Bringing the Fans to MLS: Part III-Soccer Fans

fansTo many, they are the “holy grail” for MLS.  They are fans of the beautiful game, yet not devoted followers of MLS.  They follow the National Team regularly and will make time for a big clash between Man U and Chelsea or Barca and Real Madrid. They might spend some time following soccer stories on the web and do know the names of players on their local MLS side,  Yet, they typically only make it to the stadium for “big” doubleheaders.  They are not “eurosnobs” but cannot quite get into MLS.  Many of them played soccer at a high school or college level, and love the game.  They are soccer fans, but not fans of Major League Soccer.

This is part three of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here and part II here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, familes, store owners and acquaintainces 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.

Today we are looking at the every day soccer fan.  These are the fans that MLS knows are out there.  They are not “anti-MLS”, but they are not sold on the League? Why not?  During our interviews, two reasons repeatedly emerged.  Atmosphere and quality of play. Many of these fans had attended games at Gillette or Giants Stadium, they had watched games televised from a sparsely populated Pizza Hut Park or at an empty Cotton Bowl.  And they had found these experiences wanting.  These same fans are unimpressed with the quality of play in MLS.  They know enough to recognize the distinction between a USMNT game and Red Bulls/Seattle.  They are not offended by the quality of play, but they have suffered thorough some hackfests and some snoozers and want more from their local soccer league.

What does not bother these fans?  They don’t care about turf fields, football lines or playoffs. They aren’t worried about promotion/relegation, advertisements on jerseys or unbalanced schedule.  They are willing to embrace the League, but haven’t been drawn in yet.  The will go to games, but won’t set the DVR for the local team.

These are the fans that MLS should relentlessly target.  They are not wed to a specific European side and are willing to give MLS a look.  These are the fans that would come out to see a big name player and would come back if they enjoyed the experience.  They don’t thumb their noses at Major League Soccer, but recognize the superior play in the EPL and would rather devote 2 hours to watching higher level soccer.

So the big question is, how does MLS grab these fans?  What should the League do to keep them?

Soccer Business Bits: MUN2 Interview, MLS Expansion Update and More

us-soccerWith the Mexico/USA qualifier set for Wednesday on MUN2, we posed a couple of questions about the broadcast and the channel to Kevin Dugan of NBC Universal/Mun2 digital media.  Please see his thoughts below:

Footiebusiness: mun2 seems targeted to the Spanish speaking offspring of native Spanish speakers, yet this game will attract many native English speakers outside the typical target audience.

Does mun2 intend to retain these viewers going forward?

Kevin Dugan: Most of the original programs on mun2 are in English. We also program the best Spanish language content form Latin America with English subtitles – not unlike other networks, which regularly import English-language shows from the United Kingdom.

FB: Do you believe your programming is attractive to those of a non-hispanic  background?

KD: Absolutely! Check it out for yourself:

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FB: In addition to the game, what else will mun2 be doing to keep these viewers?

KD: Being ourselves – uniquely American!

FB: Given that this is the first time many viewers will be exposed to mun2, you will have a unique opportunity to create a first impression.  Did you consider broadcasting live from Azteca in order to improve the level of the broadcast?

KD: The Telemundo Deportes team will handle the production of the game. The Telemundo Deportes team is incredibly experienced having covered hundreds of matches around the world. We’re in great hands!
We have also just posted a video that includes interviews about the game with Lionel Messi, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jorge Campos, among others. Check it out: http://www.holamun2.com/usavsmex.  We will be posting similar videos leading up to the game. We look forward to you joining us on mun2 next week. Thank you!

Thanks to Kevin Dugan:  Here are a couple of additional notes from around MLS:

We are traveling this weekend, so just a couple of quick  hits.  First, Don Garber has seemingly foreclosed the possibility of Montreal joining MLS in 2011 as part of the Vancouver/Portland entry into the League.  However, according to this article, the addition of Montreal seems like a certainty, perhaps as early as 2012.  For our thoughts on Montreal (and South Florida) joining MLS click here.

One team that will definitely be joining the League is the Philadlelphia Union.   The team is reportedly nearing 10k in ticket sales.  For those eager to see stadium progress, click here for construction photos.

Our series on MLS fans will continue this week.  Please stay tuned for more.

Bringing the Fans to MLS: Part II- Families

soccer_mom1They are the bane of many an MLS fan, yet they continue to represent a substantial portion of Americn soccer crowds.  Teams cater to them, by offering special four packs, pre-game soccer celebrations and mascots. Who are these fans?  They are familes.  Kids, soccer moms minivans and more.

This is part two of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, familes, store owners and acquaintainces 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.

“Hard core” MLS fans have railed against the presence of familes for years.  Complaints against these fans include: “they are too quiet”  “they don’t care about the game”  “the don’t let me have fun” “they come once a year and don’t support the team” “they get up every 20 minutes” and “the stadium doesn’t let me do x because of familes.”

So we asked these families (moms and dads), what they wanted from the MLS experience.   Overwhelmingly, they want their kids to have fun.  These parents are looking for a night out, and the bounce houses, mascots and T-shirt tosses are part of that.  They are looking for affordability and fun.  Many are shocked about how “professional” the MLS experience is and that the matches are “big-time.”  They are “amused” by the supporters groups, but don’t want to sit with them. They are also very willing to purchase team gear for their kids.

But perhaps more interesting was the number of these parents who desperately wanted to both understand the game and have their children understand the game.  Like the non-soccer fans discussed earlier this week, many of these parents wanted someone to explain the nuance of a sport unfamiliar to many of them.  They wanted to know the back stories of the players and whom to cheer. For many, they wanted to comprehend the intricacies of a game their kids devote hours per week to playing and appreciate more than the distance of a goalie’s punts. They view MLS as a way to connect with their kids and enter their world, but need the information to get there.

Unlike many soccer fans, MLS is not competing with European soccer clubs for the attention of these families.  While most will not become season ticket holders right away, they will come back if they enjoy the experience and if the game means something to them.  The “quality” of the game is not that important, because the level of play is far higher than anything they have seen before. They think they can co-exist with the hard core supporters and actually appreciate the atmosphere and noise they bring.

So what do we think?  Are families an important part of the MLS fanbase?  Should the League turn away from efforts to bring familes to games in lieu of younger, more passionate fans?  Can these families become those passionate fans?  Let us know your thoughts.

Soccer Business Bits: The Method to Our Madness,

ee1ed3af089323c6.jpgRyan asked a good question yesterday about our methodology for collecting information for the ongoing series about MLS attendance.   In fairness, our methods have not been scientific.  We have simply collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, familes, store owners and acquaintainces. 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.  Tommorrow, we will take a look at familes and what they want from the MLS experience.  We welcome your input and thoughts and follow-up questions for our interviewees.

From elsewhere around the League, here are some marketing and fan out reach efforts.  FC Dallas (fresh off the sale of Kenny Cooper) is promoting its Thursday night inter-state clash with Houston by offering $1 dollar hot dogs, beers and margaritas as part of a pre-game happy hour at PHP.  They are also offering their 4 tickets, 4 pizzas and 4 sodas for $79 Family Four pack. Dallas has really struggled this year to bring people to the park, and these are good deals to bring people out to the game.  Of course, putting them on the website is likely preaching to the choir.  Is the team advertising these offers in the Dallas area?

It  also appears that “meet the team” time is on the horizon for at least two franchises.  In Salt Lake City, the annual season ticket holder meet the team event is on tap for August 11 at Snowbird.  The event offers 3 hours with the whole team and includes free food, games and more.  In New England, the Revs will be holding their event for the first time on the field at Gillette stadium.  The event will not include free food, but does require each fan to sign a waiver!

revs

Bringing the Fans to MLS: Part I-The Non-Soccer Fan

mlsWe’ve seen it all summer;  90k in the Rose Bowl, 80k in Seattle, 80k in Dallas and more.  Huge numbers tuned into the American run through the Confederations Cup and the  Gold Cup drew well nationwide.  Yet, MLS numbers remain fairly stagnant both on television and at the gate.  How can Major League Soccer tap into this multitude of soccer fans?  Should they?  Should the League be happy with crowds of 15k in smaller stadiums with limited TV ratings?

As announced, we are jumping into the business of MLS attendance.  Over the next couple of weeks we will be taking a look at different groups of people:  MLS fans, fans of the US National team, fans of European club teams, etc…  We’ve been talking to people in all of these groups about MLS and what MLS needs to do to get them to games.  Here are their thoughts.

Somewhat paradoxically, we are starting with the non-soccer fans.  These are people that are not soccer haters, but also not soccer fans.  Perhaps most interestingly, among this group, we found baseball fans most willing to give MLS a try. Those who had been to games found that they had “surprisingly” enjoyed the experience.  Perhaps second among the “willing” were hockey fans.  Far and away, the least interested were NFL fans.

Perhaps it’s the low scoring of these sports, but none of these people see put off by the relative low number of goals in soccer.  When asked what would keep them interested in MLS, a couple of consistent themes emerged.  First, they wanted atmosphere.  Those who had attended games in smaller MLS stadiums or had soccer experiences with loud and noisy crowds were far more likely to go back.  This was a different environment than what they had seen at other sporting events, and they liked it.  At the same time, these non-soccer fans wanted someone to explain what was going on in front of them.  This was true for the soccer, but more important for the “story lines” that many soccer fans hate.  They wanted to know about the players, the rivalries and the back stories.

When asked about whether MLS should be shooting for 80k at all of their games, the universal answer from these non-soccer fans  was “no”.  They all believed that 15-20k in small stadiums was a worthy target and that bigger doesn’t equal better.  Not surprisingly, these fans were not worried about the quality of play, the presence of turf or the nicknames of teams.  They wanted to have fun at the games and have a plot line to remember and cheer for (or boo).  In other words, they see no reason for the product to change.  The status quo is sufficient for them to come back…but they won’t go on their own.  They need someone to bring them to the game.

The CBA

As most American soccer fans know, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLS and the Players’ Union is set to expire at the end of this year.  Lately, we have been getting a number of e-mails asking for some detailed discussion of the CBA from a business/legal perspective.  We are starting to look into the issue and will have some detailed posts coming up.  In the meantime, take a look here, for a copy of the CBA.  For a recent update on the status of negotiations, look here.  For some thoughts from MatchFit USA on the issue, click here.

We’ve been working on part one of our story about converting soccer fans to MLS fans by speaking with an array of folks about what they want to see.  Check back tomorrow for part one.

The Morning After: MLS & WPS Business Recap

barcaAnother weekend is in the books, as both MLS and WPS continue their march to the playoffs.  However, perhaps the highlight was the Barcelona/Galaxy friendly that drew more than 93k to the Rose Bowl.  Another huge crowd and another sign of the popularity of soccer in the US.  Stay tuned the rest of this week for a series of posts addressing this issue.  We have spoken with folks across the spectrum of soccer fandom to find out what would either make them MLS fans or make MLS more popular.  We will post these reports over the next couple of days.

Elsewhere, it was a wild week on the field in MLS, but a fairly disappointing one at the gate.  Just over 12k were in Foxboro for the Revs/TFC draw.  14,500 were in Chicago for the Fire/RSL game and just over 10k made the trip to Dallas to see the Hoops destroy KC.  In Houston, just under 15k were in attendance while Colorado pulled less than 11k.  10k made the trip to San Jose. These are pretty bad numbers, however this may simply reflect the presence of four of the worst home draws hosting on the same weekend.

This weekend was notable for the second free preview of Direct Kick offered during the year.  The first was opening day, and the League is again promoting the service for the stretch drive.  This still remains one of best deals in televised sports.

In WPS action, 5k saw St. Louis and Boston play to a 1-0 score line in the Gateway City.   A very poor crowd of 2300 also saw the home team win as FC Gold Pride held off Washington on Saturday.   Midweek, 3100 saw Boston and Washington play in DC.  For a very frank interview with Tonya Antonucci about the business state of the League, please click here.