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.

6 Responses

  1. These games are a simple money grab by TFC, Seattle and everyone else. There is never a good reason to move a League match.

  2. As victory said, these a basically money grabs. That is understandable because clubs are either losing money or barely making money. This ever so slightly raises the profile of the clubs even though they are facing a club whose players probably aren’t fully fit, aren’t organized and may not be giving their all in an exhibition match. The quicker the leagues profile rises and becomes profitable the better. If the leagues clubs were profitable, they were consistently filling SSS, and the cap was raised to 4-5 million then I would be completely against this. This blatantly puts money ahead of being healthy and competitive in league play. Right now, it is a necessary evil.
    One thing that bothers me is DC United making season ticket holders pay for the Real Madrid game. That is a big eff you to their organizations diehards. The game should be free to the season ticket holders as a treat for their support. They play at the massive RFK Stadium, they will make plenty of money.

  3. The DC situation is a strange one. Given the small number of season ticket holders (relative to the size of FED Ex), they could generate some good will with their season ticket holders by giving them free seats, perhaps with the opportunity to purchase an upgrade.

    In Toronto, it is a different issue because of the smaller stadium.

  4. These useless friendlies do nothing to introduce people to the MLS. People go because they want to see Chelsea, Real Madrid or Barcelona. It does nothing to increase their interest in MLS. In fact, moving MLS games to accomodate a friendly proves that a meaningless friendly is more important than the MLS. Also, these foreign powers are important enough to deserve real grass while MLS teams are expected to play on artificial turf.

  5. Frank:

    I get your point about how moving League games marginalizes MLS ,as does bringing in grass (although in fairness to TFC, the argument against grass has long been weather related). However, I do think that these MLS teams can gain fans through the added exposure the get through these games. If you are a Real Madrid fan who doesn’t pay attention to MLS and you go to the game against DC and enjoy yourself or are impressed with a particulrar player or the team as a whole, you might make the effort to come back.

  6. For what it’s worth, season ticket holders are getting a discount of roughly the amount of a regular season ticket ($20). I am still 60/40 towards not going, because a) it’s a discount off a really high price, one of those “Tiffany’s sales” that’s still not all that affordable, and b) it’s an August afternoon, and depending on what this summer is like, the heat could really kill the entertainment value.

    I don’t agree that these friendlies “do nothing to introduce people to the[sic] MLS.” These same teams played in Seattle a few years ago, and United scored a wonderful goal in a 1-1 draw, leaving favorable impressions all around. I like to think that helped them get an MLS team. See the article “Nights like this show soccer can work here”

    And if I thought this match would have as much entertainment value as that one did, I’d likely go. I did go to the DC-Chelsea game in FedEx a few years ago, and it was neat to see DC score first (then Chelsea brought in the first team at half time and took it home).

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