Soccer Business Bits: RSL Revenue, Attendance Review and More

rslWe neglected to comment on a story from last weekend about RSL’s Rio Tinto attendance and its impact on revnue.  According to this story from the SL Trib, attendance in Salt Lake City is down this year, but revenue is way up.  Despite the lowest attendance in Team history, revenues are up more than 25%, a clear indicator of the importance of controlling your own stadium.  While the weather has been miserable in RSL this year, the Team is still bringing in the money thanks to controlled revenue streams and the absence of rent payments.

Just as interesting, was the discussion of the dreaded free ticket.  According to the article, RSL is giving away about 1k seats this year as compared to 3-5k in past seasons.  The great debate about the value of handing out free seats.  Does it create interest?  Does it devalue the seats so that people expect free seats and won’t pay for the privilege of coming to the stadium?  The Team seems to believe it is in a good place, but only summer attendance will tell.  The last two games (including the tie on Saturday) were sell-outs, so for now things seem to be moving in the right direction (special thanks to a certain American Idol runner-up)

For the rest of the League, attendance was something of a mixed bag.  Toronto brought the usual sell-out.  For all of the numbers, check here.  It was a strange slate of games for MLS this week, with a Thursday, Friday and two Sunday games.  True to form, these games were not well attended with only Chicago breaking the 13k barrier.  Most distressing was Dallas, were less than 6k announced were in attendance at Pizza Hut Park.  We have addressed the Dallas problems repeatedly, so we won’t do it again today.  Suffice to say, things are getting bad fast.

Soccer Business Bits: The Morning After

mlsAnother full slate of games in MLS and WPS this weekend and a world cup qualifier on the horizon.  This week represented the return of the ESPN game of the week, and the Worldwide Leader got a good one with the Thursday night Chivas/Blanco match-up.  Please see our live business blog of that match here.  Chivas USA got the attendance week off to a good start with a reported 20k+ in attendance the day after less than 9k were in Columbus for a mid-week game.

Strong attendance continued with almost 16k in New England on Saturday night (this is what passes for good attendance at Gillette these days), 16k in Houston, about 20k in Los Angeles and almost 30k in Seattle.  These are solid numbers for all of these franchises and may represent a Spring upswing for some of these teams.  Los Angeles is nowhere near the numbers of the past years, but the ability to draw a solid 20k without Beckham is a good sign for the club. Dallas and New York also deserve recognition for pulling solid numbers, with 13k in Dallas for a Sunday afternoon match and a reported 12k at Giants Stadium.

There were three weekend games in WPS, with action in Los Angeles, Washington and New Jersey.  6200 saw Marta and the Sol defeat St. Louis 2-0.  In Washington, the League continued its tradition of not reporting attendance, while in New Jersey less than 3500 were in attendance.

More than 30k were in attendance to see Jamaica and El Salvador in  World Cup warm-up at RFK.  This is a big number in a stadium that has become a familiar ground for El Salvador.  As noted above, the US Men get back into action this week.  We will post a business blog of that game to touch on the ads, production and more of the match from Cost Rica.

Soccer Business Bits: The Morning After

mlsAnother week of American soccer is in the books, with a full slate of games in MLS and WPS and the annoucement of a new U.S. National Team Camp for the upcoming World Cup Qualifier.  As has been a theme in MLS this season, there were more ties than actual results, with four games ending in a draw.  This was another week without an ESPN game, but national telecasts on Fox Soccer for the WPS and MLS and Telefutura for MLS.  Advertisers such as Panasonic and Dick’s stayed as a consistent presence in these telecasts.

Attendance wise, Toronto led the way with a sellout, while KC followed suit.  Just over 16k saw a scoreless draw at RFK, while a suprising 16,500 made their way to Colorado to watch Seattle and the Rapids.  This is a big number for the Rapids.  New York and Dallas struggled again at the gate, with just over 10k at Giants Stadium and FC Dallas bringing in less than 10k for a match up against the Galaxy.  What would the attendance have been with a Beckham appearance? The big shock of the week was 12,500 in Houston.  The Dynamo generally do a great job with promotions for every game, yet, this was a small draw in a game against their shadow selves in San Jose.

In WPS action, 4,400 were in attendance when Chicago hosted St. Louis.  More than 6200 were in attendance when FC Gold Pride hosted Marta and Los Angeles.  The DC match was part of doubleheader for the United Game.  The WPS kicked off first, and reports indicate that many of the United supporters stayed in the parking lot during the WPS match.  Attendance for the two games were joined, so the WPS gets the benefit of the 16k.

Next week, MLS has a full slate with two midweek games and the return of ESPN, smartly televising the Los Angeles super classico.  We will be traveling again this week and will check back at the end of the week, perhaps live blogging some of the business aspects of the ESPN2 broadcast.

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

houston-dynamo

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.

Footiebusiness.com:  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.

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