is the winner.

The End of WPS

The three year old league announced that it was suspending operations for 2012, and ultimately, the doors remained shuttered.  Over the years, we had expressed cautious  optimism about the league both on this site and elsewhere.  The three year old leaguedefinitely had some ups and downs but its closure came as something of a shock.  We had 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.

Impact

The 19th MLS franchise started play in 2012 with the Montreal Impact kicking off.  The team settled into its refurbished digs at Stade Saputo and despite some mid-season struggles, the team ultimately drew well at the gate.  With a BMO shirt sponsorship and an apparent willingness to spend money.  The newly refurbished stadium looked great and combined great public transportation access with a Euro-style fanbase.

The team announced a five year partnership with Quebecor Media.  The relationship covers sponsorship, media, technology and more.  As part of that relationship, TVA Sports will be the team’s flagship broadcaster and will have rights to most of the team’s broadcast matches.  According to the official press release, the relatinship with TVA will go further than just broadcasts.  TVA Group PResident and CEO Pierre Dion says,  ”We want to offer rich, varied coverage that gives viewers full information about the Impact and the game of soccer through interviews with players, behind-the-scenes reports, and interviews with the team’s owners and with experts.”

 

 

Laidig Speaks: All He Wants for Christmas

santaThis time of year is widely considered the season of giving.  However, as a parent to three young girls, I also know that this is also the season of wish lists.  And it is in this spirit that I offer: what I want in soccer statistics. I made this list because I hope these metrics will be developed and made available to soccer fans (and stat geeks). If my wishes are granted, broadcast analysis would be more informative and interesting, and the understanding of the game would grow.  And as understanding of the game grows, sports fans become casual soccer fans, and casual soccer fans become season ticket holders.  In addition, I think this information would be useful for the teams that analyze performance, which would lead to better performance across the league.

First, I’d ask Santa (or Don Garber, or Opta, or Stats Inc…you get the idea) for information tracking 2nd Tier passing.  In other words, I’d like to know if the recipient of a pass was then able to complete a pass or attempt a shot (defined as an assist or “key pass” by Opta). Devin Pleuler, author of the Central Winger column for MLSSoccer.com, has published some of this data.  But one person compiling the data by hand is not the widespread availability I am wishing for here.  The bottom line is, good players complete passes.  Great players make passes that allow their teammate to do something with the ball.  Let’s keep track of that.

Second, as long as we talking about passing information, let’s separate the square/back passes from the more aggressive forward passes.  The forward passes are more difficult to complete, and are similarly more likely to unlock a defense.  Although conservative passing may be wise in a specific situation, treating all passes equally loses important information, and just doesn’t fit our understanding of the game.

Third, let’s ask for a defensive metric. I’d like to know if a player was able to pressure opponents, shut down the attack etc.  We have stats for dispossession, such as tackles, interceptions, and recoveries.  But a defender may harass an opponent all night, reducing the opponent’s production in a way that’s less visible. Thus, let’s report an opponent’s passing percentage allowed by each defender/player (preferably separated into the types of passes as above).  Sure, this requires some judgment in determining the closest defender, and whether the player is close enough to get the credit (or blame) for a pass.  But it’s the season to think big.soccer stats

Finally, and this is the biggest ask of all.  I want a metric to quantify off-the-ball movement.  I know there is some data on the number and speed of sprints.  But we should also add location information; where the run is on the pitch, how far, relation to the ball, etc.  We know that off-the-ball movement helps the offense by drawing defenders, wearing down opponents, screening defenders and the like.  However, if we don’t measure it, we have a tough time recognizing these efforts.  And I think the collective wisdom of the soccer universe can determine which actions are the most meaningful, and then follow that up with accurate measurement.

I’ll be the first one up on Christmas morning to see what I get.

Tuesday After

sporting kansas citBack with our regular look at the weekend that was in the world of soccer business.  One of the big stories at the end of last week involved hot rumors that Manchester City ownership was aggressively looking to pay $100 million for the New York City franchise in Major League Soccer.  The story was reported by an array of credible outlets and the reporting suggested that the deal was near completion.  The story was denied by Manchester City the next day, with multiple sources noting that the team has been losing massive amounts of money in the EPL.  Not surprisingly, David Beckham’s name was also part of the story, with reports suggesting that he was involved in the ownership effort.

At halftime of the US Womens National Team;s final game of 2012, the name of the new Women’s soccer league was announced.   The game (and announcement) were carried live on NBC Sports Network.  The National Women’s Soccer League will begin play next year.  The eight teams in the new league will be: Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit, Western New York Flash and Seattle.  The markets and teams are the product of months of maneuvering and negotiations by their ownership groups, U.S. Soccer and other women’s soccer stakeholders. The latter group includes the national team players themselves, whose contracts are being structured to include both international and league duty – a unique arrangement which has apparently contributed to the delays in the new league’s rollout.

One final note, Sporting Kansas City sent around a video Christmas card.  It really is fantastic.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is.  http://www.myskcfamily.com/happyholidays/

A Night Off in Tribute to a Tragedy

As many of my regular readers are aware, I am based in Connecticut, in the Hartford area.  As all of you know, a great tragedy befell a small community in my small state on Friday.  In light of those horrific events, I thought it appropriate to skip a night of posting about soccer as a very small tribute to those who needlessly lost their lives in Newtown on Friday.

I grew up in Trumbull, CT, two towns over from Newtown and have many connections to that community.  Like all of you, I watched the news rush in on Twitter, television and elsewhere with a mix of horror, anger and shock.  Like many of you I went home and hugged my kids tight, wondering about the parents and siblings of those poor 6 and 7 year olds and what torture they must be enduring.

So, I want to use this space to offer my prayers and thoughts to those in Newtown.

Ben

More About that Loyalty Question

bimboYesterday we wrote about the Turnkey Sports study (as reported by SBJ) that demonstrated the incredible brand awareness and loyalty of Major League Soccer fans. We’ve been reporting on that survey for a number of years and the remarkable willingness of MLS fans to actively promote companies that invest in the league is a common thread.  According to data from the 2010 version of the survey, 80% of avid MLS fans are more likely to recommend a product or service if it has a relationship with the league.  How many of you have considered Continental Tires, Allstate Insurance or a room at a Sheraton Four Points because of the MLS ties?

The demonstrated loyalty of MLS fans provides a unique business opportunity for potential and existing league sponsors.  One of the key points to emerge from the study was that the level of visibility achieved by MLS sponsors far outstrips their market penetration.  The VW data is a telling on this point.  We noted yesterday that VW has a 28.5%  recognition level among avid MLS fans.  Per SBJ, “that VW recognition comes as only 3 percent of all cars sold in the United States through October were VWs, according to Autodata research.” Thus, even though the league as a comparatively small fan base, sponsors get incredible bang for the buck.

We received some interesting e-mails and Tweets discussing the vested interest soccer fans have long had in the success of the league.  So we now pose the question here.  How many of you are more willing to consider products  because of their investment in the league.  Will you buy Continental Tires, an AT&T plan or Allstate insurance?  Do you distinguish between team sponsors (Quaker) and league sponsors (Four Points)?  Drop a line and let us know.

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