Monday After

portlandHere it is!  The first “Monday After” of the new season.  Every Monday through the end of the MLS season we will take a look at some of the weekend business stories, including attendance, broadcast and more.  Today we will start with the televising of the league’s first round of games.  Fans were treated to the annual free preview of Direct Kick which offered a number of matches including the tilt between Sporting and the Union.  With the familiar tones of JP DellaCamera and the improving analysis of Alejandro Moreno, the broadcast had a national feel despite its local flavor.  Direct Kick froze for about 8 minutes mid-game, but the telecast was otherwise well done.  The picture quality of MLS Live remains outstanding, although the game was running about one minute behind the television version.  In a world where people are following soccer and Twitter at the same time, the delay can negatively impact the viewing experience.

The first national telecast came courtesy of the NBCSN from BBVA Compass in Houston.  Because of a long running Ivy League basketball game, the broadcast started late, although fans didn’t miss out on any o the action.  The network didn’t offer a scroll explaining the delay (as has been ESPN’s custom), which left viewers wondering what would happen if the game went into overtime.  That said, the NBCSN production was outstanding, with  the entire team providing great commentary and analysis. the Kyle Martino “between the benches” continues to serve viewers well.

ESPN joined the party on Sunday night with the Portland Timbers playing host to the Red Bulls. Twellman and Healy manned the broadcast booth while Lalas reported from the midst of the Timbers Army.   Twellman continues to improve and seems set to become a fixture in the soccer broadcast booth for years to come.  ESPN really focused on the Portland atmosphere during the game and showed live coverage of the fans signing the national anthem before the game.   Also, full credit to ESPN to addressing the Chivas USA, Adu and Donovan as part of the halftime.

Before we get to the attendance picture league-wide, a quick note about Chivas.  Longtime readers of this site know that I have long applauded the promotional efforts of the Chivas Front Office. Using an array of game day attractions, deals and more the, the team managed to keep its gate reasonable, despite playing second fiddle in its own stadium with a roster devoid of star power. That has started to slip over the last couple of years, and the embarrassing attendance numbers (under 7,500) on opening night became a national story.  It may not be time to write obituary just yet, but time is running short for that franchise rebound.

On to attendance.  The Philly game drew an announced 18k plus despite the appearance of some empty seats on a cold day in the City of Brotherly Love.  Vancouver followed with a 21k sellout that saw the home team hold serve against their Canadian rivals.  Dallas impressively managed to seat more than 18k for their home opener. Across the State of Texas, the Dynamo played host to a crowd in excess of 20k.  Seattle closed the night with a crowd of almost 39k. On Sunday, the Galaxy routed Chicago before a crowd of 20k.

Business Snapshot: Television

Last week we took a look at the status of expansion on the eve of the 2012 season.  Today, with the start of the NBC/MLS relationship just days away, we thought it worth taking a quick snapshot of the American soccer broadcast relationships.  In August MLS and NBC  announced a three year television rights agreement that will put Major League Soccer on the Peacock and its affiliated sports channel from 2012-2014.  The three year deal is worth an estimated 10 million dollars per year and replaced the league’s one year $6 million + deal with FSC.  As part of the agreement, NBC and NBC Sports Network will air regular season and playoff matches from MLS and USMNT games.  Promotional efforts have already begun and the network has produced a number of high quality spots to promote the upcoming season of soccer.

MLS has timed the expiration of its newest deal to coincide with the end of the ESPN and Univision deals as well.  Conventional wisdom suggests that this is a calculated risk that will allow the league to maximize it s future tv revenue by negotiating rights deals in the glow of a World Cup year.  However, that approach puts MLS in the unenviable position of entering the negotiations with no security blanket.  If one its primary partners declines to participate in the discussions, the league will lack leverage.

The standard bearer for league television relationships is ESPN, which is a longtime partner of the league.  ESPN still holds the rights to the MLS Cup and All Star Game.  ESPN pays $8.5 million annually for MLS rights, yet that deal is part of a larger SUM/ABC/ESPN package that includes USMNT games and FIFA World Cup. In 2012, ESPN’s package is reduced to 20 games but includes a number of games on ESPN rather than ESPN2.

No discussion of league television rights would be complete without reference to the new $55 million deal with two Time Warner Regional Sports networks to televise Galaxy games.  The new networks (one in Spanish and the other in English) are fighting for content in the crowded LA Sports market and this deal guarantees live programming from March to October. The size of the deal is staggering.  NBC recently paid $30 million for 3 years of Major League Soccer on a national level and now Time Warner is offering $5.5 million per year for a team that never topped 16k viewers over the last year.

The last note applies to future World Cup broadcasts.  FOX outbid NBC and ESPN to claim the rights for approximately $450 million dollars.  The Spanish language rights were won by Telemundo for an estimated $600 million.  The combined $1 billion bids shatters FIFA records and confirms both stations as primary player in the soccer broadcast arena.  The package includes rights to the Womens’ World Cup events in intervening years and rights to various youth World Cups.  In 2005, ESPN paid $100 million for the English-language rights to the 2010 and 2014 games. Univision paid $325 million for the Spanish-language rights.  US rights are the most expensive in the world.

Soccer Business Bits: TV Ratings, MLS Awards & More

One of the big business stories to come out in the last couple of days was the disappointing ratings of the MLS Cup Final.  According to multiple reports, the match suffered a 44% decline in its overnight rating.  The significant decline can be attributed to a number of factors including the lack of stars, competition from the NFL and a lack of recognizable teams.  Whatever the reason, the low rating (the lowest MLS Cup Final rating in more than a decade), must be cause for concern within the league hierarchy.  The team’s television deals are at a critical point and the poorly rated final will not help the league’s leverage.

We didn’t comment on the league’s announcement of the executive award winners. Notably, RSL won the team PR Award, a fitting honor for the front office that we believe was the most active and effectinve in the league.  As we said when we announced our vote for RSL,  the team started in the offseason with a state-wide campaign to bring the championship trophy to all the counties in the State.  The team is aggressive (perhaps overly aggressive) on Twitter and has effectively engaged its fans on all levels of social media.  The team effectively marketed its Champions League games and drew a huge crowd for the final group stage match.  The front office built upon the team’s success from 2009 and managed to keep fans coming and keep the team in front of the local media outlets. RSL’s front office has managed to make the games a destination and continues to improve the fan experience.

PPL Park will host the 2011 Collegiate Rugby Finals.  The tournament will be televised on NBC.  The game will generate some exposure for the Union and MLS.

In our blog of the Cup Final, we noted the presence of Four Points Sheraton on the sign boards.  The company was the offical hotel of the playoffs and the MLS Cup Final.

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.

Soccer Business Bits: MLS TV Ratings Climbing

soccertvTV contracts are the financial life blood of professional sports leagues, and MLS is no different.  While the League relies on multiple sources of revenue, the ultimate goal is to generate substantial rights fees from television partners. The amount MLS can earn from those rights fees are largely determined by ratings (and the packaging of FIFA properties owned by SUM).  MLS fans are keenly interested in the League’s ratings, and  The Sports Business Daily has provided some interesting information regarding 2009 ratings,

According to Austin Karp’s article, MLS ratings on ESPN2 were up almost 15%.  Most dramatic, were the ratings of Beckham’s Galaxy, who drew almost 420,00 viewers per match.   After Los Angeles, Seattle was the next biggest national television draw on ESPN2 broadcasts.   From July 25 until the end of the year, MLS averaged 319,00 viewers per game.  MLS also saw an increase on FSC, with an additional 13k tuning into MLS matches compared to 2008.  The actual number went from 51k to 64k.   The article is here.

These numbers are a great sign for MLS.  By way of comparison, MLS numbers fall right in the middle of ESPN2 numbers for EPL broadcasts. Overall, the numbers are actually more favorable for MLS if you average them out.  These numbers somewhat vindicate the ESPN decision to move the MLS game of the week around (something we opposed).   By way of comparison, these numbers are comparable to those of the NHL on versus, which averaged about 310,000 viewers per game last year.

As we have noted previously, ESPN has landed some outstanding matchups for the playoffs, including both Seattle and Los Angeles.  If the League and ESPN promote the games actively, there is a chance for an outanding rating on Thursday and Sunday.

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

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