Soccer Business Bits:USA/Brazil Ratings, Premier League Viewing & More

Sports Media Watch is reporting that the USA/Brazil match televised on ESPN2 drew almost 800,000 viewers on Tuesday night.  In Nielsen terms, that represents a .50 rating.  The number represents a significant increase over typical MLS broadcasts, which are often under 200,00 viewers.  The game also drew more viewers than the recent MLS All-Star game by about 70,000 viewers. By way of an unfair comparison, 19 million people watched the last televised US match when the US last to Ghana in the Round of 16 at the World Cup.

Keeping with the theme of televised soccer in the United States, ESPN has reached a three year deal with Fox Sports International to televise EPL matches in the United States.  The package includes 74 games per season and will permit broadcasts on ESPN television, mobile networks and ESPN3.com.   The agreement also includes rights to Spanish telecasts through ESPN Deportes. The agreement increases ESPN’s EPL commitment by approximately 30 games over last year.

The deal shows ESPN’s continued commitment to televising soccer in the United States and it allows the World Wide Leader to offer desirable, live programming at times when the network usually relies on repeats and studio produced fare.  Based on ratings from last year, ESPN can expect between 200-300k per match and higher numbers for especially desirable games.  Key for fans of MLS will be ESPN’s preference for EPL matches over MLS.  EPL games provide ESPN with a great opportunity to promote their relationship with MLS, however last year the network did not make great use of that avenue.

Finally, Soccer America offers a list of the top 10 largest soccer crowds in the US in 2010.  Most notably, the Mexican National Team accounts for half of the top ten (how is that relationship working out SUM?).  MLS teams account for two of the big crowds, but both matches involved international club competition.  The US Men pulled in two of the top crowds.

Media Musings

The  introduction of Thierry Henry drew plenty of media coverage both in the New York ara and nationally.  Articles in mainstream publications, interviews on local and national media outlets and discussion on ESPN and elsewhere.  The introduction was well managed by the Red Bulls, and other than a much maligned in studio interview with Good Day New York, Henry’s appearances were impressive and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the FSC broadcast if Henry’s debut was decidedly unimpressive.  The booth team of Rogadino and Caliguri was below par (in contrast to the Bretos/Twellman pairing from ESPN2 the night before) and Caliguri was especially disappointing.  Stadium microphones were seemingly non-existent and picked up little of the Red Bull Arena crowd.  Replays were poorly managed, with the slow to develop Barclays graphic forcing viewers to miss live action. Cut away shots also cost viewers game action, with the FSC producers electing to show individual shots of players running rather than the ball.  FSC has experienced crews working these games, but the production showed little of that experienced.  So close to the World Cup, the poor quality of the broadcast was readily apparent.

In contrast, the ESPN broadcasts since the World Cup suggest that the World Wide Leader learned something about soccer telecasts from the month in South Africa.  Coverage has been smooth and the new pairing of Max Bretos and Taylor Twellman was solid. ESPN has definitely been heavy on the soccer in the weeks since the World Cup and they have made good use of their various booth teams.  Kyle Martino has become a rising star doing color for the games.

Soccer Business Bits: Henry Rolls Out, ESPN Gears Up & More

The biggest story in MLS remains the introduction of Theirry Henry to American sports fans and mainstream media.  In addition to the official press conference, Henry made appearances on the Univision morning show, “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, and “Late Night” on NBC.  He also provided a print interview to the AP.  Henry’s ability to speak in French, Spanish and English makes him an extremely marketable commodity and he impressed in the interview.  The signing generated headlines, even here in Hartford where the local radio news program commented on Henry during AM drive. At the same time, many of the New York area sportscasts studiously ignored the signing. Sportsradio WFAN paid little mind to Henry and SNY (the home of the Mets) followed suit. Despite pushing some great marketing buttons (that included some fun guerrilla marketing both on the ground and online), the Red Bulls couldn’t push Henry into the mainstream in the New York area.

ESPN’s impressive commitment to soccer (did anyone notice Landon Donovan’s John Skipper reference at the ESPYs?), continues with broadcasts of multiple friendlies over the next few weeks.  Games involving MLS teams and world powers like Tottenham, Manchester United and Celtic are part of those broadcasts, as is the MLS All Star game and the USA/Brazil match in August.  In combination with their usual MLS broadcasts and the start of the European club season, it will continue to be an exciting Summer of Soccer on the Worldwide leader.

Some quick hits…In Kansas City, the Wizards are aggressively selling tickets for their May 25 match against Manchester United.  According to this interview, ticket sales are near 60,000.  Most of the remaining available tickets range from $40-60.  Elsewhere, Commissioner Garber gave some strong statements indicating that MLS is not entertaining transfer offers for Landon Donovan.  At the same time, there are more rumblings about the possibility of MLS expanding to New York City.

Soccer Business Bits: Red Bull Stadium Update, Philly Sponsor & More

This weekend marks the opening of Red Bull Arena, as New York takes on Brazilian side Santos in a pre-season match-up.  The sell-out will be broadcast on both MSG and FSC.  The planed “soft” opening last weekend was canceled because of the terrible weather in the NY Metro area.   FSC will also broadcast its annual MLS season preview on Friday night at 8:00.

In Philly, the Union have announced a multi-year deal with Horizon Services.  The Delaware based residential HVAC company is also a Phillies sponsor.  Last week the Union officially introduced PPL as its stadium naming partner.  PPL will also get hospitality events and experiences at the stadium, TV and radio advertising, signage boards and sponsorship rights in the youth soccer programs in which the Union have a foothold.   The terms of Horizon’s deal have not yet been revealed.  Soft drink king Coke was also announced as PPL Park’s official soft drink and Dasani as the official water.

Finally, the Sports Business Journal is reporting that “matchups” are the key factor behind ESPN’s return to Thursday night soccer.  2/3 of the ESPN broadcasts will be on Thursday nights compared to less than 30% last year.  We wrongly panned the decison to move away fro a defined night last year.  According to the SBJ, “viewership on ESPN2 rose 12.8 percent through 25 games during the 2009 season with an average of more than 290,000 viewers tuning in, up from an average of 253,000 during the 2008 season.”

Soccer Business Bits: Soccer Business Reading, Playoff Broadcast & Dynamo Day

readingIn 30 minute daily bits, NPR’s broadcast of “Marketplace” provides a great look at national and international business issues.  On the most recent broadcast, host Kai Rysdal interviewed Simon Kuper, co-author of “Soccernomics” , a book that explores soccer stats and finances, while looking at the beautiful game through a monetary lens.  A transcript and audio file of the interview are here.

The book addresses club finances, the transfer market and the relevance of a nations’ financial status to its potential success on the pitch.  The authors also discuss the growth of stats as an important component of managing in the modern soccer world.  One nugget is the author’s view that the US National Team greatly under performs the American financial position, while England is playing above its economic status.   One author is a journalist and the other an economist.  Click here for more on the book and the opportunity to purchase the recently released paperback version.

A weekend of four national MLS playoff broadcasts got underway on Thursday with ESPN2 providing coverage of the RSL/Columbus tilt.  Last week we “business blogged” the Seattle/Houston broadcast and won’t duplicate that effort here.  Nevertheless, we again give full marks to ESPN for a well produced telecast that started with a dramatic voice over and continued the trend of opening the show with the booth team in the stands. Efforts to cross-promote the FSC, Telefutura and second ESPN2 games for the rest of the weekend. The cross promotion is great to see and should increase audiences for all stations.

Finally, we have written many times about Houston’s outstanding promotional efforts.  Now that promotional effort can be extended to Houston mayor Bill White who proclaimed November 6, “Dynamo Day” in the City of Houston. The Mayor encouraged Houston residents to wear orange in support of efforts to bring the City its third MLS crown.  Anything that increases awareness of MLS and the MLS playoffs is great for the League and the local franchises.  There are rumors of a big crowd on Sunday and the Mayor’s proclamation won’t hurt that effort.  Click here for a great article about the Dynamo and their efforts in the community.

The MLS Playoffs: Business Blogging the ESPN Broadcast

houstonWith the first game of the MLS playoffs upon us, we thought we would follow the ESPN2 broadcast of the Seattle/Houston playoff opener.  The game is up against the World Series, NBA Basketball and various NHL games.  Despite the ratings for MLS during the regular season, the playoff game faces series competition.

Before we discuss the broadcast, it is worthwhile to address ESPN efforts to promote the match through its various platforms.  On ESPN.com, the game got little mention on the home page.  There was substantial coverage on Soccernet, but the lack of prominence of the home page is fairly disappointing.  There was similarly limited discussion of the playoffs on the ESPN networks in the lead up to the game.

Importantly, the broadcast was preceded by an ESPN 30/30 special.  As a result, there were no concerns about missing parts of the match.  The broadcast begin with a well produced opening highlighting MLS fans and a focus on the Dynamo and Sounders.  The producers made an interesting decision to start with Harkes and JP Dellecamera on the field and followed with shots of Allen Hopkins participating in the “March to the Match”.  The pre-game show was sponsored by VW

VW also got the first spot of the broadcast and was followed Pepsi Max (who has been active in MLS ads recently), Rent-a-Center, Wendy’s and Chevy.  The studio show included usual suspects, Stone, Lalas and Foudy.  The pre-game provided analysis of the Seattle game and provided some promotion of the Sunday broacast.   There were also spots for Gatorade, Adidas (that strange MLS ad), and a series of local spots.  The pregame concluded with a second VW ad, a return of the Pepsi Max spot  (which was amusing the first five times it ran this year), Best Buy and Axe.

The ESPN Axis technology is always outtanding, and is something ESPN should make more use of during the broadcast.  Budweiser presented the starting lineups.  The X-Box tarps were very visible throughout.  VW had space on the screen near the scoreboard early in the match.  It only took 5 mintues to bring Hopkins into the game as a sideline reporter.  Gatorade also grabbed some upper left screen time, as did adidas and Axe. Full credit to ESPN for early camera work.  There were great shots of the shoving between Onstad and Montero and the rest of the melee.  The booth did manage a plug for the weekend EPL broadcasts.  A note to ESPN; the Seattle attendance is a great story, but not every three minutes.  If you have to keep telling us, it isn’t that impressive.

At halftime, there were ads for Gatorade, Penzoil, local ads and lots of ESPN sports.   The halftime show was preented by Axe and thier commercials were apparent.  There were also spots for Best Buy, the Marines, Budweiser and Best Buy

This is just a taste.  We will stop here in the second half.  If something dramatic happens in a business sense, we will add it tomorrow. xbox

Soccer Business Bits: ESPN Doubleheader, Denmark Friendly and KC Stadium

tv soccerAmerican soccer fans will be treated to a soccer doubleheader tonight as ESPN2 will televise both the USA/Costa Rica match and the RSL/Red Bulls MLS match.  The lead in offers MLS a great chance for exposure to fans of the US Men who are reluctant to watch MLS matches.  MLS can showcase its product in one of its premier stadiums.  Unfortunately, the teams are near the bottom of the table and not necessarily the best advertisement for the League.  It will be interesting to see what steps ESPN takes to promote the MLS match to its Nats audience. If nothing else, RSL fans can feel pretty certain that there won’t be some other sporting event cutting out the first 15 minutes of the match.

In other news, the USSF  announced a November friendly with Denmark in Denmark.  Television coverage has not been announced.

Finally, it appears that Kansas City is moving closer to its alternative stadium site in Kansas.   For more on the project, check this article at Pitch Invasion.  While we think a 2011 opening is very aggressive and seemingly  unrealistic, we hope that the Wizards can make this a reality.

Covering the Coverage: The Business of Covering American Soccer

soccertvWith the Summer winding down, we thought we would take a look at the coverage of American soccer in the United States.  Tonight, we will start by looking at “mainstream” national media, with a focus on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and other outlets.

Not surprisingly, ESPN is at the head of the class, with a wealth of online content, regular soccer broadcasts and fairly regular content on its various television and radio platforms.  Despite regular criticism from soccer fans, ESPN does an outstanding job covering the game.  This is especially so with respect to the US National Team.  In the lead-up to big qualifiers, ESPN has devoted substantial time across all platforms to discussing the match and even went live from Mexico City despite not carrying the broadcast. ESPN.com has a number of columnists devoted to MLS and US soccer and its US soccer pages are updated daily with new content.

On the flip side, one valid and longstanding criticism of ESPN coverage is the lack of attention paid to MLS.  These criticisms have risen in the wake of ESPN’s recent commmitment to EPL and La Liga.  Many fans also take issue with the online focus on leagues outside MLS; it is far easier to find coverage of English soccer than Major League Soccer on ESPN.com.   Nevertheless, American soccer fans have been heartened by the recent exposure through an unlikely source; Bill Simmons.  Simmons’ is a lead ESPN writer and he followed up his long column about the Mexico match with an hour long podcast with Alexi Lalas. Yet, even Simmons has largely ignored American professional soccer.

Sports Illustrated has Grant Wahl, possibly the most renowned American soccer writer (thank you David Beckham), and a fairly regular turnover of soccer columns during the MLS and European seasons.  SI also has an ongoing relationship with Soccer America that provides access to the content of that publication.  The magazine does cover soccer to an extent, however that coverage is typically limited to the National Team, with only occasional references to MLS.  Nevertheless, CNNSI is part of the regular rotation for most American soccer fans.

The same cannot be said for The Sporting News. It is tough to find soccer coverage in the magazine or website for TSN.  Long ago, I had an e-mail exchange with a representative for TSN indicated that demand simply didn’t warrant coverage of soccer (be it European or American).  The same can be said for CBS Sportsline.com and many of the other “national” sports websites. Soccer coverage is tough to find and usually dependent on AP stories or other pool reporting.

One final outlet: USA Today has always done an adequate job covering soccer both for the National Team and MLS.  The website is regularly updated and they feature the regular comments of Beau Dure.  The paper also regularly covers the games.

We will continue to look at the coverage of soccer over the next few weeks, including blogs, sports radio and other outlets.  In the interim, tell us what you think. What national outlets do you rely upon for soccer coverage? Do you ignore mainstream media all together?  What other outlets should we discuss.

Soccer Business Bits: Confederations Cup, MLS and More

us-soccerIt has been a very busy last few days in American Soccer.  The Confederations Cup has moved through the group stage, MLS is reaching the halfway point, Superliga is under way and the WPS is moving forward in its inagural season.  The big soccer business controversy of the week occurred on Wednesday night when the highly anticipated Seattle/DC match from Qwest Field was bumped from ESPN2 for extra innings of a College World Series game. Despite a 30 minute pre-game show buffer, it was into the second half before the baseball was over and the soccer game on the screen.  Unfortunately for MLS fans, the 3-3 tie was one of the best of the season and could have served as a great showcase for the League. MLS fans were (wrongly) angry with ESPN for failing to switch off the baseball to show the start of the MLS match.

Unfortunately for soccer fans, ESPN has a policy of staying with live events until their conclusion.  The game was made available on ESPN360 and replayed later in the evening.  Moreover, soccer fans must realize that the College World Series generates better ratings than MLS on the ESPN networks.  Commissioner Garber addressed the situation in his latest “Commissioner Speaks”.  MLS has done the right thing by making the game available for free on its website.

ESPN made another interesting programming decision during broadcasts of the Confederations Cup.  On Sunday, the Italy/Brazil and USA/Egypt matches were played at the same time, yet interestingly, ESPN chose to put the USA game on ESPN2 while the other game was on ESPN (complete with a 30 minute pre-game show).  Italy and Brazil are certainly two of the most prominent soccer playing nations in the world, but we strongly disagree with the decision to  have the USA play second fiddle in its own country.  However, it does say something about the relative popularity of these teams within the United States.  ESPN made its decision based on what they believed would draw the most interest.

SuperLiga 2009 is underway with small crowds in Chicago, Los Angeles, New England and St. Louis for the first match day.  The “St. Louis experiement” was not particularly successful, with less than 6k in attendance for a Wizards “home match”.  League-wide, MLS attendance was fairly typical with a big number in Seattle on Wednesday night with 29k at Qwest.  By playing in Oakland, San Jose was able to draw 17k against Los Angeles, in a game that got a TV lead-in from the Confederations Cup.  Houston did well with about 17k and New York was a pleasant surprise with 14k in a rain storm. There were 11k in Colorado and 8k in Dallas.  As always, we reccomend MLS Daily for a great attendance break down.

Finally, in WPS action, just over 3k were in Boston for a Wednesday night game, while only 2500 were in attendance for a weeknight game in New Jersey.  Just over 2700 were in St. Louis for a match against Washington.  For a League that had been doing well at the gate, this was a fairly disappointing weekend.  wps

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