Soccer Business Bits: MLS Pre- World Cup Version

With the World Cup about to start and MLS about to embark on a 2 week hiatus, we thought we would take a quick look around the business of the league before all eyes turn to South Africa.  A while back we reported that longtime FIFA sponsor Continental Tire has signed with MLS as a league sponsor.  The multi-year deal provides signage at all MLS matches, hospitality arrangements at games and commercials on league broadcasts.  As is typical for such league-wide deals, SUM negotiated the deal on behalf of MLS and terms of the deal were not disclosed.  Continental is now the official tire of MLS and will have the right to use league marks in its advertising and product.

Now Major League Soccer’s official website is circulating (via e-mail) a survey targeting its user’s tire preferences.  The survey asks readers for their knowledge of Continental Tire and whether they are more likely to purchase tires from Continental because of Continental’s relationship with MLS.  The survey provides some significant insight in Major League Soccer’s efforts to promote its sponsors.  Recall that Continental Tire, through the MLS website, recently offered a free MLS jersey to any fan who purchases four Continental brand tires at participating dealers in certain Northeast locations.  The jersey can be from a team of the fan’s choice and can be redeemed by submitting certain documents to a designated address. The promotion applies to purchases made between May 15 and June 30.

In New England, injured Revs star is the official World Cup analyst for Comcast Sports Net New England, the Regional Sports Network that carries the Revs. Despite his injury problems, Twellman is a recognizable figure to most Boston ara sports fans and his presence on a station as popular as CSN will likely drive mainstream interst in the Cup.

MLS closes its pre-World Cup schedule on ESPN2 Thursday night with a Seattle home game.  The game gets a lead in from ESPN2’s 2.5 hour World Cup preview and provides a great opportunity to put the outstanding atmosphere of Seattle before non-MLS soccer fans who are watching the preview might tune in for MLS action.

World Cup Sponsors: A Primer

With the World Cup on the doorstep, we thought we would discuss some of the sponsors and sponsorships that are an enormous part of the money making power of the tournament. Our survey of non-soccer fans has identified Gatorade and and Red Bull as prominent soccer sponsors, yet neither will feature prominently during the World Cup.  FIFA sponsorships are big business and only a select few can join those storied ranks. Click on our Twitter feed on the right to see some of the new World Cup commercials from around the world.

Tier-One FIFA World Cup sponsors pay almost $125 million for the right to reach 30 billion sets of TV eyeballs and almost 3 million stadium attendees.  Add in the enormous investment necessary to leverage the FIFA relationship (through ad materials, hospitality events, commercials, etc…) and only a serious company can join the elite group of eight World Cup partnerships offered by FIFA.  It was therefore surprising when it was announced that little known Chinese renewable energy company, Yingli Green Energy,  had joined titans such as Budweiser and McDonalds in the upper echelon of sports sponsorship.  The deal entitles Yingli to stadium advertising, the use of the FIFA mark, prime real estate in fan zones and much more.

Few events offer the worldwide reach of the World Cup and Yingli is taking an enormous gamble that sports fans will bring market share.  According to the Sports Business Journal, “Yingli signed its World Cup sponsorship because it believed soccer’s popularity would help the company raise brand awareness in key markets such as Germany, Italy and Spain, and potential markets such as Brazil and Africa.”  In addition, Yingli is hoping to develop relationships with other business and business leaders to increase brand awareness and sales.   Yingli develops, manufactures and sells photovoltaic modules and trades on the NYSE.  The company joins new MLS sponsor Continental Tire (a lower level World Cup sponsor) under the FIFA umbrella.

Some other World Cup sponsorship notes:  McDonalds will be leveraging its World Cup sponsorship around the world….but not in the United States.  For a new adidas ad, click here.    For an entire list of FIFA sponsors, click here.

Soccer Business Bits: Revs New Partner, Weekend Marketing and More

revsLeague sponsor American Airlines has announced a three year sponsorship with the New England Revolution, New England Patriots and Gillette Stadium.  The deal includes stadium signage, commercials, community outreach and gameday events.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.  The integrated marketing sponsorship will make American Airlines the official sponsor of both teams and the official airline of the Kraft sports properties.

While many fans will argue that the Revs are simply getting dragged into this deal on the coat tails of the Patriots, it is important for the Revs to utilize their relationship with the Pats for their own benefit.  If it means additional money or benefits for the Revs, all the better.  It will be interesting to monitor how frequently the cross promotions mention the Revs and not just the Pats.   American is a major company and a major MLS sponsor, and now they are the Revs official sponsor.

In other sponsorship/marketing news, Chivas USA is promoting a “kids night” where a child under 16 is free with the purchase of an adult ticket.  The promotion is good for the match this Saturday and two subsequent games during the season.  As we have discussed, Chivas is one team that has managed to weather the economic storm this season and increase attendance.  Click here for our interview with Chivas Director of Marketing Alex Gallegos.

Finally, the Fire are promoting their second home game of the week with a $10 ticket offer.    The tickets are good for the supporters sections and corner seats.  The Fire are also promoting a 20 ticket plan that allows fans to purchase 20 tickets that can be used at any home game or playoff game for the rest of the year.  The tickets are selling for $22 per ticket and the package did include 2 free tickets to the Galaxy game.  No sign what will happen now that the Galaxy have left the Windy City.

AT&T Becomes Big American Soccer Sponsor

at&TIf you looked closely at the jerseys worn by the MLS All-Stars, the world famous logo of AT&T was readily apparent. The reason?  The international communications provider has been announced as the official communications provider of MLS, and US Soccer.  As part of the deal, AT&T was the presenting sponsor of the MLS All-Star game and the logo was apparent around Rio Tinto stadium.  At the same time, the deal provides the opportunity for exclusive content and digital enhancments through the AT&T suite of products.  Notably, because of he involvment of SUM, the deal includes all three entities.

The press release directs you to the AT&T website, where (less than 24 hours after the press release), soccer is tough to find and the content is not impressive.  We will assume that the content will improve over time.

This is big news for MLS.  In this economic climate, an affiliation with such an internationally recognized entity is a great deal.  This is especially so because Don Garber has sugested that this is the biggest sponsorship in MLS history.

Soccer Business Bits: Seats in Seattle and More

soundersA bit of business potpurri today.  Building on its sellout success, the Seattle Sounders have announced that they are opening additional seats for the rest of the season at Qwest.  The Sounders have averaged almost 30k during the season and are now adding some additional seats for the rest of year, bringing capacity to 32,000, the same amount of seats that were available on opening day.  With 22,000 season tickets and a large amount of additional demand, the additional capacity will enable more fans to experience Sounders’ soccer this year.  It will also increase MLS average attendance for the season.  The team also recently announced new 9 game packages and confirmed friendlies with Barcelona and Chelsea.  With those games included in the 9 game packs (along with MLS CUP), the Sounders may hit that 32k for the rest of the year.

It will be interesting to see if the Sounders can sell the additional seats for every game.  As we have said before, Seattle has continued to hit the right notes with all of their business moves and this seems like a calculated gamble that will increase revenues for 2009.  There is risk if the team finds that it cannot find takers for all seats to every game.  The Sounders might unwittingly find where attendance is capped.  That could create a ripple effect whereby there is less demand next year and some negative press if they ultimately close the newly opened sections.

In Salt Lake City, RSL is looking to build on its solid attendance showing from last week.  As part of that effort, The Team announced a buy one get one free promotion with Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Fans can obtain the vouchers at 35 KFC Restaurants around the Salt Lake area.  The promotion is part of an ongoing relationship between KFC and RSL.

Finally, in Los Angeles, Chivas looks to continue its strong start on the field and at the gate againt DC United on Saturday.  As part of those efforts, they are offering a “kid’s pack” which offers a free ticket for any child under the age of 16 with the purchase of a full adult ducat.  The same package is offered for a number of upcoming games and is capped at 8 sets per purchase.  The numbers have been impressive for Chivas this year and the big “Blanco game” is on the horizon.  It will be interesting to see if the Goats can keep the fans coming.

DC United Promtions, Garber Interview and Charity Auctions

unitedDC United has long prided itself on passionate supporters groups.  Through “Behind the Badge“, the Team’s official blog, United is hoping to spread that passion to the younger set.  For this Friday’s nationally televised match against New England, United is offering $15 tickets for college students.  In addition to the tickets, the Team is offering tailgating opportunities and further promotions for large groups.  Interestingly, the Team has proactively separated its ticket sales by colleges, offering distinct pages for each University.

United will combine this promotion with a singles night, offering packages with bands, drinks and more pre-game.  The team will promote an after party at a bar in Town to keep the singles happy.  Like with the College night, the Team will offer deals for large groups that want to participate.  We say, why not??  Giving young people an excuse to drink, have fun and watch soccer seems like a pretty reasonable idea.  The weather is supposed to cooperate.  These are simple ideas, but certainly seem worth the try.

League Commisioner Don Garber sat down for a five minute interview on Fox Business Channel to discuss some MLS business basics.  Though the interview did not break any new ground, the exposure for the league in  non-traditional soccer media sources is important.  Topics such as sponsorships, expansion and impact of the economy were explored.  It was interesting to see the Commissioner refer to the two distinct fan groups (i.e. “hard core” supporters and families).  Selling to these very different groups remains a challenge for the League

One aspect of the League that often goes unnoticed is the charitable efforts of MLS W.O.R.K.S. The League’s charitable arm partners with a number of recognizable names such as Nothing but Nets and UNICEF and raises money and awareness via a number of fundraising and outreach programs.  One overlooked aspect of these efforts is the ongoing auction at MLSnet.com.  An array of game worn jerseys, autographed memorabilia and other items are available for auction during the season.  The money goes to MLS W.O.R.K.S and fans have access to a variety of neat items at reasonable prices with the certainty of authenticity.  The League has aggressively promoted the charity in the last couple years and deserves applause for these effortsmls

Soccer Business Bits: Attendance, TV and More

mlsMLS wrapped up its fourth round with a full slate of Saturday games.   The weekend was a mixed-bag at the gate with Seattle, Toronto and Houston drawing well and Columbus, San Jose and Salt Lake City disappointing.  Los Angeles posted a solid number, but still below traditional “super classico” norms.  All attendances for the week (and month) are here.

Seattle and Toronto will continue to be strong all season and the big number in Houston is encouraging. On the down side, San Jose’s failure to sell out at smallish Buck Shaw stadium is troubling.  This is especially so in light of Lew Wolff’s ongoing efforts to build a stadium.   In Salt Lake City, RSL is in its first full season at Rio Tinto Stadium and through two games, they are averaging less than 12,000 per game.  The weather hasn’t helped, but with the League’s most attractive venue, fans were certainly hoping for bigger numbers.

ESPN’s new game of the week format debuted this past weekend featuring the battle of Los Angeles.  ESPN elected to add Alexi Lalas to the booth and did not open the broadcast with a pregame show.  Alan Hopkins handled sideline reporting duties.  As usual, VW featured prominently as did Dick’s and newly active advertiser Crown Royal.  In game advertisements were few and far between (we continue to wonder why ESPN/MLS doesn’t make better use of these ads) and there was limited interruption from SportsCenter.  Interestingly, halftime was handled from Bristol; there was no sponsored soccer halftime show.  This coming week, ESPN2 will air its first Friday night game of the year, with New England traveling to RKF to face United.

In WPS action, Boston opened its home slate at a rain soaked Harvard Stadium before just under 5k.  In the FSC game, just over 5k were in Maryland for the Freedom’s home opener.  In New Jersey, less than 3k watched a tie between FC Gold Pride and Sky Blue FC.   Next week, FSC will televise Chicago’s second home match of the season fron Toyota Park.  As we have repeatedly discussed, the WPS is shooting for 4-6k per game.  With the exception of the Sky Blue game, the teams have continued to hit that target. wps

The Business of Real Salt Lake

rslThe week of RSL’s big home opener at Rio Tinto stadium has brought a number of stories about how RSL is functioning as a business in its new digs.  From “Behind the Shield, RSL’s official blog, comes word of “ticket insurance” in case of precipation at the home opener.  Unlike traditional rain check policies (where a game is rained out), the RSL policy allows fans the option of coming back for a game in August even if the game goes forward.  If there is any rain or snow between 6-10 p.m. the night of the game, all scanned tickets get a second game.  This is a clever policy, but suggests that RSL is concerned about attendance for opening night.  Check below for the opening night attendance.

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting on the RSL’s elite “100 Lions Club“.  For a base fee of $15,000, admission to the Club provides VIP seating, food service, V.I.P. parking and more.  The program also includes additional up close  meetings with players, concierge service and first rights to non-soccer events at Rio Tinto.  These are the types of programs that teams in all major sports rely upon as  an important revenue source.  These are also the types of programs that are struggling in this economy.   It will be interesting to see if RSL can keep selling these seats and selling them out.

We recently wrote about RSL announcement of Jet Blue as an official sponsor.  The deal includes signage, promotions and special offers for RSL fans.  According to this article, RSL has also signed on with Burger King, Anheiser-Busch and more.  Rio Tinto stadium is a big draw for these advertisers, because the signage and stadium advertising includes events other than soccer.  The article also announces a new TV deal for the team.

During the broadcast, Crown Royal, Heineken, Pennzoil and McDonalds were among the national advertisers.   Sponsors such as Panasonic, Chase, and Gatorade were among the signage sponsors in front of another disappointing crowd.

Business Bits: United Stadium, TV Rights and More

unitedDC United’s efforts to get a stadium built in Prince George’s County took a small step forward with the Maryland House Appropriations Committee approving a bill to fund a study about the project.  United is seeking State and County funds to build a new soccer specific stadium near the Metro in Maryland.  With RFK crumbling and a stadium near the Anacostia River, PG County is likely the best option for United.  The vote is positive, but the 17-7 vote tally is concerning for such a minor measure.  Stadium projects are not popular in this economy and United may find itself without a home if it alienates the District.

UPDATE:  According to this note in the Washington Post, the Study may not go forward after all.  Because of an apparent misunderstanding of the separation of powers, the Legislature has over-stepped its authority and will have to reconsider the bill. 

According to this AP story, Fox Soccer has won the rights to televise Champions League games for the next three years.  FSC beat out ESPN for the rights: a large coup for the soccer-only channel.  At the same time, ESPN is apparently offering cable companies and other distributors the opportunity to accept an ESPN Classic for ESPNU switch. The proposal would move Classic to a sports tier, thereby significantly decreasing its availability.  In recent years, Classic was regularly used to show non-marquee USMNT games.  This switch may either force ESPN to keep soccer on ESPN/ESPN2 or significantly reduce the available viewing audience.

As we have previously reported, MLS has shown a  surprising ability to retain major sponsors in tough economic time.  According to this latest report from the Sports Business Journal, Pepsi is now part of the list of retained companies.  Interestingly, the deal will switch the sponsorship focus from Sierra Mist (which was omnipresent as an MLS marketer), to Pepsi and Gatorade.  MLS has continued to show remarkable resilience with its sponsorships on both a League and Team Level with sponsors like Panasonic and VW staying with the League.

The Morning After: MLS, WPS, USMNT

wpsIt was a big weekend for U.S. soccer fans.  The National Team was in El Salvador for a qualifier, WPS kicked off in Los Angeles and the MLS completed its second week of games.   ESPN2 televised the National Team (after not showing an MLS game this week).  Captain Morgan’s featured prominently as an advertisor (I don’t remember them investing heavily in soccer previously) and there was otherwise a fairly typical mix of national and local advertising.  Heineken and Southwest also purchased ad time.  The crew was on site (as opposed to a booth in Bristol) and the production went fairly smoothly throughout.

FSC televised the WPS opener at 6:00 EST on Sunday.  Mark Rogondino manned the booth for play-by-play.  As a founding partner, Puma featured prominently throughout.  Super Eight Hotels, American Airlines were among the sponsors along with ususal suspects ProActiv and Soccer Shop.  Just under 15k attended the event at the Home Depot; a nice opening for the League’s first game.

League-wide, attendance in MLS was disappointing in week two despite another strong showing in Seattle.  The Rapids and RedBulls opened with less than 12,500 in New York and less than 12,000 in Commerce City.  Columbus raised its championship banner in front of less than 15k.  San Jose sold out for the second consecutive week and about 16k came to RFK for United’s home opener.  Sunday was the most distressing number, with less than 7k showing up at Pizza Hut Park.

It is not terribly surprising that a rainy night in New York for the Bulls’ last campaign at Giants Stadium drew poorly, but the numbers in Colorado and Columbus are fairly disappointing.  The weather wasn’t great in DC either, but for one of the League’s perennial attendance powerhouses, it is a low number.  We have previously discussed the attendance woes in Dallas, but this number is exceptionally bad.  Fans of the team have been clamoring for a change in the front office, and if the sub 10k numbers continue, changes might follow.

The FSC game had the usual mix of Home Depot and ProActiv commercials combined with a fair amount of MLS Works and PassBack spots.  RSL’s broadcast (of  its game against Seatle), was heavily sponsored by KFC, and a local bank.  In San Jose, Amway again featured prominently on stadium singage and a half time interview with the Quakes’ VP of Marketing touched on the new campaign and the addition of a new beer garden and other stadium improvements.  We touched on that campaign here.san-jose

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