Covering the Coverage: The Internet

computerAs part of our ongoing series looking at media coverage of soccer in the United States, we have explored the various mediums covering the game.  In Part I, we took a look at the mainstream media.  To read that article, click  here.  Thereafter, we took a look at sports radio. Subsequently, we took a look at local newspapers.  While these media are important, there is no question that the internet is the primary source of soccer coverage and the primary  medium used by soccer fans to get their fix.  To explore the coverage of soccer on the internet, we spoke with three recognized names in American soccer coverage.  Steve Goff of the Washington Post Soccer Insider, Ives Galarcep of Soccer By Ives and Jason Davis of MatchFit USA.  Look below for their thoughts on the coverage of soccer on the internet, and check back for more stories in this series.

Footiebusiness.com:  Your blog covers soccer on a local, national and international level.  What types of stories drive the most traffic (e.g. National Team vs. MLS vs. Red Bulls vs. DC United vs. UEFA)?

Ives Galarcep:  National team stories drive the most traffic, followed by MLS stories and Americans Abroad stories. My Q&As and running commentaries are pretty popular as well.

Steve Goff: USA national team drives the most traffic, followed by DC United.

Jason Davis: National Team, by far.  It’s clear that my potential audience increases dramatically during periods of USMNT activity, and that inevitably leads to more traffic.  It makes sense strictly from a numbers perspective; while a narrow focus might give me a higher profile within a smaller community, the broader national appeal of the National Team give me the ability to attract more readers if my content is good.

FB: Do you pay attention to the sources of traffic on your blog?  Do you find that links from other soccer sites drive traffic or do most of your readers go directly to your site?  Similarly, do you track which links people use on your site to go elsewhere?  Do these factors dictate which stories you cover?

IG: Most of my readers are regulars, with about a quarter coming from other sites. I don’t really track outbound links much though.

SG: Most of my readers come directly to my blog. However, I do receive traffic through secondary sites such as bigsoccer.com and dcunited’s in-house blog. I do not trace the popularity of links that I provide, but based on the number of comments, I have a good idea what’s popular.

JD: Referral links were my lifeblood for a time, and my traffic was almost entirely dependent on whether or not I was linked to by a much more popular site than mine.  As time has gone on, I get more direct traffic than I used to, though the links still drive a good amount of my daily hits.  The links people follow out aren’t generally something I worry myself with; many of them are referenced news stories, so they aren’t necessarily indicative of anything other than the reader looking for background information.  I’m very much an “if it interests me, it will probably interest others” type of writer, so I go with my instincts and try not to over-analyze my traffic, or let things like exit links dictate my content.

FB:  How has the blog changed the way you cover soccer?  Do your sources act differently when they know a story might be headed for the blog as opposed to a different medium?

IG: As a newspaper writer I was more of a team beat writer who focused on team news and features, with my column allowing me to write about a broader range of subjects. Now, with the site (I’m not a fan of calling it a blog, but that’s the label it will have until I re-design it into a more news site format) I can write about a broader range of topics. With my readership more evenly spread out around the country I have moved away from a New York/New Jersey focused site to a national site. Actually, I moved my coverage to a more national approach and the readership eventually took on that shape. As for sources, I think most folks in the American soccer community realize that my site is read by a pretty big audience so if anything it has made securing interviews easier. There are a few instances where some media relations people don’t quite grasp the power of new media, and are still stuck in the old way of thinking that traditional media (such as newspapers) are king, but more and more people are beginning to understand the power of the internet and the influence of websites like mine.

SG: For better or worse, the blog has become the priority because of its immediacy. Indeed, I always inform someone whether the interview is for the blog or paper/web.

FB: You made a bold decision to blog full time.  Has the blog increased in readership since you made that decision?  How do you decide what events to cover live?

IG: To give you an idea of the change when I went independent, the best month I ever had traffic-wise on my old newspaper blog was 375K pageviews in a month. My first month with the new site had 750K pageviews. This past summer, we averaged 1.5 million pageviews per month.

FB:  Do you have any interest/input into the advertising that appears on the blog?  How is the advertising content for your blog decided?

IG: For the first year and a half of the new site I sold all the non-Google ads myself. In the past four months I have begun working with an agency that has been selling ads for me. Most of the advertisers have been soccer specific, or companies looking to target the American soccer fan demographic, which is what my site delivers.

SG: I have no involvement with ads and don’t know the process.

JD: I’m still working on a low enough level that almost all of my advertising comes from affiliate membership, and is therefore commission-based.  They drive almost no revenue, but they give the site more of professional image in my mind.  I can choose the ads that appear, and obviously attempt to have them match the content of focus of the blog.  I do have a few direct partnerships, which obviously guarantee a little money, and I’m hoping to work towards more in the future as long as they don’t compromise the look and feel of the site.

Thanks to Steve Goff, Ives Galarcep and Jason Davis for their thoughts.

Red Bull Arena: Will it Matter?

red-bulls2We have repeatedly posted about the excitement surrounding Red Bull Arena and all that it could mean for the franchise and MLS.  The stadium is beautiful, is intended to help revitalize Harrison, NJ and will be a showpiece for soccer in the United States.  However, the questions remains; will the new stadium impact Red Bull attendance or the team’s profile in the New York media market?  Based on our experience Saturday night in Newark, the answer is still very much in question.

For those who don’t know, in October 2007, the Prudential Center opened in Newark, NJ as the home of NJ Devils of the NHL, Seton Hall basketball and more.  The stadium is state of the art, cost more than $375 million to build and was intended as part of a downtown revitalization for the City of Newark that included retail, residential units and more.  The Devils are a perennially good team, and have won three Stanley Cups over the last 15 years.  Newark and Harrison are essentially neighbors, so the Prudential Center represents an interesting comparison for Red Bull Arena.

On Saturday Night, I took in my first game at the “Pru” as the Devils hosted the team formerly known as the Hartford Whalers. I had dinner with 5 friends in downtown Newark and then walked to the Arena among a sea of red jerseys.  We had purchased tickets on Stub Hub for essentially 60 cents on the dollar.  The facility was beautiful, yet remarkably, only about half full.  And this is the issue.  Just starting its third year, the bloom is already off the rose.

Our seats were 15 rows from the ice and we could have walked down much further and found 6 seats together.  The most expensive seats were essentially empty (although many are reportedly sold).  The upper level was more crowded, but whole sections were largely unoccupied.  Attendance was reported as 15k, but the sense from those around me was that the number was closer to 10k.  In sum, a beautiful new New Jersey Arena in its third year, with a powerhouse team as a tenant, was half empty on a Saturday night in October.  It is also worth noting that the New York Mets couldn’t generate sell-outs for their new stadium in year one in Queens.

This is the nightmare scenario for the the Red Bulls.  Build a sparkling new stadium with all the amenities, public transportation accessibility, natural grass and fill it with star players.  Pack in crowds for all 25k seats for a few games and then slowly watch attendance drop off.  Sure, the new revenue streams will be outstanding (recall that Rio Tinto has raised RSL’s revenue 42%).  But will Red Bull be happy with 13k on a Saturday night in August? Many in the New Jersey/New York area have no idea the new stadium exists and thus there is limited excitement about its debut.

Many American soccer fans think that the stadium will be a savior for a franchise that sits dead last in MLS.  Others believe that Red Bull management has been playing opossum, saving resources for the big opening.  The latter may be correct, but the former seems a bit of a strectch.  Stadiums generate revenue, but they are no guarantee of long term attendance increases (hello FC Dallas).  My experience at the Devils game was oustanding (even if the Whalers went down to defeat), but shocking in the emptiness of the building.

So the question remains; will it matter?  Will Red Bull Arena take the franchise to new levels and elevate soccer in New York, keep interest at the same level or something different?  We take a middle view…if the team does well in its new digs, interest will increase, but a middling team will continue to receive middling interest in any venue.

The Monday After: Great Attendance and Mass Confusion

mlsAn enormous weekend of games in MLS with playoff spots, Champions League entry and the Supporters Shield all up for grabs.  Every game was frought with tension and meaning as teams scrambled for points on the pennultimate weekend of the regular season.  The weekend got started in Toronto where a sell out crowd of more than 20k saw the home side hold off RSL and move into the last playoff spot.  In New England, more than 18k braved a blustery night to watch the Revs tie Chicago.

Despite similar bad weather in the District, more than 16k saw United pull off an important 1-0 win over the East leading Crew.  Later that night, more than 15k packed Pizza Hut Park to watch the in form home team win yet again, over teetering Colorado.  In Los Angeles, 12k saw Chivas tie San Jose, while a sell-out crowd saw Kansas City fall to the visitors from Seattle.  In the weekend finale on Sunday, just about 30k saw the Galaxy and Dynamo play to a scoreless draw.

These are across the board great numbers for the League.  Whether the great attendance stems from the playoff race, a desire to use package tickets, or something else, it was great to see such solid crowds on some bad weather nights.  With one more weekend left in the regular season, it will be interesting to see if the crowds continue.

The other big story from MLS this weekend is the seeming impossibility of determining who will clinch the last playoff spot.  With the possibilit of five teams tied for the last spot after next weeks games, the analysis will like devolve to the fourth or fifth level of tiebreakers.  Among the teams clinging to the playoff dream, it appears that TFC is closest to controlling  its own destiny and has an away date at bottom feeder RBNY.  Everything else might not be solved until Sunday afternoon.

Soccer Business Bits: Quick Hits

rslWith a big set of MLS action coming up, we thought we would provide you with some MLS business news in advance of the weekend.

With all the debate over the financial viability of soccer stadiums (any stadium really), the fighting usually ceases once the building is up.  As a result, the “success” of the project is typically ignored.  Check out this piece in the Salt Lake Tribune about Rio Tinto’s financial impact.  Most importantly, revenue for RSL is up over 40% from its time at Rice Eccles Stadium.

Speaking of stadiums, grass is down in Red Bull Arena.  Click here for an interior camera.

Speaking of grass, it appears that it is confirmed that TFC will be playing on the natural stuff next season. Apparently in Canada, spelling is a bit different.

Speaking of different, one wonders how AC Milan will prosecute this absurd claim.

Finally, solid attendance on a chilly night in SLC for a big win for the home side.  More than 16k on a Wednesday night is a great number.

Business Blogging: ESPN Coverage of Wednesday Night Soccer

espnWith a big soccer doubleheader on ESPN, we thought we would review the broadcast, commercials and marketing from the telecast.  Before the game, the USA/Costa Rica match featured prominently across all ESPN platforms.  There were lead ins on SportsCenter and a 30 minute pre-game featuring Stone and Musto from Bristol.  The pre-game coverage included a thorough review of qualifiying from around the globe.  Commercials during the pre-game included Bridgestone, Gatorade, Pennzoil and others. There was also a fairly limited amount of local advertising.

The coverage on ESPN was fairly impressive.  Bob Ley anchored from RFK with Lalas while eand Harkes handled the broadcast.  When including the studio team, ESPN devoted 6 separate “talents” to the match.  The coverage was professional and comprehensive.  Scores from around the globe were regularly updated and viewers were kept apprised of develpments from all regions.

Tabasco, Gatorade, Pepsi Max, Blimpie and FIFA ’10, Budweiser and others made up the advertisers for the game broadcast.  Pepsi, Axe and Gatorade also had in-game advertising near the on screen scoreboard.  Healy and Healey did a good job with the broadcast and the ESPN Axis technology is always stunning.  There was surprisingly little mention of the ESPN2 broadcast of the Red Bulls/RSL game.  The USA match represented an important opportunity for MLS to put its broadcast before the much larger US Soccer audience.  While MLS had spots during the game featuring Becks, Angel and GBS, little was done to promote the following MLS match.    ESPN did promote its U-20 WC final.

Finally, ESPN concluded its USA coverage with a nice montage of qualifying, but the lead in to the MLS match was terrible.  The game was hardly mentioned, some of the graphics were in Spanish and it wasn’t clear for a number of minutes that the “pre-game” show was for MLS.  While the broadcast quality was outstanding (and included some in-game ads), the transition was a wasted opportunity for both MLS and ESPN.  This is too bad because few teams in MLS playsoccer as aesthicaly pleasing as RSL, especially at Rio Tinto.

As an aside, check out this outsanding piece on Portland’s entry into MLS as an expansion team from Major League Soccer Talk.

Soccer Business Bits: ESPN Doubleheader, Denmark Friendly and KC Stadium

tv soccerAmerican soccer fans will be treated to a soccer doubleheader tonight as ESPN2 will televise both the USA/Costa Rica match and the RSL/Red Bulls MLS match.  The lead in offers MLS a great chance for exposure to fans of the US Men who are reluctant to watch MLS matches.  MLS can showcase its product in one of its premier stadiums.  Unfortunately, the teams are near the bottom of the table and not necessarily the best advertisement for the League.  It will be interesting to see what steps ESPN takes to promote the MLS match to its Nats audience. If nothing else, RSL fans can feel pretty certain that there won’t be some other sporting event cutting out the first 15 minutes of the match.

In other news, the USSF  announced a November friendly with Denmark in Denmark.  Television coverage has not been announced.

Finally, it appears that Kansas City is moving closer to its alternative stadium site in Kansas.   For more on the project, check this article at Pitch Invasion.  While we think a 2011 opening is very aggressive and seemingly  unrealistic, we hope that the Wizards can make this a reality.

Soccer Business Bits: Promotions, Promotions & Promotions

us-soccerIts been a while since we have taken a look at the world of MLS promtions, and with a big weekend of games on the horizon, we thought we would take a look at what the home teams have planned this coming week.   We’ll start in DC, where RFK will host the Costa Rica/USA qualifier and a game with enormous playoff implications.  In an effort to generate attendance for both of those games, United is offering a combo package that offers a ticket to each game for $53.  The most expensive tickets are $125 for the deal.

In Houston, the Dynamo have been offering a 4-Pack deal for their top of the table clash with the Galaxy.  The $100 package includes 4 tickets and for McDonalds value meals.  The package is sold out, but the Dynamo are also offering replica Dynamo jerseys to the first 5,000 fans through the gate of their Sunday matchup.

Finally, resurgent FC Dallas are offering $10 seats and a free beer for their October 17 match against Colorado.  This an enormous match and a remarkably good deal.  The 16oz beer can be claimed until the 75th minute of the game.   Finally, the Revs are offering a two tickets/two pint glasses deal for their final home game. The packages are selling for $36 per. revs