Covering the Coverage: Part II- Sports Radio

soccer radioWith the Summer winding down, we thought we would take a look at the coverage of American soccer in the United States.  Last week, in Part I, we took a look at the mainstream media.  To read that article, click  here.  Today, we are going to take a look at that seemingly inpenetrable bastion of major sports; sports radio.  In almost every city in the country the airwaves are filled with stations devoted to sports 24 hours a day.  Whether entirely locally produced, or reliant on ESPN, Fox Sports or TSN for content, these stations provide non stop sports, typically in a call-in format.

What is almost universal in these stations, is the absolute lack of soccer coverage.  In many markets, even soccer scores (whether USMNT or MLS) are hard to come by.  Hosts rarely (if ever), mention soccer and those who do often limit their comments to a few snide remarks.  Callers are often discouraged from making “soccer calls” either by the lack of soccer coverage or by the producers who screen calls and don’t want to see their hosts embarassed.    Those calls that do get through are typically limited to World Cup or a remarkably big event (Beckham, etc..).

ESPN does occassionally devote segments to soccer, and some stations do have the occassional regular soccer show (like Balboa’s in Colorado).  Some stations also broadcast their local MLS game (although even for me soccer on the radio can be a bit tough to take), yet still ignore their teams.   In fairness, some hosts are willing to give soccer a go (e.g. Planet Mikey in Boston), and will at least entertain callers on the sport.  However, their soccer IQ is typically low.

Soccer fans have of course found their alternative medium.  Call-in pod casts are gaining popularity and provide an outlet for soccer fans looking to chat about their sport.  WSD was also a popular soccer call-in program.

The big question for soccer fans is whether it matters.  Should soccer fans be content to be confined to “soccer media” or should they try and break through by filling the airwaves with their calls?  Is soccer not discussed because nobody calls to discuss it, or does nobody call to discuss it because it is never discussed?  Tell us about your city; does soccer get play on the local airwaves?

Soccer Business Bits: Wizards and Royals, Fire Promotions and More

wozardsQuick glance around MLS weekend promotions with another full slate of games on the calendar.  In Kansas City, the Wizards are hosting RSL at Community America Ballpark on Saturday.  In a promotion for the match, the Wizards are offering a “Family Four Pack” which includes 4 tickets, 4 dogs, 4 pretzels, a stadium blanket and more. The tickets range from $81-$109 for a family of four and are available for a number of remaining games.

Speaking of the Wizards, the team recently conducted a player exchange with the Kansas City Royals.  As part of the event, the soccer players took batting practice and the baseball players took penalties. This is part of an ongoing cross promotional effort between the teams.  For $30 fans can buy a ticket to a Wizards game and Royals game and receive team merchandise from both squads.  These cross promotional efforts are important, as there is an opportunity to put the Wizards’ product before a new audience of baseball fans.

As part of their effort to connect with “hard care” fans, the Fire have been promoting their “Party Deck”.  Single game tickets for the party deck include all you can eat, 4 beers, unlimited non-alcoholic drinks and more until the 20th minute.  There is also music, Miller Lite Girls and More.  Tickets start at $45 per game.

Finally, in Colorado, the Rapids are promoting their Sunday game with an offer of a free soccer ball for the first 2,000 kids thorough the door.  It is somewhat surprising that more teams don’t use these type of giveaways more often.   As a kid, I collected all sorts of items from MLB stadiums, and as as result, was carrying around team paraphernalia and promoting the brand.  However, we track most MLS team promotions, and few examples of these types of giveaways are apparent.  They do happen, and some teams use them more than others, yet these are fairly inexpensive promotions that can spread MLS gear around the country.

One last note:  On August 18, we posted about an MLS/Makita cross promotion that involved tickets to an “away” MLS match.  We also commented on the seeming lack of travel arrangments as part of the deal.  MLS has reached out and explained that travel arrangements are indeed included.  Apparently, a link on the contest web page connected to the wrong set of rules for a different contest.  The updated rules are here.

Stadium Update: Hello Houston?

houston-dynamoTwo months ago, we updated the status of efforts to build a stadium in Houston.  Since that time, there has been little movement and no real evidence of progress.  However, according to this recent article in the Houston Chronicle, things are slowly going forward.  The deal requires agreement between the City and the County and now appears wrapped into an arrangement to build a jail and/or other projects.  The article provides some good information about the deal making required to bring a stadium to fruition.  Below, please find some context and explanation of the project.

When the San Jose Earthquakes became the Houston Dynamo in 2005, part of the understanding was that a soccer specific stadium was just around the corner.  After years of playing in Robertson Stadium (home of the Houston Cougars), it appears that the dream of a downtown Houston stadium is closer to a reality.  The downtown location of the proposed stadium is right near Minute Maid Park (home of the Astros) and situated in a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone.

According to the City of Houston website, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones are:

special districts created by City Council to attract new investment to an area. TIRZs help finance the cost of redeveloping or encouraging infill development in an area that would otherwise not attract sufficient market development in a timely manner. Taxes attributable to new improvements (tax increment) are set-aside in a fund to finance public improvements in the zone. Zones in the City of Houston have been created for one of three reasons:

  • to address inner city deterioration
  • to develop raw land in suburban fringe areas
    or
  • to proactively address the decline of major activity centers

Total cost of the 21k stadium is expected to be about $80 million with the Dynamo ownership (primarily AEG and Golden Boy Promotions) funding about $60 million.  The rest of the funds could come from tax credits,  the TIZ money and from some of the stiumulus money floating around.  The TIZ program will also provide the property for the stadium.  According to Houston President Oliver Luck, multiple banks are lining up to provide financing for the contruction project.  As we have noted previously, this is a great time for construction, with the cost of materials and labor way down.  Also, these are the type of projects that can bring jobs and income into the economy.  The economic benefit of stadium projects is also debatable, but during a downturn there is a definite economic upside.

The renderings are out and design firm Populous has been selected for the project (also did Citi Field).  An important aspect of the agreement as far as obtaining city approval is the participation of Texas Southern University.  Although negotiations are ongoing, it is expected that Texas Southern football will also use the stadium for at least 30 years and a $2.5 million investment.

Importantly, this is not the first time Houston has gotten close to a stadium deal.  However, the pieces appear to be slowly clicking into place for a 2011/2012 opening.  A downtown stadium in Houston will continue the trend that has been successful in Toronto and Seattle by placing the Team within close proximity to public transportation and population centers.  With Philly and New York set to open new stadiums in 2010 and other projects on the way in Portland, San Jose and Kansas City, this is a great time to be an MLS fan.

Covering the Coverage: The Business of Covering American Soccer

soccertvWith the Summer winding down, we thought we would take a look at the coverage of American soccer in the United States.  Tonight, we will start by looking at “mainstream” national media, with a focus on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and other outlets.

Not surprisingly, ESPN is at the head of the class, with a wealth of online content, regular soccer broadcasts and fairly regular content on its various television and radio platforms.  Despite regular criticism from soccer fans, ESPN does an outstanding job covering the game.  This is especially so with respect to the US National Team.  In the lead-up to big qualifiers, ESPN has devoted substantial time across all platforms to discussing the match and even went live from Mexico City despite not carrying the broadcast. ESPN.com has a number of columnists devoted to MLS and US soccer and its US soccer pages are updated daily with new content.

On the flip side, one valid and longstanding criticism of ESPN coverage is the lack of attention paid to MLS.  These criticisms have risen in the wake of ESPN’s recent commmitment to EPL and La Liga.  Many fans also take issue with the online focus on leagues outside MLS; it is far easier to find coverage of English soccer than Major League Soccer on ESPN.com.   Nevertheless, American soccer fans have been heartened by the recent exposure through an unlikely source; Bill Simmons.  Simmons’ is a lead ESPN writer and he followed up his long column about the Mexico match with an hour long podcast with Alexi Lalas. Yet, even Simmons has largely ignored American professional soccer.

Sports Illustrated has Grant Wahl, possibly the most renowned American soccer writer (thank you David Beckham), and a fairly regular turnover of soccer columns during the MLS and European seasons.  SI also has an ongoing relationship with Soccer America that provides access to the content of that publication.  The magazine does cover soccer to an extent, however that coverage is typically limited to the National Team, with only occasional references to MLS.  Nevertheless, CNNSI is part of the regular rotation for most American soccer fans.

The same cannot be said for The Sporting News. It is tough to find soccer coverage in the magazine or website for TSN.  Long ago, I had an e-mail exchange with a representative for TSN indicated that demand simply didn’t warrant coverage of soccer (be it European or American).  The same can be said for CBS Sportsline.com and many of the other “national” sports websites. Soccer coverage is tough to find and usually dependent on AP stories or other pool reporting.

One final outlet: USA Today has always done an adequate job covering soccer both for the National Team and MLS.  The website is regularly updated and they feature the regular comments of Beau Dure.  The paper also regularly covers the games.

We will continue to look at the coverage of soccer over the next few weeks, including blogs, sports radio and other outlets.  In the interim, tell us what you think. What national outlets do you rely upon for soccer coverage? Do you ignore mainstream media all together?  What other outlets should we discuss.

Soccer Business Bits: WPS, Transfers and Mun2 Ratings

wpsJust some quick takes today, we will be back in full tomorrow.   The inaugural WPS season ended this weekend with an upset victory for Sky Blue, FC.  From an attendance perspective, the game drew well, with over 7k in attendance at the Home Depot Center.  The game featured the League’s brightest star in Marta and was a home game for the best team (Los Angeles).   The first season is over, and we will take a business look back at WPS in the next few days.

There are multiple sources reporting that disgruntled Chicago defender Bakare Soumare has been sold to Ligue 1 team Boulgne.  These same reports are placing the transfer fee to be in excess of $2 million dollars.  Under MLS rules, the Fire will now have a substantial amount of money to spend to purchase and sign players. Previous writings suggest that the Fire will get 2/3 of the fee to spend with $500k going to new players and the rest to club development.  In a League with a salary cap under $2.5 million, 500k is a big number and should enable the fire to re-arm next season.

Finally, Mun2 hit a ratings high with its broadcast of the USA/Mexico match.  The mid-day game averaged almost 400k viewers (including DVR).  These ratings exclude public viewings like bars.  The Telemundo broadcast averaged 4.3 million viewers.

Bringing the Fans to MLS: Part V-Video Games

video gameAt about the same time I was wrapping up high school in the early 1990’s, SEGA was the premier video game system.  Arguably the most popular game of that period was the EA Sports  hockey.  Whether in high school, college or elsewhere, boys around the country were gathering in basements and dorm rooms for tournaments of NHL hockey.  Although most knew little about the sport, regular game play brought names like Pavel Bure, Mike Richter and Ray Borque to the forefront of sports culture in the United States.  Soon thereafter, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup and the popularity of hockey exploded.  Video games weren’t the only factor, but the NHL had achieved an enormous amount of brand recognition through video games and created life long fans of the sport because of that first connection.  Can MLS achieve a similar success?

This is part five of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here, part III here and part IV here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, families, store owners and acquaintances in an effort to determine what will bring more fans to MLS. We have asked these questions at soccer matches of all levels, dinner parties, social gatherings and board meetings.  We have been asking these questions since February with an eye towards seeking out trends about MLS fandom and what brings people to Major League Soccer League stadiums.

EA Sports recently unveiled the cover of the 2010 version of “FIFA“.  Alongside Chelsea star Frank Lampard are American  (and Chivas USA midfielder) Sacha Kljestan and Mexian (and Chicago Fire forward) Cuauhtémoc Blanco.  Soccer has long been one of the easier sports to translate into video games (along with hockey and football), and thus millions of American males will dutifully purchase the game regardless of whether they know anything about soccer.  And from our interviews, it is readily apparent; the less they know about soccer, the more likely they are to play with teams from Major League Soccer (many soccer fans migrate to the EPL). As a result, it is these fans that may embrace the teams and players from MLS.

From  our interviews and discussions, it appears that video games are having this effect. I’ve spoken with a number of folks (adults and teens) who started to become soccer fans because of their video game experiences.  They caught some of the Confederations Cup and recognized players from their game.  Many have since seen MLS matches and have kept an eye on their favorite team. Will it continue?  Can MLS keep these  fans?  Are video games a legitimate method for attracting fans?  Let us know your thoughts.

Soccer Business Bits: Revs New Partner, Weekend Marketing and More

revsLeague sponsor American Airlines has announced a three year sponsorship with the New England Revolution, New England Patriots and Gillette Stadium.  The deal includes stadium signage, commercials, community outreach and gameday events.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.  The integrated marketing sponsorship will make American Airlines the official sponsor of both teams and the official airline of the Kraft sports properties.

While many fans will argue that the Revs are simply getting dragged into this deal on the coat tails of the Patriots, it is important for the Revs to utilize their relationship with the Pats for their own benefit.  If it means additional money or benefits for the Revs, all the better.  It will be interesting to monitor how frequently the cross promotions mention the Revs and not just the Pats.   American is a major company and a major MLS sponsor, and now they are the Revs official sponsor.

In other sponsorship/marketing news, Chivas USA is promoting a “kids night” where a child under 16 is free with the purchase of an adult ticket.  The promotion is good for the match this Saturday and two subsequent games during the season.  As we have discussed, Chivas is one team that has managed to weather the economic storm this season and increase attendance.  Click here for our interview with Chivas Director of Marketing Alex Gallegos.

Finally, the Fire are promoting their second home game of the week with a $10 ticket offer.    The tickets are good for the supporters sections and corner seats.  The Fire are also promoting a 20 ticket plan that allows fans to purchase 20 tickets that can be used at any home game or playoff game for the rest of the year.  The tickets are selling for $22 per ticket and the package did include 2 free tickets to the Galaxy game.  No sign what will happen now that the Galaxy have left the Windy City.