Soccer Business Bits: CBA Extenson, Sol Closed & Manchester United Bonds & More

The big news in American soccer circles is the announced extension of collective bargaining talks between MLS & the Players Union.  Talks have been extended until February 12, 2010.  Training camps will go forward as planned.  MLS released this statement from Commissioner Don Garber.  “While we still have areas of disagreement, the talks have been constructive and both parties believe it makes sense to continue to work hard to reach agreement. This extension provides both MLS and the players the opportunity to continue our discussions while clubs are in training camps preparing for the 2010 MLS season.”

In other news, WPS signature franchise Los Angeles Sol announced that it will cease operations and not participate in the 2010 season.  The League’s premier team had been the subject of sale rumors, but even that was not enough to keep the team afloat.  The Sol are led by Brazilian star Marta, but lost a reported $2 million last year despite being the only team in WPS to have a shirt sponsorship.  The deal, with Amway International, included the Amway name on the jersey, stadium signage and placement on an array of Sol items.   WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci said, “While it’s regrettable to lose the Los Angeles market as part of our WPS footprint, we are pleased to have two new teams coming into the league in 2010.”  The league and our ownership committee worked incredibly hard over the past month to complete the transaction. In the end, we ran out of time and came up short of where we needed to be funding-wise for the Sol in 2010.”

Finally, a couple of business related audio recommendations. Listen here to an intersting story on the Glazer family’s issuance of more than 500 million pounds worth of bonds to keep the EPL side afloat. The team is more than a billion dollars in debt!  Also, our good friends as the American Soccer Show landed an exclusive interview with Rev striker Taylor Twellman.  Some great business and CBA bits in there.  Kudos for a great interview.

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Soccer Business Bits: Stadium News in Houston, Seattle Ticket Update & More

According to the Houston Chronicle, Dynamo President Oliver Luck is in talks with a developer about the construction of a soccer stadium on private land in Southwest Houston.  Although the article cites Luck as continuing to affirm his desire to build a stadium on City owned land, the discussions with a private developer represent a significant change from the earlier plan to build in conjunction as part of a Tax Increment Re-Investment Zone. As recently as November, we wrote the following about the City/team partnership:

“Total cost of the projected 21k seat 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 TIRZ money and from some of the stiumulus money floating around.  The TIRZ 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.”  We will certainly follow this story as it develops.

In Seattle, the Sounders have announced plans to cap season ticket sales at 32,000.  To date, the team has sold 31,000 season tickets with two months until opening day.  The team has also announced renewal rates in excess of 95% and this represents a 10k increase in the cap on season ticket sales as compared to last year.

Finally, ESPN has announced more elements of its World Cup broadcast package.  All 64 matches will be in HD and broadcast live.  ESPN360 will also have the games as well as ESPN MobilTV.  ESPN Classic and ESPN2 will re-air games each night.  There will also be significant pre-match, halftime and post-match shows.  This level of coverage shows ESPN’s continued devotion to soccer and its willingness to invest significant resources in broadcasting the games.

MLS Charity Week: The Revs

Last week we took at look at various American soccer charity efforts especially those in Haiti. The charitable efforts of professional sports leagues and teams are typically overlooked by their fans, yet they are an important component of the community outreach programs in which almost all leagues are involved.  In addition to providing a way to give back to the community, local charitable efforts often provide teams with an outstanding opportunity to connect with fans and potential fans. This week we will focus on the charitable efforts of the American Soccer Community.  We have interviewed league representatives from MLS and WPS and individual teams to find out how soccer “gives back”.  Monday, we chatted with MLS Executive Vice President JoAnn Neale who overseas MLS W.O.R.K.S., the charitable arm of MLS. Yesterday, we spoke with WPS Director of Communications Robert Penner about the womens’ league’s charitable efforts.

Today we take a look at charitable efforts at the team level, and our focus is the New England Revolution.  Revs Director of Communications Lizz Summers was kind enough to share a few words about the Revs’ good works.  Ms. Summers joined the Revs in 2006 after three seasons as the director of media relations at the University of Texas.  In her current role, Ms. Summers, who holds both an undergraduate and MBA from Boston College, oversees team media relations, public relations, corporate communications and new media activities.  In addition to directing the New England Revolution Charitable Foundation, Ms. Summers also directs the club’s other community relations efforts.  Thanks to Ms. Summers for answering our questions about the Revs’ charitable efforts.

Footiebusiness.com: The Revs are involved in charitable and community activity through the New England Revolution Charitable Foundation.  What is the goal of this group and what are the programs that the Foundation is trying to reach?  How is it determined what charities the Foundation assists?

Lizz Summers: The New England Revolution Charitable Foundation was actually founded very recently, in 2007, with a mission to assist New England-based charitable and community-based organizations, specifically those involved in education, family and health-related areas. Additionally, assisting programming involving and supporting youth soccer was also a priority. For the first few years, most of this support came through in-kind donations, although we’ve also made monetary donations to a select number of organizations. The Foundation’s mission statement has been the backbone for the team’s evolving community relations initiatives, too, so we have a consistent theme between the two entities.

Now that the Foundation has been going for several seasons, we’re taking a deeper look at the impact it’s had in several areas, and we’re re-examining its focus and mission statement. Being a sports team, we have tremendous ambassadors both on the field and off who can speak to a variety of health and wellness topics, more so in some respects than education and family. In 2010, we’re beginning the process of re-focusing the Foundation’s efforts, and extending the health and wellness theme to not only youth programming, but also adult programming to further involve our supporters. Between the Foundation’s growing involvement, its increasing fund raising activities and some of the team’s new community relations initiatives, we’re looking to increase our ability to help  charitable organizations with more monetary support as we head into the future.
FB: Many MLS fans are familiar with MLS W.O.R.K.S.  Do the Revs participate in such league-wide charitable efforts, or does the team focus on its own local charities and organizations?

LS: We do get involved with several of the MLS W.O.R.K.S. initiatives, and will have some deeper involvement in 2010 in some programs. The great thing about the MLS W.O.R.K.S. set-up is that teams can opt-in to most of the programs if they compliment the team’s efforts. Some teams may have conflicts either with local ties or sponsors and they’re unable to participate in some programming, but can incorporate other programs. We’re becoming more active in the league’s overall efforts as we continue to refine what our goals are in the community.
FB: Are the charitable efforts of the Revs separate and distinct from those of the New England Patriots and Kraft Sports?  Is there a company wide charitable philosophy that is consistent through all aspects of Revs/Pats?

LS: Where the Kraft family owns and operates two professional sports teams, as well as other sports and entertainment operations, there is certainly some crossover between the two teams. We also share a lot of best practices, especially us leaning on the Pats staff for advice and guidance since they have so much experience through national NFL programs, as well as their own. We’re actually looking to launch a program this year that we’re modifying from something the Patriots have done in the past, but tying it back to a health and wellness theme. The big thing that the Revs are now trying to do is create community and charitable opportunities where our fans and supporters can join us in giving back or lending a hand – hand-in-hand with the team. The great thing about the soccer community is that it’s a very close-knit group, especially in each city. We’re developing programs and opportunities that we hope our supporters will connect with, and that together with us – players, staff – we can make a greater difference.

FB: How is it determined which players attend certain charitable events?  Are players contractually obligated to participate in community/charity events?

LS: In the past, players have agreed to make a certain number of charitable or community appearances a year on behalf of the team, but we have never pushed players to participate if they don’t want to. Every year, we have some players who are more civic-minded than others, or who just enjoy being active in the community and they seek out opportunities to get involved. We’ve even helped a players connect and get involved with agencies and groups that they have an affinity to outside of the team’s work. Usually, we’ve tried to balance the appearances and rotate all the opportunities around, especially ones that fall in the afternoons or on weekends when the guys are looking to spend time with their families. For some higher-profile events, we’ll offer it up to the team to see who wants to participate.

Great stuff from the Revs and Ms. Summers.  Soccer is indeed a tight community and it is great to see players and teams acting as such valuable ambassodors for the sport.

Footiebusiness Charity Week: WPS

Last week we took at look at various American soccer charity efforts especially those in Haiti. The charitable efforts of professional sports leagues and teams are typically overlooked by their fans, yet they are an important component of the community outreach programs in which almost all leagues are involved.  In addition to providing a way to give back to the community, local charitable efforts often provide teams with an outstanding opportunity to connect with fans and potential fans. This week we will focus on the charitable efforts of the American Soccer Community.  We have interviewed league representatives from MLS and WPS and individual teams to find out how soccer “gives back”.  Yesterday, we chatted with MLS Executive Vice President JoAnn Neale who overseas MLS W.O.R.K.S., the charitable arm of MLS.

Today, Robert Penner, the Director of Communications for WPS was kind enough to share a few words about WPS’ charitable efforts.  While only in its second year, WPS is already starting to develop its approach to charitable involvement on a league basis.  At the same time, many WPS teams already have their own charitable/community activities which will expand in year two.  Mr. Penner is a veteran of sports media and marketing and has worked with the A.T.P.,  U.S. Open and NBC.  Most recently, Mr. Penner worked with Puma, a founding partner of the WPS. Thanks to Mr. Penner for answering a few questions about WPS and charity.

Footiebusiness.com: Does WPS have a “go to” charity or community program?  Are there certain organizations that have an ongoing relationship with WPS?

Robert Penner: WPS is in the process of developing their philanthropic platform and the causes we want to support through it. It’s something that takes time and something that you want to do properly. We’ve looked at a variety of options during our Inaugural Season and recognize the importance of having a charity component within the league.

FB: How is it decided where to allocate time and resources from WPS to charitable organizations?

RP: This will be a function of the partnerships we implement through our philanthropic arm.

FB: Do WPS teams and players participate in their own charitable or community organizations or does the league dictate where teams devote charitable and community resources?   Are players contractually obligated to participate?

RP: The League does not determine the extent to which, or how teams support charities and non-profit organizations. Nearly every team has a charity or cause they support. Many WPS teams support breast cancer awareness amongst other important community initiatives.

FB: How can fans get involved in WPS charitable activity?

RP: Right now the best way to get involved is through your WPS Team.

Footiebusiness Charity Week: MLS W.O.R.K.S

Last week we took at look at various American soccer charity efforts especially those in Haiti. The charitable efforts of professional sports leagues and teams are typically overlooked by their fans, yet they are an important component of the community outreach programs in which almost all leagues are involved.  In addition to providing a way to give back to the community, local charitable efforts often provide teams with an outstanding opportunity to connect with fans and potential fans.

This week we will focus on the charitable efforts of the American Soccer Community.  We have interviewed league representatives from MLS and WPS and individual teams to find out how soccer “gives back”.  We start today with MLS Executive Vice President JoAnn Neale who overseas MLS W.O.R.K.S., the charitable arm of MLS.  Thanks to Ms. Neale for her thoughts on MLS W.O.R.K.S., and check back during the week more stories about soccer and charity.

Footiebusiness.com: What is MLS W.O.R.K.S.  What was the impetus for forming it in 2007?

JoAnn Neale: MLS W.O.R.K.S. is Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative, dedicated to addressing important social issues affecting young people, and it serves as a platform for both League and club philanthropic programs.  MLS W.O.R.K.S. seeks to establish Major League Soccer as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport. MLS W.O.R.K.S. was launched in April 2007 as way for the League to partner with charitable organizations on a national level, but to also highlight and promote the charitable efforts of its clubs and players who give back to their local communities.

FB: MLS W.O.R.K.S. is involved with many different organizations.  How is it decided where to allocate time and resources from WORKS to these organizations?

JN: MLS W.O.R.K.S. supports many organizations on various levels, but we try to partner with organizations that align with our objectives and make sense both nationally and in local markets with MLS clubs.

FB: Do MLS teams participate in W.O.R.K.S. or are there individual charities and outreach groups associated with individual teams?  How is it determined which players participate in W.O.R.K.S. events?

JN: Although most of our clubs have their own charitable foundations and support local organizations, all 16 clubs support MLS W.O.R.K.S. and our initiatives.  Because our markets vary so much, we create our programs with flexibility so they can be shaped to have relevance in each community.  We work closely with our clubs to find player ambassadors that support our initiatives, but we also work to highlight all the charitable efforts of our players in each market, even if they are not W.O.R.K.S. specific.

FB: How can fans get involved?  Are there any specific auction items fans should be on the lookout for?

JN: We recently launched the MLS W.O.R.K.S. Community Service Program, a collaborative effort to combine sport and service, promote goodwill within MLS markets and improve lives and communities at the grassroots level.  Part of the program, which we will be expanding during the 2010 season, is to highlight what our fans are doing to make a difference in their communities.  We will launch a contest during the 2010 season to recognize fans from each market that are going above and beyond.

Currently, we are conducting an online auction to help raise additional awareness and funds to support Unicef and their relief efforts for children and families in Haiti.

FB: W.O.R.K.S. advertising is present on signboards during games and on MLS broadcasts.  How is it determined when/where W.O.R.K.S. programs are advertised.

JN: We will be increasing our marketing efforts during the 2010 season to try and give our initiative and charitable partners additional exposure during various times of the season.  For instance, leading up to and surrounding Earth Day, we will promote MLS W.O.R.K.S. Greener Goals and during October, W.O.R.K.S. field boards will be pink to support Breast Cancer Awareness.

Marketing in Philly: An Interview with Union VP of Marketing Cara Joftis

We are now about two months away from the Philadelphia Union’s primetime opener on ESPN2 against Seattle.  With a new stadium on the way and an excited base of fans, Philly is set to become American soccer’s latest success story.  As we did last year, we hope to bring you a series of interviews with MLS marketing professionals to provide insight into how teams seek to promote their brand. We thought we would start 2010 with the Philadelphia Union.

Cara Joftis has been the  VP of Marketing for the Union since September, 2009.  Prior to joining the club, she was Vice President of Sponsorships and Brand Promotions at Citizens Bank for more than six years.  She managed brand presence and messaging  for Citizens Bank properties in 13 states, including Citizens Bank Park.   Thanks for Ms. Joftis for taking a few minutes to discuss the Union’s efforts to market the team in a tough economic climate in a city full of competition for attention from fans and media.

Footiebusiness.com  The Union is starting play in a fairly rough economic climate.  What impact does the economy have on the message of your marketing campaign?  Do you have to tailor your methods of marketing because of the economy?

Cara Joftis:  We try to be aware of all issues facing our fans.  We haven’t had to adjust our marketing campaign at all.  Our tickets are the most economically priced out of the Philadelphia major league sports teams.  Our marketing methods remain the same, with a focus on the passion of the game and of our fans.

FB:  The Union are moving into a brand new facility during the season.  Yet the team is starting the season at the Linc.  How does the team balance efforts to market the new stadium with the reality that the team will play a number of games elsewhere?

CJ: There really hasn’t been a need for any balance.  Again, the focus is on the passion of the game and the fans and that is relevant in either of the buildings.

FB: How does the Union plan to utilize online avenues such as social networking sites, SUM’s online ad network, etc… to market the team?  What is the goal of such online marketing efforts?

CJ: Online marketing efforts have the same goals as our traditional marketing – drive awareness and ticket purchases.  Facebook and Twitter are important communication channels for us in interacting with our fans.

FB: Philadelphia is a sports mad city with strong passions for teams that have been passed down through generations.  What can the Union do to penetrate those mainstream sports fans?  Should that be a goal of marketing efforts?  Is it important to gain exposure on mainstream sports outlets like WIP?

CJ: A recent Wharton study showed that approximately 1.5million people in Philadelphia DMA identify themselves as avid soccer fans.  There is an extremely strong fan base for soccer.  We talk to those people and do not go after people who are not interested in soccer.  Approximately 80% of our founding members do not have season tickets to any other professional sports team in town.

FB: What lessons can the Union take from the marketing success of Seattle and Toronto?  Similarly, what lessons can the Union take from some of the marketing mis-steps of the early years in the League?

CJ: Seattle and Toronto have done a terrific job of staying true to the sport and authentic to their fans.  That is definitely something that we also strive for.

Thanks again to Ms. Joftis for responding to our questions.

The Business of Selling Online: Third Party Sellers

Last week we started our series on the business of selling MLS and WPS merchandise online.  The first post looked at sales through official websites for the leagues and teams.  You can view that post here.  Today, we will take a look at third party sellers of MLS merchandise.

We started with a simple Google search for “soccer jerseys” and the first hit was WorldSoccerShop.com.  The site had a full selection of MLS gear, including the 2010 jerseys.  Pricing for 2010 jerseys was the same as on the league site, although WorldSoccerShop.com offered a significantly lower price for 2009 jerseys than was offered on MLSnet.com.  In addition, MLSnet.com was not offering 2010 youth jerseys which were available on the third party seller.  One important note, MLS apparently has the jerseys ready to ship, whereas, the third party seller was calling these “pre-order” items.  The site also had WPS 2010 apparel, with a slightly smaller selection than available on the league page.  The interface was easier to use on WorldSoccerShop.com than either of the league pages. Checkout procedures were virtually identical.

Back to Google and on to soccer.com/eurosport.  Here the interface was much worse than those discussed above.  Pricing was the same for most MLS gear, however the website was offering $7 dollars off 2010 MLS jerseys for those in the soccer.com “goal club”.  The goal club requires a one-time $24.99 fee.

Amazon.com had a very limited selection of MLS apparel, none of it particularly recent.  While most soccer fans wouldn’t go to Amazon.com for MLS gear, it is quite likely that parents of kids who express interest in soccer and MLS might go there first.  Thus, the lack of a presence on the premier online retailer is probably detrimental to the league.   Finally, we went to the Dick’s Sporting Goods page because of the  retailer’s long association with the league.   The 2010 jerseys are not being offered at Dick’s and there was a fairly limited selection of MLS merchandise.  Interestingly, the offerings were not consistent from team to team and we found navigating the page to be a bit challenging.

Overall, it appears that there are a large number of third party retailers where MLS and WPS gear is available online.  Where one shops likely comes down to preference, as there is not a significant price difference among the retailers.  In our next post on this topic, we will look at the re-sale and discount markets.