Getting Friendly: The Business of MLS Midseason Exhibitions

milanPart of the summer ritual in MLS is the invasion of powerful foreign teams for a slew of exhibitions.  These teams criss-cross the United States preparing for their season by playing MLS sides and each other.  This year, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Everton are among the European powers crossing the pond to participate in an American Summer.  Not surprisingly, these games are not all about soccer.  The European teams are desperate to spread their brand to an American audience in an effort to collect fans and sell jerseys on these fertile shores.

At the same time, MLS teams can generate a large pay day by selling seats to see the foreign teams play (and these European teams don’t come for free).  At the same time, MLS squads view these games as an invaluable oportunity to showcase their talents (and very existence) to soccer fans in the States who typically ignore MLS.  Some teams believe so strongly in these opportunities, that they readily shift MLS regular season matches to accomodate the games. Recall that the Galaxy made the AC Milan friendly an important part of their Beckham negotations.  Interestingly, some teams readily participate in these matches (Seattle, Los Angeles), while others show no interest.

In Toronto, the match is not included in the regular season ticket package, and MLSE will be bringing grass into BMO field to accomodate Real Madrid.  In Seattle, the games are included (hello Chelsea and Barcelona), but the numbers make more sense there, because they can still sell an additional 40k seats to that game over and above season tickets, while BMO field is restricted to 20k (almost all of which are season tickets, making the game not financially viable).  However, DC United is also not giving away its Real Madrid game to season ticket holders.  This is a bit surprising because with less than 10k season ticket holders and the game to be held at Fed Ex field, the team could probably afford the goodwill generated by giving season ticket holders a pass.

For some interesting discussion of some of the issues and collateral damage raised by the Real Madrid game, go here.  Are these games good or bad?   Should they be free to season ticket holders?  tfcWe think they are good for MLS.  We have continued to discuss the huge numbers of American soccer fans in the United States who ignore MLS.  Bringing these big teams to MLS stadia presents a great opportunity to introduce these fans to MLS teams.