The MLS Playoffs: Business Blogging the ESPN Broadcast

houstonWith the first game of the MLS playoffs upon us, we thought we would follow the ESPN2 broadcast of the Seattle/Houston playoff opener.  The game is up against the World Series, NBA Basketball and various NHL games.  Despite the ratings for MLS during the regular season, the playoff game faces series competition.

Before we discuss the broadcast, it is worthwhile to address ESPN efforts to promote the match through its various platforms.  On, the game got little mention on the home page.  There was substantial coverage on Soccernet, but the lack of prominence of the home page is fairly disappointing.  There was similarly limited discussion of the playoffs on the ESPN networks in the lead up to the game.

Importantly, the broadcast was preceded by an ESPN 30/30 special.  As a result, there were no concerns about missing parts of the match.  The broadcast begin with a well produced opening highlighting MLS fans and a focus on the Dynamo and Sounders.  The producers made an interesting decision to start with Harkes and JP Dellecamera on the field and followed with shots of Allen Hopkins participating in the “March to the Match”.  The pre-game show was sponsored by VW

VW also got the first spot of the broadcast and was followed Pepsi Max (who has been active in MLS ads recently), Rent-a-Center, Wendy’s and Chevy.  The studio show included usual suspects, Stone, Lalas and Foudy.  The pre-game provided analysis of the Seattle game and provided some promotion of the Sunday broacast.   There were also spots for Gatorade, Adidas (that strange MLS ad), and a series of local spots.  The pregame concluded with a second VW ad, a return of the Pepsi Max spot  (which was amusing the first five times it ran this year), Best Buy and Axe.

The ESPN Axis technology is always outtanding, and is something ESPN should make more use of during the broadcast.  Budweiser presented the starting lineups.  The X-Box tarps were very visible throughout.  VW had space on the screen near the scoreboard early in the match.  It only took 5 mintues to bring Hopkins into the game as a sideline reporter.  Gatorade also grabbed some upper left screen time, as did adidas and Axe. Full credit to ESPN for early camera work.  There were great shots of the shoving between Onstad and Montero and the rest of the melee.  The booth did manage a plug for the weekend EPL broadcasts.  A note to ESPN; the Seattle attendance is a great story, but not every three minutes.  If you have to keep telling us, it isn’t that impressive.

At halftime, there were ads for Gatorade, Penzoil, local ads and lots of ESPN sports.   The halftime show was preented by Axe and thier commercials were apparent.  There were also spots for Best Buy, the Marines, Budweiser and Best Buy

This is just a taste.  We will stop here in the second half.  If something dramatic happens in a business sense, we will add it tomorrow. xbox

Soccer Business Bits: MLS TV Ratings Climbing

soccertvTV contracts are the financial life blood of professional sports leagues, and MLS is no different.  While the League relies on multiple sources of revenue, the ultimate goal is to generate substantial rights fees from television partners. The amount MLS can earn from those rights fees are largely determined by ratings (and the packaging of FIFA properties owned by SUM).  MLS fans are keenly interested in the League’s ratings, and  The Sports Business Daily has provided some interesting information regarding 2009 ratings,

According to Austin Karp’s article, MLS ratings on ESPN2 were up almost 15%.  Most dramatic, were the ratings of Beckham’s Galaxy, who drew almost 420,00 viewers per match.   After Los Angeles, Seattle was the next biggest national television draw on ESPN2 broadcasts.   From July 25 until the end of the year, MLS averaged 319,00 viewers per game.  MLS also saw an increase on FSC, with an additional 13k tuning into MLS matches compared to 2008.  The actual number went from 51k to 64k.   The article is here.

These numbers are a great sign for MLS.  By way of comparison, MLS numbers fall right in the middle of ESPN2 numbers for EPL broadcasts. Overall, the numbers are actually more favorable for MLS if you average them out.  These numbers somewhat vindicate the ESPN decision to move the MLS game of the week around (something we opposed).   By way of comparison, these numbers are comparable to those of the NHL on versus, which averaged about 310,000 viewers per game last year.

As we have noted previously, ESPN has landed some outstanding matchups for the playoffs, including both Seattle and Los Angeles.  If the League and ESPN promote the games actively, there is a chance for an outanding rating on Thursday and Sunday.

Soccer Business Bits: Stadium News in DC, Playoff Broadcasts and Revs Make a Change

unitedSome quick hits from around American soccer, starting with DC United, where efforts are ongoing to find a permanent home for the team.  We have previously written about efforts to build in various parts of Virginia, DC proper or Maryland.  Now, Steve Goff is reporting that DCU is now in talks with another Virginia municipality about a possible stadium.  According to Goff’s article, United is not  yet ready to reveal its new potential partner.

Despite these efforts, we continue to believe that RFK (whether a new stadium or a renovation), is the best option.  The stadium is located directly on the Metro, within the district and reachable by fans both in VA and MD.  We will continue to monitor this situation.

ESPN2 will broadcast two matches from the first round of the MLS playoffs, including a primetime match in Seattle on Thursday, which will certainly show well on televsion.  That theme will continue on Sunday when ESPN2 will show the first leg of the LA playoff Derby, which seems a certainty to sell out.   In the second leg, ESPN2 will put the Columbus/RSL match on in prime time on Thursday and follow with the return leg in Los Angeles on Sunday.   FSC will get both legs of the Revs/Chicago and Telefutura will get the return leg from Houston.

Speaking of the Revs/Chicago, New England made the interesting choice to change their home date against Chicago from Saturday to Sunday.  There are many possible motivations for this move, but from a business standpoint, it makes perfect sense.  The prior late afternoon start on Halloween was guaranteed to limit attendance by precluding both families and adults with kids from attending.  Given the Revs typical difficulty in drawing for playoff games, any effort that can bring fans to the game is worth pursuing.

Bringing the Fans to MLS: The Hardcore Fan

fansThe MLS playoffs are upon us.  Traditionally, this has been a time of disappointing attendance in MLS when only the most hard core supporters still come out to support the team.  Because of a lack of group sales, lead time and cold weather, attendance frequently suffers (although this year may prove the exception).  Because of their committment to their teams and MLS, we wanted to ask a couple of these rabid supporters what drives them as MLS fans and what they want to see from their League.    Today, we present interviews with two of the hardest core supports.  Monty Rodriguez of the Midnight Riders and Corey Jamison of ESC.  Thanks to both for helping us look at these hard core fans.

During the regular season, we presented a five part series on bringing fans to MLS.  You can see part I here,  part II here, part III here part IV here and part V 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.   Here are Corey and Monty’s thoughts.  What does MLS (not a specific team) need to do in order to keep you coming?

Monty Rodriguez:  Keep improving the product. Increase the cap, let teams have more flexibility, and don’t favor certain teams over others. In all honesty, I’ll probably keep coming no matter what, but it’s important that they make these changes to improve the league.

Corey Jamison:  1. (continue to) Keep the game honest to the world standard (no overtime periods, etc). 2. Maintain a high level of play, and look to improve upon it. 3. Grow young American players.

FB:  What does your team do to keep you coming?

MR:  A lot of the above applies. A new stadium would be wonderful. Open up the purse strings a bit, spend to the cap, do a better job scouting.

CJ:  1. Produce a relatively competitive team (not every single year, but most years).
2. Respect the fans. (I root for NY, this they have not done)
3. Provide a reasonably compelling reason to show up (quality stadium/environment to watch the game, etc.)

FB:  Do you feel that you have a vested an interest in seeing great atmosphere/attendance at your home games as the team/League? Why/Why not?

MR: Yes … being head of the major supporter’s group, knowing the team appreciates the fan support, both of those are key.

CJ: Yes, as it enhances my experience in and enjoyment of the game. I belong to a supporters club to not just watch the game, but to be a part of it.

FB: What (if anything) do you do to increase interest/attendance in MLS?

MR: Improve the product first and foremost. That’ll help attendance. Marketing has to get better (both team level and MLS level). Show the competitive nature of the league. Show the cheap prices (as compared to other sports). Hell, show people some of the players that have played in this league and gone elsewhere, their improvement happened here.

CJ: I help run a supporters club, but basically I support my team and encourage others to join me and do the same. By standing and singing for 90 minutes, hopefully we create a fun atmosphere that will encourage other like-minded individuals to enjoy the game with us, and come back for more.

FB: If an MLS team is playing a non-MLS team in a competition or friendly, for whom do you cheer? Why?

MR: In a competition, the MLS team … it’s good for the league. In a friendly, I don’t pay attention.

CJ: It depends on the competition, really. I would say most games that my team isn’t in, I wouldn’t watch. I suppose I would generally root for the success of an MLS team in international competition to increase the stature of our league, but, RSL winning an off-season friendly against a second division German side while touring Spain for fitness…doesn’t exactly rile my competitive spirit.

Thanks to both for their thoughts. As we have said all year, these are the fans many MLS organizations are now trying to reach and keep.  We have seen the success in places like Columbus and now Seattle and Toronto.  Will the success spread?

One plug. We recommend you check out our guest spot on MatchFit USA’s Soccer Show.

The Monday After: Attendance Numbers and How The Playoff Clinchers Were Not What MLS Wanted.

mlsThe MLS regular season came to a conclusion on Sunday after a weekend of exciting games, miserable weather and varied attendance.  The final “weekend” got started on Thursday night in Chicago where an announced crwod of 17k plus braved monsoon like conditions to see the home team clinch a playoff birth.  Similar weather conditions greeted Toronto and New York as they closed Giants Stadium before 21k.

The action continued in Kansas City, where 10,300 were at Community America Ballpark to see the Wizards draw DC United.  In Salt Lake City, more than18k filled Rio Tinto to see RSL clinch an improbable spot in the MLS playoffs.  In Seattle, a record crowd of more than 33k celebrated the expansion side’s run into the playoffs with a dramatic come from behind victory over desperate Dallas.  In Los Angeles a reported sell out of 27k were in attendance to see Beckham, Donovan and Co. close out the regular season with a clean sheet against San Jose.

On Sunday, Columbus celebrated their Supporters Shield victory before at Crew Stadium as they fell to the Revs before 17,500 and back in Los Angeles, 14,500 saw the final regular season game at the Home Depot Center as Houston beat Chivas 3-2.  Overall, it was a very nice weekend at MLS stadiums and the fans were treated to some dramatic and exciting games.  A final attendance report from MLS is here.

So the playoffs are set, with RSL and New England holding down the final spots. Fans of these teams are obviously excited, but what about the League? If MLS could handpick its playoff teams, who would they be? If we were MLS, we would hope for:  Galaxy, Sounders, Dynamo, RSL, Fire, TFC, United and the Crew. These are teams that  typically draw well and/or are recognizable to sports media outside the somewhat insular world of MLS.

All in all, MLS is probably pretty happy. Beckham and Blanco are still big draws, while Seattle guarantees at least one big crowd.  Houston typically draws well for playoff games.  The League manages to avoid cavernous Giants Stadium and and its two smallest venues in San Jose and Kansas City. The glaring omission is TFC where the great support continues to go unrequited by the team on the field.  At some point the support will wane if the team continues to falter and quit as they appeared to do on Saturday.

Over the week, we will do a series of stories on the playoffs, playoff attendance and playoff fans.

Soccer Business Bits: Video Games and MLS Attendance: Fifa ’10 Hits the Shelves

video gameWith a relatively quiet day in the world of American Soccer Business and with the much heralded (and promoted) Fifa ’10 hitting stores this week, we thought we would revisit the correlation between video games and soccer attendance. This is something we discussed over the Summer and thought it worth revisiting today as reports are coming in from around the Country about the game flying off the shelves and tough to find.  The question for MLS; do video game sales equal MLS interest?

At 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.

On the cover of the 2010 version of “FIFA“, are American  (and Chivas USA midfielder) Sacha Kljestan and Mexican (and Chicago Fire forward) Cuauhtémoc Blanco (and a certain Chelsea midfielder).  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 have dutifully purchased 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.  These same people now record Champions League games simply because of video game generated interest.  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.

Promotions! Promotions! Promotions!

mlsAs we do every few weeks, we like to take a look around MLS to see what teams are doing to create buzz and increase attendance for the upcoming weekend of games.  With the last regular season matches upon us, now is a good time to take a last look at promotions for 2009.

In New York, the Red Bulls are promoting their last ever game at Giants Stadium with a number of events including T-shirts for the first 10k through the door and a number of additional surprises for fans.  The final game Family pack includes 4 tickets and either 4 t-shirts or a $20 food and beverage credit.  The package sells for $89.95.

In Los Angeles, Chivas is promoting is Fan Appreciation Day for their Sunday game against Houston. The event includes free giveaways, musical acts and discount tickets.  The Chivas Family Pack is $58 and includes 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs and 4 hats.

A while back, we wrote about RSL’s new Mangia service that allows for the delivery of food directly to your seat at Rio Tinto. Mangia allows fans to order food by texting their order to Mangia.   For their last home game, RSL is offering $1 hot dogs through the service. Fans must sign up online prior to coming to the game.    The team is also offering a 4 ticket, 4 hot dogs and 4 drinks Family Pack for $88.

In Columbus, the primary promotion actually focuses on the day after the last regular season game, when the Crew will host their team awards session.  Interestingly, the event is characterized as a “Casino Night” that will include the awards ceremony, food and fake gambling.  Tickets for the event start at $15 and can be combined with tickets to the Columbus home finale for $30 for tickets to both.  This seems like a great event and an outstanding idea to included fans in an awards night.

Attendance was great last weekend around the League. It will be interesting to see if the teams can keep it going for the last regular season game.