MLS Sponsorships: A 2010 Summary

In a year dominated by CBA negotiations, MLS team and league sponsorships have gone largely unnoticed.  Continental Tire was added as a sponsor a couple of months back and has already featured prominently on broadcasts on both FSC and ESPN.  PPL was announced as the stadium sponsor for the new  arena in Philly and the Union have announced additional in-house official vendors such as Coke. However, there has been little movement elsewhere, with no new jersey sponsors announced and no additional presenting sponsors.

The Sports Business Journal is reporting that SUM is pursuing several “big” deals for MLS for the upcoming season, but to date, the most recent new sponsor to join the fold was Travelodge as sponsor of CONCACAF Champions League.  In the interim, SUM has opened three new relationships for its relationships with Mexican Soccer.

Do these lack of sponsorships matter?  Are the Revs, Union, etc… pursuing jersey sponsors?   Are teams looking to renew existing deals? What factors do teams consider? Recall our interview with Tim Martin of Gallagher Sports:

I’m fairly certain that any club without a jersey sponsor is actively pursuing one.  Its far too great of a potential financial resource not to be.  Each club, however, will assign a different value to the front of their shirt, and by value I don’t just mean a certain sum of money, but also cognizance of the brand they are associating themselves with.  This is very relatable to your first question in that it all comes down to the goals and objectives of the club.  It’s possible that these remaining clubs have had offers from multi level marketers, or casinos, or tobacco companies, and simply choose not to go into business with them due to an organizational belief system (I have no first-hand knowledge of any such offers, just using that as an example).

Soccer Business Bits: Man U All Stars?, Soccer Photos & More

The Sports Business Journal is reporting that Manchester United may be planning a return to the United States for a four city tour in the Summer.  According to the report, SUM and CAA Sports are working together to bring the famed club to the New World for the first time since 2004.  Proposed stops include Boston, Toronto, Philly and perhaps most importantly for MLS fans, Houston, for the 2010 MLS All-Star game.   CAA is looking to follow-up on its “Summer of Soccer” from 2009 that brought hundreds of thousands out to see top European clubs.  The All Star game is scheduled for Reliant stadium, and thus many expected a Mexican club to be the opponent.  Man U is a much bigger fish.

The SBJ is reporting that many top players for Man U may not be part of the trip,  Which players appear is a heated part of negotiations to bring foreign teams to US soil.  Typicaly, contracts require a certain number of top tier players as part of the traveling show. This is similar to MLB Spring training games where teams are forced to bring a certain number of regulars to away games.

According to this article, GettyImages and MLS have renewed their partnership to make Getty the “exclusive commercial photographic partner” of MLS.  Getty will provide photos from 480 MLS games in 2010.  In addition to league rights, the deal includes service to each of the MLS Clubs.  Thanks to MLS Rumors for the link.

Finally, Steve Goff is reporting that Gol TV will start broadcasting in HD on August 1.  It will be offered as a simulcast with the standard definition broadcast.

The Monday After: Week One

One full week is in the books and as is our custom, here are our business hits from the first round of games.   Perhaps the biggest issue of the weekend was the continuing problems with’s new Match Day Live.   Efforts to watch games live were consistently thwarted by freezing and re-sets.  Our own experience was similarly negative; efforts to watch the Friday night game online were repeatedly stymied.  There were also questions about how “free” the first two weeks of Match Day Live really are.   The free preview of Direct Kick went well and we were impressed by Allen Hopkins ability in the booth.

The website remains beset with problems.  Links lead to nowhere, content is still not updated for 2010 (2009 stats?) and the functionality is challenging.  Hopefully, the league will quickly move to fix some of the bigger problems.

With respect to attendance, the week started off quite well with more than 36k in Seattle for the First Kick opener despite a driving rain.  Chivas continued the good word, with more than 18k at the Home Depot Center for a 1-0 Rapids win.  In Dallas, barely 8k were at Pizza Hut Park for the Dynamo/FC Dallas matchup, a terrible number for a home opener.  In Columbus, a stronger (but still disappointing) 13,500 saw Columbus start with a 2-0 win over Toronto.

On Saturday night, the Red Bulls couldn’t quite muster a sell-out as just under 25k were at Red Bull Arena’s MLS debut.  KC played to 10,300 sell-out for their dominating performance over DC.  A similar 10,500 sell-out was also in San Jose where RSL went home the victor.  Finally, the weekend concluded with almost 22k at the Home Depot Center for the Galaxy victory over the Revs.

Overall, it was an unimpressive weekend for MLS attendance.  Dallas and Columbus posted poor numbers for the season opener, while Chivas, Los Angeles and Chivas did well.  The Red Bulls’ failure to sell-out was unfortunate, especially given recent efforts to promote the stadium.   Let us know your thoughts on the week’s attendance and atmosphere.

Broadcast Blogging: A Business Look at the First Kick Broadcast

The 2010 season is here, and we thought we would offer a business blog of the first broadcast.  Fortunately for MLS fans, the lead-in for ESPN2 was a highlight reel of Mike Tyson’s greatest knockouts, ensuring that the broadcast would start on time.  However, the game did go up against the NCAA tourney, including a game involving Washington and thus likely costing some Seattle based eyeballs.  The game was also played in the rain, impacting butts in the seat.

The game was preceded by a pre-game show presented by VW hosted by Stone and Lalas. The pair touched on the CBA agreement, the entry of Philly into MLS and the attendance in Seattle.  Beckham’s injury also featured as did the World Cup, changes in Houston and grass at BMO.  The first set of commercials included national advertisers VW, Red Bull and Bayer followed by local ads.  Second set of commercials included a feature on ESPN’s new announcer, Wendy’s, Dos Equis and Direct Kick.  First commercial from new MLS sponsor Continental Tire…also spots from Dunkin Donuts and Chrysler.

Booth intro does a good job of picking up the crowd noise.  Early camera issues on my television….with a portion of the corner scoreboard gone. I cannot see the corner ads unless I switch to the HD side.    Did I mention that the crowd mics are doing a good job?  Continental Tire sponsored a Harkes bit.  Allen Hopkins made his first appearance in the 7th minute.  First pimp of the Saturday night game in the 11th minute.  In the 15 minute a new ad appeared in the corner but it was too small to read.  Dick’s and Continental Tire get a shout out from the booth in the 35th minute.

Around the stadium, signage from X-Box, Bud, Panasonic, Makita and other is visible.  Halftime commercials include Dos Equis, McDonald’s and a series of local spots.  ESPN announced at half time that they will start their Saturday night game earlier to provide some color from Red Bull Arena.  For some reason, this game is not showing up on my tv menu.  Other half time commercials include VW, State Farm, Chili’s and local ads.

We will leave the blog here.  If something dramatic happens during the broadcast, we will update the post accordingly.

Promotions, Promotions, Promotions

With First Kick on the horizon, we thought we would offer our first look around the world of MLS promotions for the new season.  But first, a quick criticism of the league.  We know that the transition to is underway, but the league has seriously ignored  Last year’s standings are still featured and no schedule of opening weekend is on the front page (in fact the front page still features the 2009 championship). The fantasy game hasn’t been updated and last season’s goal scorers are still on the front page.

On to the promotions!  Chivas is promoting its Friday night opener by offering mini-soccer balls to the first 7,500 fans through the gate.  Perhaps more impressively, Chivas is offering a 4 ticket pack to the opener that includes 4 hot dogs, 4 hats and 4 tickets to the second home game of the season…all for $58.  Chivas was one of the most aggressive teams with respect to promotions last year and it appears they are moving in the same direction in 2010.

In Colorado, the Rapids are promoting their annual Rapids week, a 10 day series of public events leading to the home opener.  The events include an extremely creative idea, “a weeklong city-wide scavenger hunt, as the Rapids hide adidas Jabulani Rapids soccer balls in secret locations around the Denver metro area. Fans will be given clues to the balls’ location through the Rapids’ social media sites as to where to find them. Fans who discover the balls will not only get to keep their Jabulani but also find a note attached with a secret code to be able to redeem online for the chance to win tickets to Opening Day and have their ball signed by the Man of the Match down on the field!”

In Columbus, the Crew are promoting a first kick package that includes opening day tickets and a free scarf.

Soccer Stadium & Expansion Update

With Red Bull Arena (rightly) garnering all of the attention lately, some of the other stadium projects around the league are also moving forward.  In anticipation of the upcoming season, we thought it worthwhile to take a look at some of the other arenas coming through the pipeline.  Before we get there, we recommend checking this story about a possible Montreal expansion announcement on the near horizon.

The big stadium news of the day was a report that efforts to construct a stadium in Houston are moving forward thanks to a recent agreement between the City of Houston and Harris County to construct $20 million in infrastructure improvements.  The team will foot the bill for the additional cost of stadium construction.  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.   Another round of voting is required to move the project forward.

In San Jose it was announced last week that the city counsel has approved the re-zoning of 90+ acres near the airport to allow stadium construction to begin.  Referring to the plan as a “soccer stimulus package” a varied group supported the proposal before the board. The stadium is planned near the San Jose Airport and will reportedly required two years to construct from the date of the ground breaking.  The funding for the planned stadium has always been a bit fuzzy.  The city of San Jose had previously agreed to chop $40 million off the purchase price of a 75 acre parcel that will include the Stadium and additional mixed use development. We reported a while back that based on a request by owner Lew Wolff, Mr. Wolff will now pay $89 million for the site (purchased by the City for $81 million). The stadium will seat 15,000 (with additional seating for 3,000 more on a berm at the stadium’s open end) and will use 14 acres of the site.

Finally, in Philly stadium construction continues with PPL Park set to open in the Summer.  For construction images, click here.  Over the next few days, we will provide stadium updates from Kansas City, Portland and Vancouver

Soccer Business Bits: SUM Losing Mexico?, WPS All Star & More

Just some quick hitters today.  First, the Sports Business Journal is reporting that SUM’s rights to its second biggest property, its contract to represent the Mexican Football Federation in the United States, is set to expire at the end of the year.  The FMF relationship has been a cash cow for SUM (and by extension MLS).  According to SBJ, competitors for the valuable FMF rights have offered more than seven figures annually along with revenue sharing for the opportunity to promote and sell a team that can draw six figures attendance against any opponent.  In the past, SUM has used its relationship with FMF and FIFA to leverage relationships with MLS.  The loss of FMF could be a big loss for SUM and its investors.

In WPS news, the league announced that it would showcase its soccer specific stadium in Atlanta on June 30, 2010 with its second annual all star game.  The United States Coasat Guard is the presenting sponsor and the match will be televised  live on FSC. In a unique twist, the captains and coaches for the game will “choose up” sides in a broadcast event prior to the game.

In DC, Steve Goff is reporting that DC United is continuing the off season trend of signing academy products to the senior team.  Andy Najar joins keeper Bill Hamid to fill United’s second academy graduate spot.  Importantly, Najar has been signed to a Generation Adidas deal ensuring that he will be able to puruse a college education if professional soccer doesn’t work out for the 17 year old. Over the last year, teams have been aggressive in signing their academy products, a great sign for MLS and the future of American soccer.  Unfortunately, with the suspension of the reserve league, query whether these young players will get enough game action to stay sharp.

The CBA: Anatomy of an Announcement

As most everyone in the American soccer community knows, MLS and the Players Union reached an 11th hour deal on a new  Collective Bargaining Agreement soon before an announced strike was set to commence.  While we will discuss the details of the new agreement as the specifics “(including the “re-entry” draft) are revealed, we thought we would take a quick look at the methodology used by the league to announce the deal and examine the mainstream media coverage of the agreement.

Mid-morning on Saturday, word started to leak out that a deal was close, with an AP story hitting a couple of websites.  Soon thereafter, about 10:30 a.m., MLS issued a press e-mail alerting media outlets that a 1:00 conference call would be held and that Commissioner Garber, Union head Bob Foose and mediator George Cohen.  In the next couple of hours, the soccer Twitter world went wild, but details of the deal were pretty well contained.

At 1:00, the conference call started with an announcement that a few additional minutes were needed but that at least 100 media were involved in the call (the actual number was closer to 150).  Finally, at a about ten after 1:00 Commissioner Garber announced the news while providing very limited specifics.  Most of his remarks were devoted to thanking the various participants, but he did lay out the framework of the deal.  Bob Foose followed, and after a couple of statements indicating that the Union got they wanted, he too offered thanks and compliments to all those involved.  The final speaker was the mediator, and Mr. Cohen talked a bit about his theory of mediation and appreciate for the hard work shown by all involved.

After that, the media was permitted to ask questions (13) in all and despite the more than 150 media involved, the questions were asked by the usual suspects.   Grant Wahl, Beau Dure, Steve Goff, Reuters and Jeff Carlisle went first, followed by the AP, Boston Globe, Columbus Dispatch, Philly Inquirer and ESPN (again).  The last three came from AOL, SBJ and Sun Media.  Prior to the Canadian outlet’s question, Landon Donovan offered a few words.

That closed out the call, but the story then went mainstream. CNNSI and ESPN featured the news on their front page, as did the ESPN bottom line.  The front page of the Boston Globe carried the story as did other local and major newspapers and plenty of local television.  Not surprisingly, the blogosphere went crazy with fans weighing in on both sides of the issue but collectively relieved.

Late that night, Red Bull Arena opened with a bang (FSC camera issues notwithstanding) and teams around the league finalized their preseasons in advance of First Kick.  It will be interesting to see whether a spate of sponsorship deals get announced in the wake of the CBA announcement, but the timing of the deal achieved maximum effect for purposes of publicity.  MLS is in the news just days before the start of the season, a publicity windfall, especially since most American sports fans were not aware of the labor issues.

CBA: We Have a Deal!

Per a conference call with MLS, MLSPU and George Cohen, it has been announced that MLS and its Player’s Union have reached an agreement on a 5 year Collective Bargaining Agreement.

RSL Marketing: The Student Market

We’ve repeatedly commented on RSL’s innovative marketing efforts and aggressive efforts to increase attendance.  RSL has continued these efforts with the recent announcement of a student punch card offered to students at UVU, U of U and BYU campuses.  The punch cards will cost $75 and will entitle the holder to attend each RSL home game.  In the alternative, fans can pass the card around at the gate allowing multiple fans to share the same punch card (i.e. the 15 games can be used for one match or 15). RSL will smartly position the students with the loudest fans to improve their experience and keep them coming back. $5 tickets are a great way to promote teams in the community and build brand loyalty with future fans.

Many MLS teams are located in “college towns”.  Are those franchises using similar mechanisms to bring fans to the game.  There are more than 70 degree granting institutions in Boston.  Are the Revs offering such a product to fill the cavernous Gillette Stadium?  Many teams offer college discounts but RSL is working hard to take the game to campuses.

This has been another successful offseason for RSL with respect to marketing.  Despite solid attendance last year and a championship on the field, RSL is continuing to take steps to promote its product and find new fans.  As part of those efforts, the MLS Cup tour continues.  RSL is bringing the trophy to just about every county in the State of Utah in a great combination of celebration and promotion.  Kudos to RSL for continuing innovative efforts to market their franchise and grow their fanbase.