The Deal Down in Dallas

fc dallasWe have discussed the attendance woes in Dallas on a number of occassions.   Attendance in Big D (or Frisco) is down this year by almost 40% But for Kansas City and its forced limited attendance, Dallas would be bringing up the rear with its average of 9,300 (that includes an opener of almost 16k) over four games.  With a fairly new stadium in Pizza Hut Park, a local population in Dallas that plays soccer en masse, premier online, independent coverage and a long history as an original team in MLS, FC Dallas would seem to be an obvious choice for success at the gate.  Yet, the team is averaging just over 9k and attendance is dropping fast.

The big question is of course, Why?  There are theories about front office ineptitude, poor performance on the field or a suburban stadium too far from downtown Dallas (does anyone actually live in downtown Dallas??).  We were in Dallas this week and performed a bit of marketing reconissance to check on efforts to promote FC Dallas  in Big D.  We asked everyone we met, from cab drivers to waitresses to business assoicates about FC Dallas and Pizza Hut Park.  The results of our anecdotal survey were pretty dramatic.

Almost everyone we met had heard of Pizza Hut Park, but nobody had every been there.  Most associated Pizza Hut Park with the Roughriders, a Double A baseball team playing at Dr. Pepper Park in Frisco, TX (same location as Pizza Hut Park).   We spoke with season ticket holders for the Mavericks, Stars and Cowboys, all of whom knew nobody that had seen an FC Dallas game, yet almost everyone knew about the Team.  Everyone we spoke with was shocked that FC Dallas struggled to fill the stadium; they all mentioned how popular soccer is in Texas.  Interestingly, almost everyone we spoke with knew where the stadium is located, knew how to get there and said it was “close.”

We saw no advertising for the Team, whether on signs, buses, television or newspapers.  There was no evidence of FC Dallas merchandise at Dallas-Forth Worth airport and we heard no commercials on the radio for upcoming games or events.  The Team is marketing through its website; pre-game happy hour anyone?  Other marketing efforts are certainly being made (our trip was pretty quick), yet they were not apparent.

Our survey was obviously informal, yet it was instructive.  In recent trips to Kansas City, Washington and other MLS cities, we have seen evidence of the local soccer team in a number of different media.  People were aware of the local franchise and some had been to games.  In Dallas, the Team’s impact on the sports consciousness was minimal.

The question is of course why.  If you have any theories, let us know.  Why is this once proud franchise struggling on the field and at the gate?

Soccer Business Bits: Deals, Deals Deals

galaxyMLS promotions departments are working overtime to bring fans to the stadiums.  In Los Angeles, the Galaxy are offering a free ticket promotion for all season ticket holders.  Specifically, each season ticket holder is getting an extra ticket for the upcoming Galaxy home game against the Red Bulls.  As we discussed yesterday, Galaxy attendance figures are way down this year.  After efforts to package the AC Milan game with other matches, the team is now trying to sell tickets as as stand alone event.

The Rapids are offering a promotion for their Galaxy game called the River Runners Family Pack.  The package includes 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs, 4 sodas, and 4 tickets for a whitewater rafting trip.  The package is going for $69 and the rafting trip must be taken on one of four Rapids Family nights on the River. In a remarkable feat of promotion overload, during the same game, the Rapids will be holding a British Heritage Night, Play Clean Night and Night of Champions.

Finally, in Columbus, the defending champions are offering package deals involving a scarf commemorating the championship season.  Interestingly the tickets are being offered in minium blocks of 4, with the cheapest package including 4 tickets and 4 scarves for $76.  There is nothing unusual in these promtions. Teams the world over work hard to brings fans to the games.  However, teams are showing a good amount of creativity in putting together these promtions.  As we noted yesterday, attendance is down and teams must explore all options to keep fans coming.  crew-jersey

Soccer Business Bits: Attendance Worries?

mls With the first month of the season behind us,  enough games have been played to take a closer look at attendance around the League.  There have been successes (Seattle, Toronto), disappointments (Dallas, New York) and one pleasant surprise (Chivas).  Most of the teams in the League are off; some are way off.  The addition of Seattle’s big numbers mask the problem but the numbers are tracking well below those of 2008.  mls-daily.com does a great job of tracking the numbers here.

With the new stadium a season away, the Red Bulls get a pass, as do New England and Colorado with only one home date so far.  Despite its new stadium, RSL has also struggled to draw, but the weather excuse is probably most valid in Utah.  The Dynamo seem to be holding steady, and their history suggests attendance will pick up. Chicago is troubling, as are DC and San Jose.

Is it the economy?  The absence of Beckham? Bad weather?  Regardless of the reason, attendance is down for 10 franchises with some (Chicago & Colorado) down more than 30% from last year.  Perhaps most dire is the situation in Frisco, TX, where FC Dallas played before a remarkably sparse crowd (even the announced sub-7k attendance seemed very generous) in their weekend tilt against Toronto.  We have previously discussed the problems in Dallas, when this story raised some issues about the team’s pre-sale efforts.

We will keep tracking these numbers as the season rolls along and the weather warms.  However, summer is usually a low point for League attendance (especially in the South).  Let us know if you have any thoughts on the attendance issues facing MLS in 2009.

Business Bits: WPS Attendance, MLS TV and more

wpsThe WPS completed its first full slate of games this weekend with matches in New Jersey, California and Illinois.  In our interview with WPS Director of Communications, Robert Penner, Mr. Penner stated that the League was hoping for game day attendance between 4-6,000 per game.  During a weekend when MLS teams disappointed at the gate, all three WPS matches hit the mark with between 5-7k fans in attendance.

This weekend will be the first chance for ESPN2 to showcase its new game of the week strategy for MLS.  After two years of Thursday night matches, the Worldwide Leader will showcase the “superclassico” between Chivas USA and the L.A. Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.  These matches always provide the good atmosphere and big crowds important for “selling” MLS on T.V.  (both were missing from the RSL//Columbus game last week), but the 11:00 start time does make it more challenging to capture viewers on the East Coast.   The late start will do better on a weekend (in contrast to Thursdays), and may draw in some bar crowds  filled with younger viewers.  This will be a good test for ESPN’s new programming schedule.

Finally, the Galaxy are offering a massive discount on a range of tickets via their website.  The drastic reductions ($25-$61 per ticket) are a great benefit to fans, but also suggest some real trouble at the gate for L.A.  This is especially so in some of the higher priced areas of the Home Depot Center.  Remarkably, the available games include a match against Chivas USA, typically a big seller.  Not suprisingly, no such discounts are offered for the dates following David Beckham’s return from Europe. Many teams are struggling to sell higher priced tickets, and these discounts will help fill these seats.  There is a downside, because the Galaxy risk offending season ticket holders who have already paid for their seats.galaxy

Business Bits: Expansion in St. Louis & the Monday After

st-louisWith MLS announcing Portland as the League’s 18th Expansion Franchise, St. Louis appeared to be the big loser.   Since the announcement, Commissioner Garber worked hard to dispel that belief.  In an article published in the in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mr. Garber indicated that the League would work hard to steer investors to join Jeffrey Cooper’s bid.  We have written about Mr. Cooper’s bid before, and noted the League’s frustration with the lack of financial backing; it appears that the League is now going to work hard on Mr. Cooper’s behalf.

Mr. Cooper is a bridesmaid again, despite a solid stadium deal and a city with a strong soccer history.  With one more round of expansion scheduled for the coming years, he is running out of time to cement a team for the Gateway City.

Week one of MLS action is complete, and League wide, attendance was just OK.  Houston, Dallas and Chivas brought in about 16k, while KC and San Jose sold out their smaller parks.  Seattle was a sell out on Thursday night with more than 32k and the Galaxy brought in 18k (probably the most disappointing number of the weekend) for the Sunday game.   The Crew/Dynamo match-up of the last two Cup winners was also surprisingly lightly attended.  Dallas was higher than anticipated, but the presence of Blanco may have been a contributing factor.

The League debuted their new MLSlive features this weekend and the product seemed to work well.  For less than $20 for the season, the package is a fantastic bargain.  Direct Kick was free this weekend as part of the League’s annual preview.  With the price again at $79 for the season, this is also a great deal.  These packages do not include the games broadcast nationally on ESPN, FSC and Telefutura.  Interstingly, the local broadcasts prominently displayed advertising in the upper corners of the screens, adspace not used by EPSN2.  For the matchup on Telefutura, occassional screen advertising was present, but only for infrequent interludes.  Gildden, Nakita and Addidas were among the prominent stadium signage around the League. mls

Soccer: The next big thing?

houston-dynamoA recent article in the Houston Press regurgitated the “MLS is minor league and will never succeed” argument and (not surprisingly) drew some heated respones from both sides of argument.  While we typically focus on news and not opinion, the author, John Royal, actually took the time to support his opinions with data; so we thought we would respond.  Unfortunately Mr. Royal and the angry soccer fans who wrote to him are debating the wrong issue.

MLS will never be the NFL, MLB or NBA.  Billion dollar T.V.  deals, 10 million dollar player contracts and 70k person sellouts aren’t coming to MLS any time soon. But so what?  Soccer occupies a growing position in American sports.  An average of 16, 310 fans attended each MLS game last year (within 1k of the NHL and NBA), new stadiums have opened in each of the last few years and multiple TV deals have been announced.

At the same time, major companies like Microsoft and VW are spending millions to buy ad space on the front of MLS jerseys, multiple groups are willing to spend $40 million for the right to own an MLS franchise in the next round of expansion and stadiums are going up in numerous cities to support local MLS teams.  That is hardly “minor league.”

TVdeals with multiple networks are now part of the League landscape (in this day and age, is ABC/ESPN really worse than NBC?  really?)  Comparing a league younger than 15 with the likes of the NFL (and even the NHL) is silly. (even if the Seattle Sounders sold 50% more season tickets than the Mariners).   Also silly, is comparing MLS with minor league sports because of the same ownership group owns two teams (Does Mr. Royal recall when the MLB owned the Montreal Expos or that multiple NHL franchises are presently teetering on the edge of collapse?).

I agree with Mr.  Royal that soccer apologists have been  wrongly proclaming it the next big thing for decades.  Far too many soccer fans get angry when someone takes the other view.  But both Mr. Royal and supports of the beautiful game should consider the bigger picture.  The League is gaining in popularity and awareness on a level unprecedented in American sports history.  More importantly, for the first time in American history, soccer is relevant in the U.S. and fans have their own League and own teams to support.

To Mr. Royal, however, I conclude with this:  You say, “if the MLS teams can ever draw legit crowds for actual games against other MLS teams that don’t involve David Beckham, then I might be willing to listen to you talk about the great so-called soccer boom

The Houston Rockets are averaging 17,426 this season.  In 2008, the Dynamo averaged 17,752.

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