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: More Deals

red-bulls2Teams across the League continue to offer creative promotions and deals to entice fans into the stadiums.  In New York, the Red Bulls are offering a 4 tickets and 4 T-shirts for $90 deal.  Given some of the options we have discussed previously, this one doesn’t seem like much of a bargain.  The Red Bulls are not drawing well and appear to be simply biding their time until Red Bull Arena opens in 2010.  The latest on the stadium is here.

In Houston, the Dynamo are offering a Fireworks night for their next home  match.  The first 5,000 fans will also get a rally towel as part of Houston’s promotion for every game schedule.  As we noted yesterday, the upcoming Houston/Dallas match on May 9th is also an ESPN game of the week.  By combining fireworks, rally towels and the Dallas/Houston rivalry, the Dynamo are certainly working to fill Robertson Stadium.

Finally, the good folks at Chivas USA (one of the quiet MLS success stories on the field and at the gate this year), are offering a $50 5 game “stiumulus plan”  The package includes a seat to five games and a “free” ticket to a match against the Galaxy.  Chivas has certainly found ways to build up its brand at a time when many teams are struggling to pull fans.

Expansion Update: Portland in Trouble?

pgeWe have discusssed Portland’s expansion bid on multiple occassions.  Recently, these stories have focused on the “funding gap” between the money promised by Merritt Paulson, the City of Portland and other sources.  Specifically, there is more than a $28 million hole, even if the City is able to sell more than $35 million in bonds in a tough market (if not, the gap is much larger).  Now citizens in Portland opposed to the deal are speaking out in an effort to kill the deal.  The Oregonian is reporting that a number of local architects are working to preserve Memorial Coliseum by placing it on the National Register of Historic Places.  If that effort is succesful, it would block the two-step required to get the Timbers their own stadium.  Portland’s minor league team is supposed to get a new stadium in place of the Coliseum while the Timbers are supposed to move to PGE Park.

Sensing the shifting winds, Mr. Paulson submitted an op-ed piece to the Oregonian in support of the deal.  In the article, he discusseds the proposed improvements to PGE Park, the importance of the Beavers and Timbers to Portland and the financial benefits of the new construction.  Also important is the connection between the stadiums, the Rose Quarter and downtown Portland.  At the same time, other columnists are taking a different view.

Just a few weeks ago, MLS fans were ecstatic about the prospect of a three team rivalry in the Pacific Northwest.  Now, the Portland deal is facing a number of hurdles that might slow down the process.  These challenges are typical for stadium construction projects nationwide.  Building multi-million dollar public/private projects is difficult and such efforts rightfully face significant amounts of scrutiny.  We will continue to monitor the efforts in Portalnd; it will certainly be a developing story over the next two years.

Interview With Houston Dynamo Senior Vice President Rocky Harris


We have previously posted on Houston’s promotional efforts ( a promotional date for every game) and some of their marketing efforts. Rocky Harris, a Dynamo Senior Vice President, was kind enough to chat with us about the Dynamo’s marketing plans in 2009, fan outreach and more.  Mr. Harris has been with the Dynamo for about one year following a six year stint in the N.F.L. with San Francisco and Houston.  What is Houston doing differently in terms of marketing in 2009?  How has the economy impacted those efforts?

Rocky Harris: We made a few marketing changes based on the economy. 1. Develop plans early – We knew early on that we needed to put our strategy together early so we don’t miss any opportunities. An example of this is that we finalized our entire promotional calendar before the season started so we could promote our games/themes/giveaways earlier and to get sponsors to commit to their nights and support their themed nights with media support. The promo calendar was complete before the season started and we have seen a lot of positive feedback from our sponsors and our fans. 2. Decrease media spend – We reduced our media spend and we justified it based on the following: the mainstream media is giving us more coverage, our unpaid promotional and media partnerships are more effective based on our partnership with the CBS affiliate, we signed a deal with Comcast delivering television advertising, better leverage of sponsor assets and we are shifting that money into sales and marketing initiatives that return direct ticket sales. 3. Going with what works: Our business plan was developed strictly on programs that have a history of success. The 50 programs we have in place will accomplish this goal. The marketing department took on a much greater role in helping the growth of our business. The marketing department is focused on creating or supporting programs that drive tangible business results.

The marketing department’s purpose is as follows: 1. Make a connection with a targeted audience/building fans, 2. Drive ticket sales, 3. Create sponsorship assets, 4. Build brand presence and major league image, 5. Provide valuable market exposure, 6. Help drive broadcast ratings, 7. Help drive camp registrations, 8. Support all departments.

Marketing’s general area of focus includes the following: advertising/media, promotions, grassroots marketing, Hispanic marketing, web-based marketing, production, game management and game day experience.

FB: How have the Dynamo utilized online avenues, such as social networking sites, SUM’s new online ad network, etc..- to promote and market the team? What is the endgame for these online efforts? Is there research that suggests such efforts will increase fan interest?

RH: We were the first MLS team to have a social networking site and we already have over 2000 members. We love it. It gives us a direct connection to our fans. Our executives and players can blog about insider information. Our COO writes a blog every few weeks about the status of the team.

There are three objectives: 1. engage and build fans, 2. Increase online revenue, 3. Sell tickets. We are also in the process of putting together a Twitter strategy. Yes, there is a lot of research to suggest this is the best way to reach our fans, specifically young and Hispanic fans.

FB: Is there anything unique or different about the Houston market that distinguishes it from other MLS markets? How do your advertising/fan outreach efforts account for that uniqueness?

RH: We have five (5) key target groups that drive our attendance. All of our business comes from these groups therefore all of our strategic efforts will focus on at least one of these targets. They are as follows: Youth Audience, Hispanic Community, Corporate Community, Adult Soccer-Playing Community and the General Market. We have identified and established 50 results-oriented programs and initiatives aimed at reaching these audiences and driving specific company-wide goals. These programs serve as the basis for our 2009 business plan.

FB: Although still in its infancy, Seattle is being trumpeted as a “model” franchise for purposes of marketing and fan outreach. Are their any lessons that an established franchise like Houston can take from Seattle’s efforts?

RH: Yes, it taught me that timing is everything in business. Plus, they have a solid plan to execute and deliver the promises they made to their fans. As you know, Seattle has some disgruntled fans with their NBA team’s departure so the fans have grabbed on to their positive image in the marketplace. They have a great international community and a solid soccer fan base. We looked at their marketing efforts and we see a lot of crossover to what every other MLS team is doing.

Thanks to Rocky Harris.  Check out our recent interview with Revolution COO Brian Bilello for his take on many of these same issues.

Seattle Sounders: A retrospective

soundersWith a long weekend upon us (for some), holiday travel in the air and the Seattle Sounders’ third home game a day away, we thought a look back at the lead-up to Seattle’s “first kick” appropriate.  The Sounders have continued strong tickets sales, have performed brilliantly on the field and have generated positive press in both soccer and mainstream media.  Three weeks into the season, much of the League is struggling at the gate (weather? economy? something else?), yet Seattle fans have continued to buy tickets (there are reports that the next few games are already sold out).

At the same time, we are only three weeks in, there have been no “bad times” for Seattle fans to struggle through, and the sellouts are largely artificial (how many tickets would they sell if they opened up Quest?).  Nevertheless, it has been a dream start for Seattle in every possible way.  For our lazy holiday weekend post, we tracked our discussion of the business of the Sounders in the weeks prior to opening day.  Check below for the links and enjoy the holidays.

On February 23, we took a long look at Seattle’s efforts to market the team in the lead-up to the new season.  We discussed Qwest as a soccer venue and got some thoughts from David Falk of and the Seattle Soccer Examiner.  On March 6, we showcased Seattle’s “scarf Seattle” campaign.  The Sounders were the talk of the City and the soccer world with their innovative guerrilla marketing strategy.

On March 20, we examined Seattle’s business model as “First Kick” arrived. We talked tickets, T.V. and conducted a pretty interesting poll.   Feel free to keep voting.  Just this week, we got New England Revolution COO Brian Bilello’s thoughts on the Rev’s new marketing campaign, but he also weighed on what lessons (if any) established clubs can take from the Sounders’ marketing and outreach efforts.  We’ve touched on Seattle elsewhere; they are the new kid in town.  Enjoy the look back.

Business Bits: Ticket Deals and Promotions

houstonWe recently wrote about the Galaxy’s drastic reduction in ticket prices for premium seats for upcoming home games (including the upcoming Chivas USA match).  Around the League, other teams are offering other deals to bring fans into the park.  In Chicago, the Fire are now offering five game plans for as little as $110 per seat (note to the Fire, it would be helpful if the link on your website to the ticket package actually worked).  In Houston, the Dynamo are packaging a Mexican appearance in the Gold Cup with five additional Dynamo games for a $90 ticket.

In Colorado, the Rapids will continue their annual “Play Clean Night” tradition for their April 25th home game.  In addition to providing special parking for hybrids and carpools, the Rapids will also offer cell phone recycling and reduced power operation around the stadium.  According to the Rapids’ website, the team will also “encourage” the recycling of Galaxy and Beckham jerseys that night.

In Houston, the Team is also sponsoring two “soccer night out” events.  The team will bring players, Dynamo Girls, promotional items and more to these events in the Houston area. The Revs and FC Dallas are actively promoting watch parties for away games.  Dallas is offering two locations and including food/drink specials.  The Revs are bringing the Revs’ Girls to their event, and will be distributing promotional items. revs

Stadium Update: San Jose Earthquakes, DC United and more

san-joseLast week, we discussed OnGoal’s efforts to build a soccer stadium on the Bannister Mall site in the Kansas City area.  Today, we provide updates about some of the other stadium projects around the League.  In San Jose, the Mercury News is reporting on positive developments in Lew Wolff’s effort to build a stadium for the Earthquakes.  The city of San Jose has agreed to chop $40 million off the purchase price of a 75 acre parcel that will include the Stadium and additional mixed use development. Mr. Wolff will now pay $89 million for the site (purchased by the City for $81 million). The stadium will seat 15,000 (with additional seating for 3,000 more on a berm at the stadium’s open end) and will use 14 acres of the site.

Though some may object to the City’s willingness to part with $40 million for a no-bid land sale to a developer, it actually seems that the City is displaying some rare foresight.  In the current economic climate, the promise of large commercial development is important as a job creator and economic driver.  The infusion of such a large private development is still a good deal for the City even at the reduced rate.  According to the story, the appraised value of the land has declined by one third since Mr. Wolff signed the original deal in May.  Importantly, because the arrangement provides Mr. Wolff with only a primary option to purchase the land, he can still walk away from the deal.  As a result, this negotiated resolution allows the City to remain confident that the deal will go thorugh, albeit at a reduced price.

In Harrison, New Jersey, Red Bull is moving forward with its construction of Red Bull Arena, a 25,000 seat soccer stadium estimated to cost $150 million.  The new stadium is set to open at the start of the 2010 season, making 2009 the last year for the Red Bulls in the unfriendly confines of Giants Stadium.  The RedBulls have recently announced (are the Mets, Yankees, Giants & Jets listening?), that season ticket prices will not increase from 2009 to 2010.  Pricing information and a stadium tour are available online here.  There is also a recent article about the new arena in the New York Times.

In Maryland, it appears that United’s chance of getting a stadium in Prince George’s County is has come and gone.  The Washington Post is reporting on an 8-0 vote by the Prince George’s City Council refusing to support funding for a study of a potential stadium in Maryland.  It is fairly stunning that a proposal that was so full of promise just weeks ago seems dead today.  It is also suprising that the Council rejected a study so forcefully.  United is now in the unenviable position of having thumbed its nose at the District of Columbia while being left at the alter (or perhaps engagement party) by the State of Maryland.  Now United, one of the League’s mos successful franchises, faces the possibility of being a team without a stadium or a candidate for relocation.united

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

Interview with New England Revolution COO Brian Bilello

 revsPrior to the start of the 2009 season, the New England Revolution announced the “Defend the Fort” campaign as part of a drive to target “traditional” supporters.  In combination with the introduction of the Rev’s Girls and new online content, the new campaign is part of League-wide effort to replicate the energy evident in Toronto, the Nordecke and other passionate supporter areas.  Brian Bilello, the Revolution COO, is the architect of the new campaign.  He was kind enough to answer a few questions from about the Revs’ marketing efforts for 2009. The Revs have debuted the “Defend the Fort” campaign this year.  What are the components of the campaign?  What is the team doing to market the new campaign?

Brian Bilello: The primary reasoning behind the Defend the Fort campaign is to grow the number of season tickets in The Fort, our supporters section. While we’ll do as much as we can to grow the supporters section in general, we feel that season ticket growth is the key because those fans are the most passionate, most involved and have the biggest stake in the game, so to speak. So we didn’t want it to be where people are coming two, three or four games and sitting in that section, but rather growing a base of fans who are here every single week. That will drive the energy in the building.

There are a number of elements to the campaign. The primary one is the $200 supporters seat, which is less expensive than any other seat in the building. We actually lowered the price of the season tickets for folks in The Fort. However, we didn’t adjust any of the prices for the other tickets we have – the individual tickets or the 4-packs. Those are still the same pricing structure so an individual ticket in The Fort is still the same price as a Category III ticket, as are the 4-packs. But if you purchase a season ticket, you save $100, which is an incentive to a lot of people.

We have, which is also a big piece of it. The main site is still in development – although a portion of it is live now – and there will be more to come. Included in that site are our Fort-related ticket offers and videos and we’re looking at some social networking components. It’s also the home of the Rev Girls’ activities. That group is really out there going out after the hard-core soccer fans and pushing them back to

We’ve also done TV spots, radio spots and online advertising, and all of those things are targeted at the more hard-core, young adult soccer supporters. We also have radio, TV, print and online advertising that’s aimed at the general market, but the Defend the Fort campaign is specifically targeted. When we advertise on, you’ll see a Revolution Soccer ad, but when we advertise on Big Soccer, it’ll be a Defend the Fort ad.

FB: The Revs seem to be targeting more “traditional” soccer supporters this year.  Do you believe this represents a change from prior marketing efforts, and if so, what is the impetus for the change?

BB: We really took a hard look at it a few years ago, and ever since I’ve been involved with the team beginning in 2006, it’s been an area that I’ve wanted to take the team. For the last three seasons, we’ve been trying to target the “traditional” fan more and more. It hasn’t been something we’ve flipped a switch on, but it’s a piece of our business we’re trying to add back in because we feel these are the fans who really support the team. Those are the fans who are most engaged. Those are the fans who are going to drive the performance of the team. Because they’re engaged, they care; they wanted to read about the team; they care about the results. They’re not just here to come to one or two games a year, but are here to really get behind the team and support the team. We recognized that those fans are the ones who have the greatest everyday interaction with the team and we really want to interact with them at a greater level, and show that we’re here to please them, both on and off the field.

We’re not eliminating our marketing to families or the youth soccer segment because they’re still important to us. We’re just adding a layer to our mix.

FB: How do you measure success with the new branding efforts?  Do you feel the team is meeting those goals?

BB: With the Defend the Fort campaign, we’re going to look at how many tickets we sell: season tickets, 4-packs, individual games and walk-ups. We’re closing on doubling the number of season tickets in The Fort right now, so I’d say we’ve already been successful. We could look at it and say we wanted to double our season ticket numbers there, but it’s a bit artificial. If we do 90 percent more, isn’t that good? If we do 110 percent more, isn’t that good? We’d like to get to double because it’s nice to say we’ve done it, but since we’re almost there, we can’t really say that was the milestone we were looking to hit. Then again, as of right now, we haven’t kicked a ball at home yet, so if we can look at 4-packs and walk-ups and see if they’re changing for the better, then we have an additional metric to judge our success on. But early returns are showing that the Defend the Fort campaign is working since we’ve doubled the number of season tickets in The Fort, so we’re hoping to continue that as the season goes on.

With the web site, we can see how many people are engaging; how many people are sending messages; how many people are going on, and so on. We have those stats and will continue to look at them and see how many people are engaging actively in the program.


FB: Although still in its infancy, Seattle is being trumpeted as a “model” franchise for purposes of marketing and fan outreach.  Are their any lessons that an established franchise like New England can take from Seattle’s efforts?

BB: There are certainly some things that Seattle will do that we’ll feel are great ideas and we may look to take on, but I would actually suggest it might be the other way around. Seattle should take lessons from the New Englands, D.C.s, Chicagos, Dallases, and Colorados of the world – those original and early-year teams – and where they were the first five years in this league and numbers they were bringing in, and then see what happened to lose some of those numbers that are now coming back. I think there is more of a lesson for them to learn in “How do we keep these people here,” “How do we make sure we fulfill the promise,” and from what I’ve seen from both Toronto and Seattle, they’re both well down that path. So if there is a lesson to learn, it’s one that would have helped us 15 years ago. Not that they’re not bad ideas – they’ve certainly been able to capture the interest and excitement in their market – but they’re really leveraging it well and can continue to drive it. But we’re past that initial curiosity and initial years of the Revs. People may say, “Well, Seattle has 22,000 season ticket holders. Can’t you get that next year?” That’s not going to happen, but we’re trying to move back closer to that. What they’ve done right would’ve helped us 15 years ago.

FB: Finally, with the season just underway and the home opener coming up, are there any other marketing/branding efforts (either inside or outside the stadium) that Revs” fans should be on the lookout for?

BB: You’ll see the atmosphere change in the stadium, especially from the additional energy from The Fort and supporters section. We’ve changed our music program a bit to be a bit more edgy, more modern. We’ve added some pump videos. You really can’t do anything in game to artificially create energy and get the crowd going, but pregame, we’ve brought more fun and engagement with the crowd. We have a pregame party program that we’ll roll out at a few games this year. There will be a band playing in a party zone next to the field, which will be located next to The Fort. Again, we’re targeting the younger crowd – they’re getting the pregame party and The Fort atmosphere in one, so we think that will be good. Those parties will be primarily marketing through our Rev Girls in bars and out at night, so we think that all ties together between the demographic, how they buy the tickets and what they experience when they get here. We’re adding some viewing parties – not every single game – but we are adding some to try to engage fans away from the stadium and get that interaction with the team up. We’re definitely being more aggressive in our advertising and making some spends in some places we might not have done before – in particular online in places like Facebook and the Google ad network to reach anyone in New England who’s on a soccer web page. Even things like social networking, which isn’t a traditional ad spend, but keeping Facebook and Twitter updated at all times so we’re relevant.

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.


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