MLS CUP 2009: On the Ground in Seattle

With Seattle set to cap its impressive  inaugural season as an MLS City by hosting MLS Cup 2009 at Qwest Field, we thought we would check in with Seattle soccer guru David Falk, the man behind the comprehensive Seattle soccer website, about marketing efforts, media coverage and ticket sales for MLS Cup in Seattle.  With Seattle not in the game, we were curious about how the game was perceived in the Emerald City and David, who also writes for the Seattle Soccer Examiner, provided some great insight.  Thanks to David for his thoughts.  Beyond newspaper coverage, what has been the level of mainstream coverage of the game? Are local outlets, sports radio, etc… covering the match?

David  Falk:  There will be guests on Sports Radio (KJR AM 950) this week, but it doesn’t look to be any bigger than a Sounders match week so far.

FB: There is evidence of Sounders’ season ticket holders seeking to offload their seats.  What is your sense of the interest level among Sounders’ fans in attending the game?

DF: Mixed, but most want to still go. Some are selling their seats to LA and Utah fans who want the best views. Some are giving them away, even. Still, it is likely that the lower bowl won’t have too many empty spots. A Chicago-LA match-up would have increased the ticket demand and the rate of those that showed up. There will still be a “March to the Match,” it is still the last ticket in our season package…so unless the weather is an absolute downpour, Seattle should represent. Are Seattle fans “excited” about the match? I have yet to hear from anyone that is.

FB: Tickets for the game have been parceled out with the recent opening of 6,000 additional seats.  Do you agree with the decision to limit availability?  Do you think there is a good argument for opening the entire stadium?

DF: They are handling the MLS Cup ticket sales just fine. Beckham v. Blanco could have sold more, but now what they’ve offered is more than enough.

FB: Are there ongoing efforts to advertise the game to Seattle residents?  What are those efforts?

DF: None that I have seen. Perhaps through the Sounders website and emails to all 24,000 ticket holders. Billboards…no. Bus signs…no. TV commercials? No.  We did get a letter from Garber asking us all to show up:

We also recommend you check out the extensive coverage of the game on the Seattle Times website.

MLS Season Ticket Renewals Up for 2010

Tripp Mickle of the Sports Business Journal is out with a hard look at MLS season ticket renewals for 2010.  Although three teams (Dallas, Kansas City and San Jose), didn’t provide numbers, the rest of the franchises did report their rates of renewal for 2010.  Not surprisingly, Seattle and TFC lead the pack with more than 90% renewal rates.  Perhaps also not surprisingly, New England trails the pack as the only reporting team below 50% at a dismal 30%.  With the Red Bull Arena ready to open, New York posted an impressive 85%

The biggest suprise was Colorado, where at least 70% of season ticket holders have renewed.  This compares very favorably with the rest of the League, where most teams hover in between 50-65%.  These numbers will obviously rise as the season nears, but according to Mickle, renewals rates are ahead of last year and are averaging just over 60% league wide.  Mickle also reported that teams are offering new incentives to attract fans and keep their hard care base.

New England and Dallas remain enormous disappointments (in fairness, we are making a bit of an assumption on Dallas, as their numbers aren’t available).  Attendance is declining in both cities as is interest.  Both teams seem to need a re-boot and re-brand.  New England’s playoff attendance was embarrassing for MLS, a fact that didn’t escape Don Garber in his State of the League address who in referenced the success in Seattle and the playoff attencance success in the Conference Finals.  “That was an important lesson to our clubs, particularly some of the clubs that have been around for a while and are struggling in their markets.”

This report is a great sign for MLS.  In the current economy, convincing fans to re-up months before the start of the season provides a level of economic stability for the League and shows that the biggest fans remain interested in MLS.  Moreover, the evident success of the newest franchises speaks volumes about the ability of the expansion teams to learn from the mistakes of those that went before.  If the numbers continue to climb until March 2010, with the entrance of Philadelphia and opening of Red Bull Arena, 2010 promises to be a great year for the League

QUICK UPDATE:  According to the Revs official online community forums, per COO Brian Bilello:

“Just wanted to clarify around the Season Ticket Renewal numbers in SBJ today. While it is true that we were near the 30% mark a few weeks go when they pulled their numbers, we are now north of 50% and are ahead of last year at this time. Part of the reason that we lagged behind is due to the fact that our early renewal deadline is later than most teams so our renewals come in a little later. We give our fans until11/30 to renew and get the early renewal discount. We feel it gives our STH more flexibility and let’s them hold onto their money a little longer rather than making them renew in August or September.”

The Monday After: MLS Playoff Business Bits

mls cup 2009A great weekend for games in MLS as Los Angeles and RSL went through to the MLS cup final with thrilling wins over Houston and Chicago respectively.  In Los Angeles, just over 25k turned out to see the Galaxy’s 2-0 victory over Houston.  Though just shy of a sell-out, the crowd was lively despite two power outages during the game.  In Chicago, almost 22,000 were at Toyota Park as the home side went down to upstart RSL.  On both broadcasts, the stadium atmospheres looked great and stood in start contrast to the playoff environment at Gillette Stadium in the first round. Check MLSTalk for a review of past playoff attendance.

The MLS world now turns its attention to Seattle, where Qwest Field will play host to MLS Cup.  According to official reports, the original offering of 36k seats has been sold out and an additional 6k seats have been opened up.  While it remains to be seen how many Sounders’ season ticket holders will make the trip (the game was part of their package), it is evident that there is strong interest in the game from many in the Seattle area.  There are also reports that Qwest has only designated 100 seats for each of the Supporters’ groups.  Hopefully, Seattle will find a way to organize the seats so greater numbers of RSL/Galaxy fans can sit together.

Both conference final broadcasts were will done, despite the unfortunate power outage in Carson, CA.  The typical advertisers were present for both ESPN & FSC, including an increased presence from Best Buy.  There was plentiful on screen advertising for both networks as well as presenting sponsors for pre/post game shows. ESPN smartly built a 25 minute buffer into the broadcast by adding a pre-game to absorb some of the likely runover from the preceding college game.

We will of course cover MLS Cup in full this week from a business perspective, including sponsorship, media, attendance and more.If there is something that you want us to address about the game, please shoot an e-mail our way.

Socer Business Bits: Dynamo Stadium, UFL & More

houstonThe Houston Business Journal is reporting that Dynamo President Oliver Luck remains committed to a downtown stadium.  The project remains held up by the use of a tax increment reinvestment zone in the Houston area.  By way of brief refresher, 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
  • 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 construction 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.

As a brief aside, we spent last night in East Hartford, Connecticut at a UFL game between New York and Florida.  The UFL is an upstart football professional league muddling through its inaugural season.  The UFL is following the single entity model with league ownership of the various teams.  Attendance was very slight, with most attendees seemingly using free tickets to get in the door.  League TV ratings are hovering below 100k per game. which is well below MLS numbers  Despite this seemingly bleak situation, the League has remarkably signed tv contracts worth $70 million over two years, far in excess of MLS contracts.

One final note.  The Galaxy/Dynamo match won’t kick off until 11:25 Eastern on ESPN2, making it a late night for east coast fans.  The gams is preceded by a college football matchup (which will likely run long).  ESPN has built a  25 minute buffer between with a scheduled pre-game show, but there is a good chance some of the game will be chopped.

Soccer Business Bits: RSL Sale, Playoff Promotions & More

rslJust days before the RSL’s big conference final match-up against Chicago, the big story around MLS is the pending sale of a 49% interest in RSL to local businessman Dell Loy Hansen.  While not finalized, Hansen has been traveling with the team and attended multiple games. A real estate developer/owner, Hansen has stated that he intends to brand his various properties with RSL colors and gear and use his residential space to house RSL players (great idea).

The entry of new blood into MLS is always a good idea.  In RSL’s case, this brings a local owner into the picture who adds money to the ownership group and a definite rooting interest.  Moreover, this is an especially attractive deal because it may include an ownership interest in Rio Tinto.  Perhaps most interestingly, the actual purchase price will provide insight into the valuation of MLS franchises at a time when expansion franchises are entering the League at a rapid clip.

The Conference Finals are just around the corner, and we thought we would take a quick look at promotional efforts by both the Fire and Galaxy in advance of the games.  Given the great attendance both in Chicago and Los Angeles for the earlier playoff games, significant promotional efforts are largely unnecessary, and a great sign for the League.  Seemingly the sole promotion in Los Angeles is a Family Four pack of 4 tickets, dogs and drinks for $66.  In Chicago, there are no apparent promotions.   Both teams are expecting sell-outs for the finals, and the lack of promotional events shows that the crowds are expected without additional efforts to convice them to come.

For a nice summary of MLS playoff attendance over the last few years, click here.


Soccer Business Bits: USL Change, CBA News? & More

broken soccer ballMultiple outlets are reporting that 6 USL-1 teams, including 2011 MLS expansion side Vancouver, have broken away from the USL to form their own six team League for 2010.  Though still waiting for USSF approval, the new league will feature Vancouver, Montreal, Atlanta, Carolina, Miami and Minnesota.  There are also reports that a team from St. Louis will join the new league.

What impact this change (if it goes through), will have is very much in question.  Some MLS fans are prematurely excited at the prospect of MLS teams essentially operating farm teams in the new league, while others think that this move is a precursor to an “MLS2”.  Frankly, we think neither is likely. If this division holds, it will likely have the impact of weakening USL and the new league, especially when Vancouver and Montreal (probably) bolt for MLS and Portland does the same. The lower leagues have already lost a strong team in Seattle, and despite the prospect of new teams in New York and Baltimore, further division is not in USL’s best interest.  Strong lower divisions are important for the survival of soccer in the US and this move seems simply to weaken the overall product.

American soccer fans have marked January 31 on their calendars because it is the date the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires.  The parties have started negotiating, and this is certainly a story we will religiously follow.  For now, we think it a bit early, but since there have been a couple of early shots across the bow, check out this story at MatchFit for details.  One hidden impact of the labor situation will be the decisions faced by college players eying a career in MLS as part of the January draft.  Will players be less willing to enter the draft if there is no deal?

Check out this nice story from about the MLS playoffs in Afghanistan.

One final note.  Seattle is looking to take its MLS success to a global stage.  Here is a story on the Emerald City’s efforts to bring the World Cup to Qwest Field.

Seattle Sounders: A Look Back

soundersYear one of the Seattle Sounders’ MLS campaign is concluded, and it has been a success in every way.  Here is what we wrote in March:

First Kick 2009 is just days away, and the League’s newest franchise is directly in the cross hairs of MLS fans.  They have sold the tickets; more than 20k season ticket sales have been announced for 2009.  They have landed the big name sponsor; Microsoft has signed on for $ 4 million for over five years.  They have marketed aggressively; billboards, scarves and advertising have been plastered all over the City. They have signed an impressive local broadcast deal, allowing a revered local voice to bring Sounders soccer over the air. They will also have a presence on cable.    According to to David Falk, the man in charge of the comprehensive Seattle Soccer website, Fox Sports Northwest will sponsor a weekly Sounders show and run game replays.  They have spent on players, including a DP, and have created an outstanding website. If MLS Executives were to imagine the perfect off the field scenario for an expansion team, Seattle, circa March 16, 2009 would be the dream. Now it has to continue going forward.  Fans have to keep buying tickets, the media needs to keep aggressively covering the Sounders  and Seattle needs to make it happen on the field.

Well, check, check and check!  The crowds kept coming (they grew), the local media coverage remained oustanding, and the Sounders continued to perform on the field.  The Sounders were one of the great American sports stories of 2009; not just MLS. Philadelphia, Vancouver and Portland now have a definite model to follow (TFC certainly works as an example as well).  Despite all of the success in year one, Seattle has one more big soccer test to pass.  Will the crowd for MLS Cup 2009 bring down the curtain on the campaign with a bang or a whimper?  Beckham v. Blanco would be great for attendance (although RSL/LA would be more pleasent to watch.  If Seattle can fill Qwest for the final as a neutral site venue, it would be the perfect capper to a wonderful season.