Women’s Professional Soccer enters into player contracts

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Women’s Professional Soccer has agreed to player contracts that will guarantee National Team players a minimum of $40,000 per year.  See the official press release here.   In addition, the League set a per team, $565,000 salary cap.  The Leaguewide average salary will be about $32,000. As of now, the players are not unionized.

According to the Sports Business Journal, WPS and its players also reached an agreement providing one year of injury protection.  In addition, the agreement permits players to approve/disapprove potential marketing and image usage and sets individual fee percentages for licensing.

As opening day nears, footiebusiness.com will provide additional coverage of the WPS business model, marketing and potential for success. WPS is set to kick off its inagural season on March 29

United to P.G. County

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A hot topic for both soccer and  mainstream media for the last few days has been DC United’s proposed move to Prince George’s County.  The move got closer to reality following an afternoon press conference in Largo, MD on Monday.   The proposed deal for a 24, 000 seat stadium is estimated to cost just under $200 million with 25% of the funding coming from the team.  According to the Washington Business Journal,

“a feasibility study published by the Stadium Authority in September guessed that the team was likely to produce $65 million to $80 million in economic activity annually, which could mean the equivalent of more than 1,000 full-time positions and bring in more than $5 million in annual tax revenue.”

As is almost a necessity when trying to sell a publicly financed sports arena, promises about dozens of additional (non DC United) events are at the forefront of the proposal.  These include concerts, college soccer, womens’ soccer and more.

Footiebusiness.com will certainly cover the financing of this deal as it moves forward.  But another interesting factor is the potential impact of such a move on United’s devoted fan base.  Will fans from Northern Virginia willingly make the trip to Maryland?   Steve Goff of the Washington Post pulled an interesting quote from DCU president Kevin Payne:

“Our largest fan base is from Northern Virgina… We recognize that we may to change our fan base a little bit.  It’s possible we’ll have more fans now from places like Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, Howard County, up into Baltimore.  Perhaps fewer will be able to make it from places like Loudon County.  But our fans are very, very loyal…We expect those fans to come with us.”

Most of the proposed sites are on the Metro which seems to mitigate against the attendance impact of moving out of the city. I suspect that the potential revenue from a new stadium would make up for the loss of some game day attendance.  No more rent and full control of concessions, combined with the ability to rent the stadium to other parties is likely too good a deal to pass up for Victor MacFarlane.

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MLS Contracts: Who owns David Beckham?

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If there is one thing the David Beckham situation has made abundantly clear, it’s that MLS does things differently.  During the negotiations with Milan, I’ve been repeatedly asked to explain the MLS contract system. In the traditional soccer model, players are owned by individual teams and transferred (i.e. sold)  when two clubs (and the subject player) agree.  Not so in MLS.

MLS operates as a “single entity” where teams are controlled by the League.  While the level of central control has lessened over the years, player contracts are still owned by Major League Soccer.  Thus, despite playing for the L.A.  Galaxy, Beckham’s contract is owned by the League.  Thus, to negotiate a transfer, both clubs, the player and MLS need to agree.

This obviously creates some conflicts.  Undoubtedly, David Beckham has enormously increased awareness of MLS worldwide.  Selling him now may not be in the best interest of the League and its owners, but very well might be in the best interest of the Galaxy on the field.  As of this writing, no deal has been done.  Galaxy owners AEG, have taken the party line with AEG President Tim Lewike stating, “I’m not sure they ever quite understood the magnitude of the losses the Galaxy and the league would have had to bear this season. They were very respectful discussions. We’re fine. There’s no issues here.”

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However, Lewike heads the business and not the soccer arm of AEG.  MLS teams are held to a tight salary cap, and head coach Bruce Arena would likely much prefer to dump Beckham and use the funds freed up under the salary cap, and transfer funds, to build a contender.  Instead, he may be left with an unhappy Beckham and another losing team.

MLS Expansion: Portland?

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As part of an occasional series of posts on MLS expansion contenders, I thought it worth taking a look at Portland’s efforts to join the League in 2011.  The bid centers on a proposal to upgrade PGE Park, the home of a minor league baseball team and the Portland Timbers of the USL.  According to the folks at mlsportland.com, a $40 million upgrade will take PGE to MLS standards.

Interestingly, the driving force behind the Portland bid is Merritt Paulson, son of the former Secretary of the Treasury.  Paulson is seeking $85 million in public money to support the bid, renovate the stadium and construct infrastructure.  Given the economic climate, and his father’s prominent role in the bailout, there is no small irony in Paulson’s leading the charge for a raft of public money.

Soccer has been successful in the City of Roses at the USL level and as a “one sport town” Portland is an attractive market.  This is especially so, when that one sport is the NBA (with only a small amount of schedule overlap).  Using Columbus as a model, there is good reason to believe that a Portland franchise backed by big money and a solid stadium, can succeed.

The bid was recently rocked by scandal, when Portland mayor Sam Adams, a strong proponent of the bid, admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a teenage female.  With franchise announcements expected in about a month, it will be interesting to see whether the Mayor’s problems will drag down Paulson’s efforts.  Portland has long been a soccer hotbed, and with Seattle entering the League in 2009, there is great potential for a natural rivalry.

I think Portland is a great fit.  I’ve long believed that medium markets like Columbus, Salt Lake City and San Jose are perfect locations for MLS franchises. Yes you need the big cities, but in New York and Boston, MLS is barely a blip on the sports landscape.  In smaller cities, the teams are a focus of local medial and a source of community pride.

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T.V. Tidbits: US/Mexico TV Ratings & Red Bull Rights Deal

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MLS ratings may be flat, but the U.S. National Team continues to draw well on TV.  In televising the  US/Mexico clash on Wednesday,  ESPN2 logged a .8 rating (over a million viewers) setting a new record for a World Cup Qualfier.  Add in the more than 5.5 million viewers on Spanish Language TV and close to 7 million people in the States watched the 2-0 US win on television.  As we have said before, there is a big audience for soccer in this country, MLS just needs to find a way to capture those eyeballs.

msg Meanwhile, according to reports, the NY Rebulls have signed a three year rights deal to televise Red Bull games on the MSG network.  While financial terms were not announced, New York fans will be pleased to have a destination for local broadcast of at least 20 games.  The deal also includes a studio show and Shep Messing!red-bulls2

DC United Moving to P.G. County?

In a recent story of Maryland, it appears that D.C. United is moving closer to a full time move to Prince George’s County. United currently plays in crumbling RFK Stadium and has been trying for years to get financing to build along the Anacostia River at Poplar Point.  According to reports, United pays $1.3 million annually to rent out RFK, but does control concessions and parking.  Would the move to Maryland really be benficial?

Obviously, it all comes down to money, and Victor McFarlane has quite a track record in real estate. In this econmic climate can P.G. County make an attractive pitch to bring the team?  MacFarlane must think so.   A press conference is scheduled for Monday according to the Washington Post, so we will keep an eye on the situation. 

 Many United fans are upset by a potential move to the suburbs, and I tend to agree (compare the attendance/atmosphere in Dallas and Toronto to see the importance of an urban fanbase).  However, P.G. County is on the Metro, so perhaps United will get the best of both worlds.

MLS to Miami? Does South Florida deserve a second chance?

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When MLS officials announced the next round of expansion, St. Louis, Montreal and even Portland were among the favorites to land the new franchises.  Passed over in the prior round of expansion, St. Louis, lead by Attorney Jeffrey Cooper, landed a stadium deal and big name investors like Albert Pujols.  Nevertheless, MLS has long had concern about Cooper’s financial stability.

When Montreal  and Atlanta dropped out of the race (leaving Portland, Ottawa and Vancouver among the possibilities) the Gateway City seemed almost guaranteed a spot for 2011.  Then a dark horse entered the race in the form world famous F.C. Barcelona.

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The Spanish powerhouse combined with Marcelo Claure and Florida International University to     submit a bid to bring MLS back to South Florida.  As MLS fans well know, the Miami Fusion entered the League as an expansion team in 1998 and were contracted just four years later.  That background, combined with South Florida’s rather weak history of supporting its teams (Florida Marlins anyone?), has lead many to scoff at any move back to the Miami area.  Add in the lack of a Soccer Specific Stadium (the team would share with the FIU Football team) and the Miami bid seems like a sure loser.

However, the leadership of MLS seems to disagree.  Apparently wowed by the glam of FC Barcelona and the billions in Claure’s pockets, the league seems eager to embrace South Florida.  Commissioner Don Garber just announced that if the Miami bid is accepted, the team would start play in 2010, a year ahead of schedule and at the same time as Philadelphia.

Count me among the unconvinced.  The “beloved” Miami Dolphins strugle to sell out their games, the Panthers are barely a blip on the Miami scene and Marlins are an annual embarassment.  Why would MLS be any different? The idea of 9,000 fans snoozing through Sunday afternoon game in 110 degree Miami August heat, is a nightmare scenario for supporters of the Leage.   MLS may love the idea of Barca dumping money into its coffers, but like Chivas before them, I see little chance of a big time soccer power adjusting to life in Major League Soccer.  League rules will not permit “Barca USA” to serve as a farm team of the parent club or as a way station for up and coming talents.  MLS should have no interest in serving as a marketing opportunity for the Spanish Giants.  As much as Barca might love the idea of selling jerseys in North America, I think the League would be far better served  taking $40 million from St. Louis and and Portland in 2011.