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?

11 Responses

  1. the primary issue is the location of php. it is convenient to only one part of dallas. otherewise it is a long slog.

  2. You pretty much hit it on the head. The lack of sponsoring around the area and marketing is abysmal. It is a joke infact. Heck the local media barely even covers it, really it is sad. The only people that know about this team are those, like myself who have been with this team year in and year out. I know for a fact that if they even did a marketing plan that was about 75% of other MLS teams, then that would at least show to the community that there is a another summer pro sports team in the metroplex that is out there. But other than that, Kelly Weller her ‘Marketing’ staff, and the rest of the FC Dallas front office seem to not know their own hind parts from a hole in the ground, and the community has picked up on it.

  3. Location is not an issue. Team performance affects it somewhat but the marketing (or lack thereof) is the primary culprit, as is the front office mentality. They seem to cling to the idea that it is better to not “devalue” the product and the season ticket holder prices/benefits to the cheapest single game ticket is $19. Both the Stars and Rangers have cheaper tickets than this. Yes I know parking is free at Pizza Hut Park, and the location of those seats is not as good as at Pizza Hut Park, but consumers do not factor those into their equation. Somehow and for some reason the FCD front office thinks an UNSOLD $19 ticket is better than 2 SOLD $10 tickets (and it is highly likely those 2 sold tickets would purchase some concessions). The entire east side should be $10 Gen. Adm., with the exception of the section at midfield, and that should be actively advertised and marketed.

    They are doing some (limited) good things, but overall the marketing efforts are very, very, very poor.

  4. To be clear, I am a STH in the midfield club west and don’t mind paying those prices. I don’t care what others pay to go to the game, I would not feel my tickets are devalued if others are only paying $19 or $10. It is your own individual decision.

    The article mentions the RoughRiders. The MOST EXPENSIVE ticket to a RoughRiders game is $19, and they charge for parking.

    FCD has RAISED ticket prices over the last several years. Shouldn’t they start averaging 15K+ per game before this is done?

    I support the team and want them to be successful, but have serious concerns over their long-term viability.

  5. At some point the front office needs to make some concessions on that point if they want to succeed. It is important to take care of your season ticket holders, but you can include them also. If you do a buy one/get one event for some special occassion (tie it in with a pre-game show of some kind in the parking lot, etc…), you can give a ticket to the season ticket holders also.

  6. I think you hit it right that when some folks think of FC Dallas, they also think AA Baseball. MLS in Dallas, sadly, is a minor league operation. Not the only placce where this is true, but its an acute problem in Big D.

    I’ve heard that all the soccer fields surrounding the stadium aren’t being used. This was supposed to be big money maker and a great potential source of nacsent fans.

    Its not too late, but the team – and the league – really need to step things up. Make folks care!!!!

  7. That was a fascinating article. It seemed to imply that FCD needed big media buys, but struck down most of the reasons why they would do that. If people know there’s pro soccer in town, and people know the name of the team, you already have about 90% of what advertising buys could reasonably give you. And it’s pathetically easy to google the rest. (Actually, even if you couldn’t name the team, searching under the words “Dallas” “pro” and “soccer” gets you to FCD’s front page on the first hit [actually the first 6 are all about FCD. You can even throw a random word in there and get some FCD hits early].)

    That is “pull info” (a person had to be interested and thinking about it to google). Is “push info” nice? Sure, but unless you’ve got a really, really good way to target it, most of the people you push to won’t be interested, and it’s extremely expensive. (And of course, every team has a whole lot of targeted outreach efforts. Email, phones, etc. Generally most of them started with a “pull” at some point–people who at one time or another declared an interest in the team in some way.)

    The one you hear cited a lot is “they know about the team, but they don’t know when they’re playing.” True, and it would be nice for them to know that–but the price of keeping any significant portion of the sports-consuming public constantly informed (especially on a “push” basis) about your schedule would make your jaw drop. If free media doesn’t do that for you, buying it is economically infeasible for almost anyone.

    The next thing you usually hear is that a marketing campaign is necessary to create ‘coolness’ or favorable perceptions. Again, this is nice to have–but you’re talking about a market that already knows the team exists, and therefore has some kind of vague perception of it. It would be one thing to try and create a *first* impression among people who have no impressions of a product (this is why you saw Seattle and Toronto go on rather large marketing campaigns when they first started), or even to *keep* a good impression (this is why Bud spends millions keeping you convinced their beer is unpretentious), and a completely different thing to try and reverse a negative impression through media buys. The latter is a long, uphill club, and you’re bleeding cash the whole way up.

    And in repetition of the pattern, if you have a way of hitting very specifically the people who don’t have any impression one way or the other (filtering out the people who don’t like soccer, who think MLS sucks, etc), then you can create first impressions among new people. In the absence of such a plan, though, it’s a lot cheaper (though a lot slower) to create a good product and let the word get out on its own. When free is possible, free is usually best.

    The last big caveat with advertising is that FC Dallas isn’t a fad diet pill, and a successful campaign would need to create a reputation that could endure. Therefore, you can’t really get away with advertising things about your product (such as that the players are world class, or that the stadium will be full) unless you can deliver on them. In many ways, you advertise your victories, you don’t advertise your way out of your defeats.

  8. On another issue, the claim that “distance is not an issue.”

    Of *course* it is. It’s certainly not the only issue, maybe even not the main one, but every single person has a cost/benefit reckoning (I don’t use “analysis” because it isn’t formal, more psychological) about whether it’s “worth it” to go to a game. And each person is different–some think 10 is too far, some think 100 isn’t a big deal.

    In that context, *perceived distance* may be more important than real distance. This is no hypothetical, the Chicago Fire conducted a survey recently where the respondents reported

    * 90% awareness of a pro soccer team
    * 65% could name it
    BUT:
    * they thought the stadium was, on average, 70 minutes away, a distance that’s almost certainly much further than it actually is for any of them.

    That’s the kind of perception that it may be expensive to change. . . but might also be worth it. (The parallel in my mind would be any association with the pain of getting to, and especially back from, PHP *beck before the DNT was built out.* Some part of the trick might be getting the people who were turned off by that to give it another chance).

    Also, distance may interact with other issues as part of the cost/benefit reckoning. People expect more when they have to put out more. FCD needs to find a way to up the benefit to people who are on the fence about traveling, or reduce the other costs. (A partnership with the Tollway to include the toll with the price of a ticket? Hard to pull off with the fast lane I guess, but that’s the general area of thinking.)

  9. ———
    Ron Says:
    I think you hit it right that when some folks think of FC Dallas, they also think AA Baseball. MLS in Dallas, sadly, is a minor league operation. Not the only placce where this is true, but its an acute problem in Big D.
    ———

    There may lie a reasonable opportunity for marketing (expensive but worth it), creating an association between Frisco, PHP, and FCD. If the city is willing to help out (which they might be, they want the visitors. Something similar is going on with Bridgeview where the Fire and the city are both launching campaigns) then you could reasonably get to the point where the first thing people think about when they think of Frisco and/or PHP is FC Dallas.

  10. These are some outstanding points. Most importantly, I agree that marketing efforts cannot be a “one off”. You need to build a campaign from the ground up and pulling people to one game doesn’t really do anything. The question for FC Dallas is what is that campaign. The Revs (for instance), have put a big effort this year in trying to market to the Irish Pub crowd that are watching EPL games at 10 am in Boston. That is probably a good group to market and they are spending money there. Is there a similar group in Dallas?

  11. Yeah, I think the Revs are aware of/comfortable with the fact that this type of “ground up” marketing will take years to truly bear fruit.

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