Monday After

ballloonThe first round of Major League Soccer games are in the rear view mirror, with some great goals, a nationally televised dud and a globe trotting commissioner all part of the festivities.  We will review the attendance from week one below, but first some business tidbits from the opening round.  Commissioner Garber was  presence on multiple telecasts during the weekend, including both local and national feeds.  Not much new ground was covered, but it was interesting to hear him confirm on NBCSN that the league intends to move past 24 teams after the next round of expansion is finalized.   NBCSN’s season opener featured some marquee teams and names, but the rain soaked match labored at points.  Combined with the wet conditions, it was not the hoped for opening spectacle.

On to attendance, where Seattle packed them in, to the tune of 39k plus.  Despite the slow pace of play at times, the game had a dramatic finish and the crowd seemed to stay to the end.  The United home opener drew less than 14k, more than 3k off their opener from last year.  The weather in DC was fairly nice, but the result was duplicative of last year.  Vancouver entertained 21k at BC Place with a smashing win over last year’s SS winners, while Houston ran the Revs out of BBVA Compass before 22k fans, the largest in stadium history.  FC Dallas announced a solid opening night number of 18k plus despite miserable weather in the Metroplex.

The Galaxy fell short of a 27k sellout on Saturday night, but still managed a solid 25k for their home opening loss, while the Timbers pulled out a late draw before a sellout crowd in excess of 20k.  Finally, on Sunday in LA, Chivas USA pulled a crowd of less than 9k for their home opener as the team builds towards its 2015 rebuild

Let’s Get it Started

mlsThe 2014 Major League Soccer season gets underway this weekend, but there are a couple of business notes before the games begin.

First, the league announced a partnership with Kraft Foods with Capri-Sun becoming the official drink of MLS.  Other Kraft beverages will be part of the deal as well, including Country Time Lemonade and Tang.  Per the official press release, “Capri Sun will harness MLS intellectual property to foster connections with soccer fans across the country, including several grassroots extensions like youth soccer clinics throughout the United States. Capri Sun will also utilize select MLS players as part of their ongoing Capri Sun Kids vs. Pros campaign, and will feature MLS players on-pack during the “back to school” timeframe.”  This is another outstanding relationship with a powerful brand for the league.   Coming on the heels of the deal with Chipotle, the league has locked some major partnerships for 2014 and beyond.

There will be one nationally televised English language game this weekend on NBCSN.  Seattle will host SKC in the juiciest matchup of the weekend at 3:00 Eastern.  There will also be a UniMas match and a game on TSN.

Finally, the trivia answer:

How many soccer games from the 1984 Summer Olympics from Los Angeles were shown live by ABC?

With ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC under a single Disney umbrella, the three have become the top English-speaking soccer networks in the United States. However, in 1984, ABC did not show any Olympic soccer games live, and the network caught hell about it. Disney straightened up and broadcasted 52 games of the 1994 World Cup. Today they regularly show national team games and MLS games.

Excerpt from The First American Soccer Trivia Book by Jamie Clary; Copyright 2007 FreeFalling Graffiti. www.soccerprofessor.com

 

Soccer Business Bits: Chipotle & Trivia

questionEarlier in the week, Major League Soccer and Chipotle Mexican Grill announced a multi-level partnership that will be centered on a Homegrown game that will be played during the All-Star Game festivities in Portland.  In addition to the Homegrown Game, Chiptole will have relationships with 12 of the teams in MLS as well as individual players.  The MLS deal will be the biggest sports partnership for Chipotle.  The 20 year old company will offer discounts to fans in select cities who wear team gear as part of a “buy one, get one” promotion.  Per the official press release, “one program, in particular, will honor an exceptional athlete at 10 home games per MLS club as the Chipotle Youth Homegrown Athlete. Each athlete will receive four tickets to the game, special recognition during the game, a chance to meet players and coaches, dinner at Chipotle with his/her team, and the opportunity to host a fundraiser for his/her team at their favorite Chipotle location. Chipotle and each MLS Club will also host free soccer clinics.”  This is an important deal for the league with a well recognized brand.  Also the Homegrown game provides a stage for some of the league’s potential future stars.  Fans love following the progress of homegrown talent in all sports and this type of showcase will further bond fans to their young players.

Now time for some business trivia:

How many soccer games from the 1984 Summer Olympics from Los Angeles were shown live by ABC?

Recall that the trivia questions come courtesy of Jamie Clary.  Mr. Clary is the author of the First American Soccer Trivia Book, available through soccerprofessor.com. He has played, coached, refereed and reported the game. During national team games, he often works with USSF compiling stats and helping media. Goalies, he feels, get too much respect from officials. Mexico and France, respectively, are his most hated teams. He plays and lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee.  The excerpts are from The First American Soccer Trivia Book by Jamie Clary; Copyright 2007 FreeFalling Graffiti

An Off-Season in Public Relations?

revsWhat happens when the MLS season ends?  For the public relations and communications departments of the various franchises, the work continues.  Off-season work takes many forms, with roster changes, drafts, transfers and pre-season preparation all underway immediately.  Lizz Summers is the Director of Communications for the New England Revolution.  She has served in that capacity for more than six years after coming to the Revs from the media relations department at the University of Texas.  Ms. Summers was kind enough to provide us with her insight into what happens in MLS when the lights are off in the stadiums, but glowing brightly in the front office.  Thanks to Ms. Summers.

Footiebusiness: The Revs season ended last year on November 6. What is the first thing that you and your team have to do once the season ends to start preparing for 2014?

Lizz Summers: The off-season certainly moves faster than you think. There’s a lot that goes through your head as soon as the season ends, but the first thing we do is close out the current season as best we can right away when it’s fresh in our minds. This year, there were probably a handful of things we needed to sit on until MLS Cup was played, but anything we could do to wrap up 2013, we did. That meant updating all of our “sports information” type materials first – records, historical information, the entire roster’s bios – so it was all set and ready to go so everything could be updated (web sites, media guides, etc.).

At this stage of the league’s history – and coupled with the length of the competition calendar – there really is no off-season. Technical staffs are doing a lot of scouting – both international and collegiate – during November and December, so you’re working with them remotely for any news that needs to get out. Plus it’s a big time for ticketing and marketing promotions, so you’re helping push that messaging out.

I just checked my files and we put out 24 news releases between the time we lost to KC in the playoffs and January 1– on a broad range of topics including injury updates, MLS awards, roster moves, affiliation agreements and ticketing/marketing campaigns, as well as the 2014 season schedule which came out earlier than ever. It’s not uncommon for teams to be putting out releases within a day or two of major winter holidays when you’d expect it to be really quiet, because there is just so much going on, especially with roster movement.

And with all of that said, before you know it, your technical staff is prepping for the MLS Combine in early January, which leads to the SuperDraft and then – this year – we were one week away from players reporting when we closed the first day of the SuperDraft.

FB: 2013 was the first playoff season for the Revs since 2009.  How does your job change when the team makes the playoffs?  What additional items require attention during the postseason?  How does the condensed off season impact you?

LS: The playoffs make everything a lot more exciting. From the build up to your actual qualification to the last moment the whistle blows on your season, anything can happen and for the entire front office staff – not just communications – you have a lot of contingencies in place depending on when your season formally ends and how far you may go in the playoffs.

For us, there were a lot of questions about our club as the season came down to the end, and, if with our youth, we had what it took to make it through in a cluttered East. I spent a lot of time chatting and debating with media and pundits about our team and its chances, and really stressing that the last six weeks of the season were already a playoff run for us – even before we qualified on the last day of the season.

With that also comes a lot of talk about your players and their impact on your club – and then how that improved the team on a broader scale. Last fall, we spent a lot of time promoting Jose Goncalves and Diego Fagundez because they were so important to our on-field performance. Diego’s impact was easy to see – his goals, his assists, his age – but Jose’s impact was harder to quantify, and we spent considerable time trying to find or create metrics to clearly demonstrate how important he was to the team. Thankfully, the overall defensive record showed how influential Jose was to the Revs, and media and teams around the league agreed enough to vote him defender of the year. With Matt Reis and Kevin Alston’s awards, their stories were so compelling and heroic we believed that they had a great chance of winning their respective awards on their own merits after the story-telling done all season about the two of them by various outlets.

Game-wise, your job pretty much remains the same. The added playoff effect comes from more media attention – both locally and nationally. For us, that meant balancing interview requests and really trying to spread the attention across our team, and not let it center on a small handful of players. We had a young team so we relied on a lot of veterans and players who were comfortable speaking regularly as the requests came in.

We were a bit fortunate this year with our seeding in that we had a full week to prepare for our home game against Sporting. We use an agency to help with media and marketing projects, so they were a great help coordinating interviews and promotions ahead of the first leg of the semifinal series. Had we been the number four seed, our turn-around would’ve been two days ahead of a Wednesday game, so the seeding helped us a lot. And our ticket sales staff and marketing staff did a fantastic job selling the game and we had the second-highest attended playoff game in club history.

The four-day turn for the second leg was a bit tight, but the travel for that game ended up only being one day in advance, not two days like a normal trip to KC for us. The extra day at home gave us time to turn everything around and accommodate requests that came in, as well as confirm plans if we advanced to the Eastern Conference Championship round.

There are a lot of ifs and whens as you get to the playoffs since you’re planning for any possibility, but it’s planning you want to be doing. After missing the postseason for a few years, we were all happy to be busy that late in October and November.

FB: You first joined the Revs in 2006. How have communications/public relations changed during that period.  Are there more media requests or team outreach efforts?  How has social media changed your job?

LS: The profession has changed a lot, and so much of it is due to the explosion and expansion of digital news and social media. Today we still have a lot of attention placed on mainstream media – newspapers, TV outlets and radio – but so much of the soccer media is based online, that we’ve all had to adjust our opinions and attitudes about what is a “news outlet.” Many of the teams in the “big four” pro leagues shun bloggers, but soccer embraces them. We have to – and we have to work with them to ensure that they have accurate information.

In our market, a Revs fan isn’t going to find everyday coverage in the daily papers or on the evening sports report. But they are going to find it on a variety of online sites run by people who are dedicated to putting news and opinion out consistently. It’s important to us that those sites and those writers have the information they need to write or produce accurate, compelling content for our fans. They know our doors are open to them, and we’ll answer any question or inquiry they have the best we can. But with that access, and because of the dialogue we’ve opened with them, they also know that when they have facts incorrect, they’ll hear from us with the correct info.

When I started with the Revs, the only real social media channel was Facebook, and businesses – including professional sports teams – didn’t utilize it the way we all do today at all. A few years later Twitter came along, and so many more platforms continued to emerge. Today, there isn’t a PR staffer in MLS (or any sport) who isn’t routinely tweeting, posting or capturing a moment for social media, whether it’s directly for the team, or as part of the larger conversation to influence others.

Social media has also allowed us – and fans – a glimpse into the soccer media’s mind and about what they’re thinking and who they link or don’t like, so in a sense, it’s also made the media relations aspect of our job a bit more direct. You know right away if there is an opinion or attitude you need to try to influence, or on the flip side, maintain.

Social has also created some more transparency about the teams and what goes on and given fans a greater peek into the daily workings of the teams. You have players, coaches, executives and staffers all on social media interacting with fans and being ambassadors for your club. There is a lot more direct interaction and it allows fans to have a more engaged experience with the club. Social takes a lot of work and attention, but it’s such an important communication with your fans and potential fans so it’s vital to use it well and spark conversations.

FB: What is something about being the Director of Communications for a Major League Soccer team that most fans of the game don’t fully understand or appreciate?

LS: We feel the same frustration the fans do that teams aren’t covered more in mainstream media, be it local or national. It’s the number one topic of discussion any time MLS PR colleagues get together during the year: how do we increase media relevancy on a greater scale. One reason so many clubs support the emergence of digital media sources so much is because we know the depth and breadth of the coverage is so far superior to what mainstream media provides in many markets. Staffs are trying to help bridge that gap and there are more and more interested, invested mainstream media members turning on to soccer, so the change we all foresee is coming. But it’s slower than we all would like, and it frustrates us, too.

Another important fact that is that mainstream media is a business, and click-throughs and comments and likes and shares all do matter. So if your club does have coverage in a paper or on TV and it’s posted somewhere, make sure to engage with it. If the metrics show that the content is generating conversation and being seen by a wider audience, there is a greater argument to increase coverage.

Monday After

us-soccerThe final preseason Monday After of the off season.  We will have some great stuff this week as we get ready for the start of the 2014 campaign.  On Tuesday will present an interview with Lizz Summers from the New England Revolution about what life is like in the public relations and communications departments of a Major League Soccer team.  We will also cover the unveiling of the new uniforms and have some business preview items for 2014.

Looking back at the weekend, the final preseason games were played around the country, with games from the Desert Diamond Cup, Rose City Invitational, Carolina Challenge Cup and Disney Pro Soccer Classic.  The games were streamed live and generated a significant amount of Twitter traffic.  With the regular season just a week away, the games represented the last chance for teams to prepare for the coming campaign.  The live streams continue to impress and provide fans hungry for MLS action a great way to follow their teams before the television schedules start next week.  There were some great preseason stories, including sellouts for the San Antonio Scorpions.  There were crowds of almost 14k at Providence Park for the Timbers up in Portland.

Finally, the US is scheduled to play the Ukraine in an international friendly on Wednesday.  The game, scheduled for Wednesday has been moved to Cyprus.  Given the situation in both Kieve and Crimea, this seems like the prudent decision.  while Cyprus has had its own problems in the last few days, it seems like the safer option for the upcoming soccer game.

SBJ Talks Soccer

fireworksThe Sports Business Journal has a pair of excellent pieces looking at MLS as the league prepares for the 2014 season.  This is part of the annual MLS preview in the periodical.  We will have more on this next week in the lead-up to the openers, but tonight we will focus on two of the articles.   The first is a roundtable conversation with Adrian Hanauer, Tim Leiweke, Merritt Paulson, Anthony Precourt and Nick Sakiewicz.  For fans of the business of the game, the interview is filled with nuggets about how the teams and leagues are operating in 2014.  There was a significant amount of talk about the improved level of play in the league, the importance of a dedicated time slot and additional promotion as part of the next television deal and the importance of big name players coming to MLS.  With respect to to local television, Sakiewicz said, “In Philly, we feel good about our ratings story. We had a 47 percent improvement last season over the previous year. We have awesome partnerships with our local ABC affiliate and with Comcast. We see it coming. We’re anticipating that in the next few years, we’ll be able to turn the corner on local TV.”   Leiweke indicated that TFC wants to increase its stadium to 30k in coming years and believes that the team could have sold that many in 2014.

The other SBJ story involves a chat between the magazine’s Executive Editor and a number of his friends and acquaintances.   Essentially, the soccer loving friends are asked for their thoughts about MLS.  The piece doesn’t cover much new ground, but includes the usual refrains about turf fields, unknown players and the quality of play.  Nevertheless, the group covers some positives about the league, including the Pacific Northwest rivalries, improving play and increasing attendance.

Sporting Does a Deal

sporting kansas citOn Tuesday, Sporting Kansas City announced a a deal with fan engagement technology company Experience, to provide  in stadium technology and experiences for the Sporting faithful.  Beginning with the 2014 season, Sporting fans will be able to use Experience within the team’s Sporting Club Uphoria App for the iPhone and Android.   In 2013, the Uphoria App allowed fans to view highlights and listen to game audio while in their seats.  The new partnership with Experience will allow fans to buy game experiences at the match, including on field experiences, seat upgrades and more.  The integration will be up and running for the team’s home opener.

Sporting is not the first soccer team to work with Experience, but given the team’s focus on technology, this seems like a  partnership made for both organizations. The product has been live for about two years and the company has relationships with teams across the sports spectrum.   I had the opportunity to speak with Experience President Ben Ackerman about his product and the partnership with Experience.  He said that Experience had a goal to establish a relationship with Sporting, because of how innovative and forward thinking Sporting has been and how focused the organization is on the fan experience.   Mr. Ackerman also told me that the goal is to provide targeted fan experiences that improves the game day experience.

The App represents the next wave of targeted marketing opportunities for teams.  Experience can assist Sporting in offering opportunities to fans based on their demographics and prior choices.  Whether fans are hard core supporters, families out for a weekend event or attending a corporate function, the App can guide fans to in-stadium experiences that meet their needs.   The technology aside, this offers another potential revenue opportunity for teams with fans already in the stadium.  Interestingly, Mr, Ackerman told me that Experience’s financial model is “success based” with Experience not charging Sporting anything up front, but only if fans purchase opportunities through the App.   In Mr. Ackerman’s view, the success model incentivizes both the team and Experience to make the partnership work.

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