Soccer Business Bits: WPS Goes Pink, Ticket Sales In KC & More

In an effort to increase breast cancer awareness, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), in conjunction with PUMA will outfit players in special Project Pink kits for five WPS matches. Puma has also created a range of Project Pink merchandise that will be available for purchase beginning this summer and continuing through Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Profits from the sale of PUMA’s Project Pink gear will be donated to a nonprofit committed to breast cancer awareness or research; the beneficiary will be named as the result of a national online voting campaign.  For more on the “good works” of various American soccer leagues, check out our series on the charitable efforts of MLS and WPS here.

In the aftermath of the Wizards’ surprising showing against Manchester United, USA Today is reporting that the team sold 700 new season tickets for their 2011 campaign in their new stadium.  If these are indeed new season ticket holders, the 700 new additions show the power of these friendlies to attract existing soccer fans to their local MLS side.  Clearly the Wizards put on a good show, and despite the overwhelming percentage of the crowd that came dressed in red, many Manchester fans came away impressed with Kansas City.  With a new stadium just months away, momentum appears to be building in Kansas City to vault the Wizards to the next level.

Finally, league sponsors Panasonic and Best Buy are joining forces to sponsor a meet and greet with an array of MLS all-stars. The event is part of the week long festivities in Houston in advance of the match against Manchester United.  The event provides fans with the opportunities to meet players, get autographs and play video games.

The Monday After

Perhaps the biggest business news from the soccer weekend was the announcement  that storied Scottish club Glasgow Rangers is withdrawing from its 2010 American tour.  The tour was intended to include matches against Celtic in Boston and DC United at RFK.  The BBC article references the recent Boston Globe article that criticized Rangers’ fans and ultimately forced the Globe to withdraw the article and issue an apology.

Attendance across the league was varied with more than 10k in Dallas and the usual big numbers in Toronto in Seattle.  We’ve already discussed the sub 6k number on Wednesday in New England, so we thought we would focus on the solid numbers in Salt Lake City, where the defending champs are on pace to crush the attendance from 2009.  RSL is averaging 15,600 this year, up 25% from the first three games of 2009.  We’ve discussed RSL’s 2010 marketing efforts with team Marketing Director Davy Ratchford and it appears those efforts are paying off.  RSL is an exciting franchise to watch, as it garners significant press attention in its “smallish” market and puts an outstanding product on the field.  We will continue to monitor RSL’s attendance as the season moves into the summer.

The big attendance story for the weekend was the amount of empty seats in Atlanta for the Beat’s home opener against Sky Blue in WPS action.  While the crowd looked solid, you always hope to sell-out a stadium in its inagural match.  That said, kudos to WPS for streaming the game live and for free on the league website.

One final note.  The Seattle Sounders’  response to their big loss over the weekend to Los Angeles wasn an MLS first.  The team announced that season ticket holders will be refunded their money (i.e. credited on their account for next year).  This is a great P.R. move even if it is a bit strange.  Teams have bad games and franchises typically don’t offer refunds, but in this case the team will buy some good will with its fans while making headlines in media outlets across the country.

Footiebusiness Charity Week: WPS

Last week we took at look at various American soccer charity efforts especially those in Haiti. The charitable efforts of professional sports leagues and teams are typically overlooked by their fans, yet they are an important component of the community outreach programs in which almost all leagues are involved.  In addition to providing a way to give back to the community, local charitable efforts often provide teams with an outstanding opportunity to connect with fans and potential fans. This week we will focus on the charitable efforts of the American Soccer Community.  We have interviewed league representatives from MLS and WPS and individual teams to find out how soccer “gives back”.  Yesterday, we chatted with MLS Executive Vice President JoAnn Neale who overseas MLS W.O.R.K.S., the charitable arm of MLS.

Today, Robert Penner, the Director of Communications for WPS was kind enough to share a few words about WPS’ charitable efforts.  While only in its second year, WPS is already starting to develop its approach to charitable involvement on a league basis.  At the same time, many WPS teams already have their own charitable/community activities which will expand in year two.  Mr. Penner is a veteran of sports media and marketing and has worked with the A.T.P.,  U.S. Open and NBC.  Most recently, Mr. Penner worked with Puma, a founding partner of the WPS. Thanks to Mr. Penner for answering a few questions about WPS and charity.

Footiebusiness.com: Does WPS have a “go to” charity or community program?  Are there certain organizations that have an ongoing relationship with WPS?

Robert Penner: WPS is in the process of developing their philanthropic platform and the causes we want to support through it. It’s something that takes time and something that you want to do properly. We’ve looked at a variety of options during our Inaugural Season and recognize the importance of having a charity component within the league.

FB: How is it decided where to allocate time and resources from WPS to charitable organizations?

RP: This will be a function of the partnerships we implement through our philanthropic arm.

FB: Do WPS teams and players participate in their own charitable or community organizations or does the league dictate where teams devote charitable and community resources?   Are players contractually obligated to participate?

RP: The League does not determine the extent to which, or how teams support charities and non-profit organizations. Nearly every team has a charity or cause they support. Many WPS teams support breast cancer awareness amongst other important community initiatives.

FB: How can fans get involved in WPS charitable activity?

RP: Right now the best way to get involved is through your WPS Team.

Atlanta Soccer Stadium Set for Construction

WPS expansion franchise Atlanta Beat has reached a deal to construct an 8,300 seat stadium in an Atlanta suburb about 25 miles from downtown.  The stadium will cost less than $20 million to construct and will host both the Beat and Kennesaw State University Women’s soccer team.  The stadium is designed to increase to 16k for purposes of concerts and is expected to host NCAA events.  Click here for images of the proposed stadium.  One important note:  by building the stadium off school grounds, the team can sell alcohol at all of its home games.

Despite the rather paltry construction price (it’s probably been 20 years since someone built a professional stadium for anything near $20 million), the project is a great sign for WPS.  While it is unlikely that the construction of this stadium will be a watershed moment for women’s soccer, it is certainly a good sign that the University sees fit to partner with an expansion franchise in the WPS.  Although the cost isn’t great, it still represents an infrastructure investment in the League and women’s soccer.

The stadium is expected to be constructed prior to the Beat’s first game in the Spring. This is a very aggressive schedule.  We will keep you apprised of the stadium progress

Soccer Business Bits: Soccer on TV and More

tv soccerIn what has been something of a recurring topic over the last couple of weeks, we thought we would again discuss the televising of soccer in the United States.  We’ll start with the UEFA Final, which drew a big number both on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.  This press release from ESPN sets forth the numbers.  A quick glance: more than 1 million English language homes and approximately 500,000 Spanish language.  This was the most watched telecast in ESPN Deportes history garnering a 9.9 Hispanic Coverage Rating; the second largest such rating in 2009.  Bear in mind, this game went off in the middle of a weekday.

The Confederations Cup kicks off on June 14 and ESPN will be showing all games live.  It will be interesting to see how these results compare to the UEFA game.  The United States will get two mid-week games and a Sunday match-up against Egypt.  The mid-week games will be televised live; it will be interesting to see if ESPN chooses to replay the matches in primetime.   The entire ESPN schedule for the tournament is here.

Keeping it with the U.S Men, a large crowd turned out to Soldier Field for the Saturday evening qualifier against Honduras.  Not surprisingly, more than 50% of the fans were wearing the blue and white.  After watching the crowd in Costa Rica (no thanks to ESPN which broadcast the match from Bristol and appeared to have little access to stadium microphones), the Chicago crowd was quite a shock.  Nevertheless, it is heartening that the Men continue to sell large blocks of tickets.  This also goes for the news out of South Africa that more ticket requests for the World Cup have come from the United States than any other country.

We will touch on MLS tomorrow, but a quick word about the WPS week.  The League offered up a mid-week game in Los Angles with just under 4k in attendance.  Four days latter the Sol were back at it, hosting Washington in front of 5500 for the FSC game of the week.  I was pretty disappointed in the FSC production of the game.  The shadows made it hard, but it was impossible to see half of the field because of the light difference.  Also, the audio was pretty weak.  The crowd shots also looked pretty sparse.  As has become distressingly routine across the League, the St. Louis Sunday match is posting attendance as N/A.wps

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

The Morning After: MLS, WPS, USMNT

wpsIt was a big weekend for U.S. soccer fans.  The National Team was in El Salvador for a qualifier, WPS kicked off in Los Angeles and the MLS completed its second week of games.   ESPN2 televised the National Team (after not showing an MLS game this week).  Captain Morgan’s featured prominently as an advertisor (I don’t remember them investing heavily in soccer previously) and there was otherwise a fairly typical mix of national and local advertising.  Heineken and Southwest also purchased ad time.  The crew was on site (as opposed to a booth in Bristol) and the production went fairly smoothly throughout.

FSC televised the WPS opener at 6:00 EST on Sunday.  Mark Rogondino manned the booth for play-by-play.  As a founding partner, Puma featured prominently throughout.  Super Eight Hotels, American Airlines were among the sponsors along with ususal suspects ProActiv and Soccer Shop.  Just under 15k attended the event at the Home Depot; a nice opening for the League’s first game.

League-wide, attendance in MLS was disappointing in week two despite another strong showing in Seattle.  The Rapids and RedBulls opened with less than 12,500 in New York and less than 12,000 in Commerce City.  Columbus raised its championship banner in front of less than 15k.  San Jose sold out for the second consecutive week and about 16k came to RFK for United’s home opener.  Sunday was the most distressing number, with less than 7k showing up at Pizza Hut Park.

It is not terribly surprising that a rainy night in New York for the Bulls’ last campaign at Giants Stadium drew poorly, but the numbers in Colorado and Columbus are fairly disappointing.  The weather wasn’t great in DC either, but for one of the League’s perennial attendance powerhouses, it is a low number.  We have previously discussed the attendance woes in Dallas, but this number is exceptionally bad.  Fans of the team have been clamoring for a change in the front office, and if the sub 10k numbers continue, changes might follow.

The FSC game had the usual mix of Home Depot and ProActiv commercials combined with a fair amount of MLS Works and PassBack spots.  RSL’s broadcast (of  its game against Seatle), was heavily sponsored by KFC, and a local bank.  In San Jose, Amway again featured prominently on stadium singage and a half time interview with the Quakes’ VP of Marketing touched on the new campaign and the addition of a new beer garden and other stadium improvements.  We touched on that campaign here.san-jose

Business Bits: Expansion in Motion, WPS & Montero

mlsTwo years before they kick off, the newly minted franchises in Vancouver and Portland are already competing off the field.  As we reported earlier this week, Vancouver had already sold 5,000 season ticket deposits less than one week after the franchise announcement.  Now, word comes out of Portland that within the first 48 hours of opening up sales, more than 1,000 season ticket deposits have been sold.  For both teams, present USL season ticket holders will have priority ahead of deposit holders, likely adding a couple thousand more to the season ticket rolls.

Fans of both teams already anticipate a heated rivalry on the field.  Off the field, the franchises will forever be compared because of their start dates and geographic proximity.  It will be fascinating to monitor these franchises as they prepare for 2011.  Advertising dollars, ticket sales, broadcast deals and sponsorships will all provide means to compare the franchises for the next two years.

As we have previously discussed, the WPS kicks off this weekend from the Home Depot Center.  The Washington Post is reporting that more than 10k tickets have been sold for the L.A. Sol/Washington Freedom opener. The game will be nationally televised on FSC and the rest of the League will open the following week.  Check out our interview with WPS Director of Communications Robert Penner for more on the WPS’ business model and expectations.

Colombian Fredy Montero made a big splash on the field in his debut last week.  The performance was so impressive that Seattle fans were already dreaming of multiple MVP awards, or the possibility of a large transfer fee.  An article in the Seattle Times suggests that neither may come to pass.

According to the article, Montero is on a one year contract stemming from a loan agreement.  Seattle GM Adrian Hanauer acknowledged to the paper that Seattle only controls Montero for one season (despite Montero leaving the door open to a second year).  MLS typically orchastrates its loan agreements with an option to buy,  so a one year loan without such an option would be rare.  Nevertheless, a young player with such promise will be a hot commodity on the transfer market, and there are reports that MLS owns some percentage of Montero’s sale rights, thereby affording the League a chance to recoup some money on a Montero transfer. sounders

WPS: Interview with Robert Penner

wpsOn March 29, Women’s Professional Soccer will kick-off its inaugural season with a nationally televised match-up at the Home Depot Center.  Pitting the Los Angeles Sol against the Washington Freedom, the opening match will feature Brazilian star Marta and U.S. National Team scorer Abby Wambach.

Rising from the ashes of the WUSA, the WPS is seeking to gain a permanent foothold in the U.S. sporting scene.  A  national TV deal, a partnership with MLS and a reduction in team costs are all part of the “new model” .  WPS director of communciations Robert Penner was kind of enough to chat with footiebusiness.com about some of the business aspects of the WPS.  Mr. Penner is a veteran of sports media and marketing and has worked with the A.T.P.,  U.S. Open and NBC.  Most recently, Mr. Penner worked with Puma, a founding partner of the WPS.

Footiebusiness.com: Who does WPS view as the target demographic? When affiliating with the League, who are your sponsors looking to reach?

Robert Penner: Our core demographic is of course the young female soccer player age 8-18 who plays at the club and recreational level, but we also want to reach their parents, fitness-minded women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, as well as soccer fans in general. With our world class product and athletes on the field, we think we can accomplish that. The sponsors that we have met with and those that have signed on with WPS, know that we can help deliver this hard-to-reach demographic to them through many different activation platforms.


FB: How does the media relationship with FSC differ from the media model pursued by the WUSA? What efforts are being made to secure local TV deals?

RP: First, we wanted a network that spoke to the core of what our league stands for, in this case world class soccer – so FSC was a great fit for us. In addition, we wanted appointment television so our fans know exactly when and where they can watch WPS every week. FSC has made the commitment to promote our league across their various media partners and online, so that was important to us. At the local level, we are working with two potential regional television partners and hope to know our regional TV schedule very soon.


FB: How closely will WPS work with MLS? What are the advantages/disadvantages of a close relationship?

RP: We have gained a tremendous amount of insights from MLS. They are our sales arm through our agreement with SUM, so officially we are business partners on the sales side of things. In other areas, there are overlapping synergies with operations for some teams and several teams share stadiums such as Chicago, Bay Area and Los Angeles. DC United and the Washington Freedom have announced several doubleheaders and our new franchise in Philadelphia has had a lot of discussions with the MLS Philadelphia franchise that is coming on board next year. There’s a lot we can learn from MLS, they’ve done a great job building their league to where it is today 13 years after their launch.


FB: What are the League’s goals/expectations for attendance/ratings in the first two years?

RP: We’ve said all along that we want to keep our expectations in check and we are shooting for 4,000-6,000 fans per game for the opening season, which we think is reasonable and will still make our league model profitable.


FB: We have heard about Amway’s deal with the Sol. Who is responsible for securing jersey sponsorship (i.e. the teams or the League)? Can we expect additional announcements about such sponsors prior to the season?

RP: Team shirt deals, the inventory on the front of the jerseys, is for sale by the teams. From what we’ve heard there have been some other fruitful discussions so we are hopeful that there will be other announcements over the course of the season.


Thanks to Robert Penner.  WPS opens play this weekend on FSC.

Business Bits: Opening Week, WPS and Milan

wpsAmway International, the presenting sponsor of the San Jose Earthquakes, has signed on as the jersey sponsor of the WPS’ L.A. Sol. The sponsorship will include the Amway name on the jersey, stadium signage and placement on an array of Sol items.  Perhaps most importantly for Amway, Brazilian Marta, perhaps the most recognizable star in Womens’ soccer, will now wear the Amway name.  In a separate deal, Marta signed a three year endorsement deal with the company.

In Salt Lake City, RSL has announced an “open house” at Rio Tinto Stadium.  The free event will include a Friendly with the Austin Aztek of the USL First Division, a meet the players component and plenty of family friendly activities.  With the fall 2008  opening of Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL has a beautiful new venue to showcase.  The open house seems like a fantastic way to introduce potential fans to the stadium without giving away the proudct (i.e. free tickets to games).  Rio Tinto looked and sounded great on TV during the playoffs and reports suggest that season ticket sales are up for 2009.

The Galaxy have wasted no time in selling tickets for their negotiated Friendly with AC Milan.  According to the team website, tickets are now on sale as part of a package with tickets for opening night.  While the game is free for season ticket holders, the two game package prices range from $50-$600.  It is somewhat surprising that L.A. would pair the Milan tickets with opening day because it suggests that opening day tickets aren’t selling well;  we’ll know in a week.  milan

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