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.

Valencia Coming to Town

Multiple sources are announcing that La Liga powerhouse Valencia will be the latest European club team to travel the United States to play MLS teams during the Summer.  While lacking some of the cache of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia is a quality side that will draw significant interest from fans in Philly and potentially DC where the team is set to play.

These matches are part of the summer ritual in MLS.  These teams criss-cross the United States preparing for their season by playing MLS sides and each other. Last year, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Everton were among the European powers crossing the pond to participate in an American Summer.  Not surprisingly, these games are not all about soccer.  The European teams are desperate to spread their brand to an American audience in an effort to collect fans and sell jerseys on these fertile shores.

At the same time, MLS teams can generate a large pay day by selling seats to see the foreign teams play (and these European teams don’t come for free).  MLS squads view these games as an invaluable oportunity to showcase their talents (and very existence) to soccer fans in the States who typically ignore MLS.  Some teams believe so strongly in these opportunities, that they readily shift MLS regular season matches to accomodate the games. Recall that the Galaxy made the AC Milan friendly an important part of their Beckham negotations.  Interestingly, some teams readily participate in these matches (Seattle, Los Angeles), while others show no interest (the Revs have vehemently denied that Valencia will be stopping in Foxboro).

Overall, we think that these games are great for MLS. Every time that a fan of a team like Valencia, Barcelona or Chelsea enjoys their experience at an MLS game, is an opportunity to create a fan who comes back to see the players for their local side.  Moreover, these events typically generate substantial revenue for the MLS Sides.  The touring season starts this weekend in Harrison with Santos

Soccer Business Bits: Red Bull Stadium Update, Philly Sponsor & More

This weekend marks the opening of Red Bull Arena, as New York takes on Brazilian side Santos in a pre-season match-up.  The sell-out will be broadcast on both MSG and FSC.  The planed “soft” opening last weekend was canceled because of the terrible weather in the NY Metro area.   FSC will also broadcast its annual MLS season preview on Friday night at 8:00.

In Philly, the Union have announced a multi-year deal with Horizon Services.  The Delaware based residential HVAC company is also a Phillies sponsor.  Last week the Union officially introduced PPL as its stadium naming partner.  PPL will also get hospitality events and experiences at the stadium, TV and radio advertising, signage boards and sponsorship rights in the youth soccer programs in which the Union have a foothold.   The terms of Horizon’s deal have not yet been revealed.  Soft drink king Coke was also announced as PPL Park’s official soft drink and Dasani as the official water.

Finally, the Sports Business Journal is reporting that “matchups” are the key factor behind ESPN’s return to Thursday night soccer.  2/3 of the ESPN broadcasts will be on Thursday nights compared to less than 30% last year.  We wrongly panned the decison to move away fro a defined night last year.  According to the SBJ, “viewership on ESPN2 rose 12.8 percent through 25 games during the 2009 season with an average of more than 290,000 viewers tuning in, up from an average of 253,000 during the 2008 season.”

MLS Website Changes to be Announced

MLS is getting set to unveil its new website at www.MLSsoccer.com.  According to the Sports Business Journal, “the new site is the centerpiece of a retooled digital strategy that brings the league’s Internet rights and management in-house.” Previously, the MLS website was maintained as part of a deal with MLB Advanced Media.  Now all teams and league sites will be under direct control of MLS with an assist from Rocket Fuel, a New York based consultant.

As part of the new website, MLS will offer an out of network game package for $39.95 for the season. The new package will include DVR functionality and HD quality.  Much of the video content will be free, including archived footage, highlights and more.   MLS has been substantially increasing its online content over the past few years and the new content adds higher quality and better offerings.

Other highlights of the site will include Spanish language content at FutbolMLS.com.  Perhaps most interestingly, each team will have its own editorial independence despite the common platform.  This will change the current practice, where most teams are on the current platform, while others (like the Revs and Rapids) are on their own site.

We think this is a great move for MLS.  We have previously discussed how soccer fans and media are extremely reliant on the internet for information and coverage.  Because soccer gets limited exposure in mainstream media and because many fans follow teams overseas, the internet is the key tool for following the beautiful game.  MLS is taking an important step to connect with its fanbase.  Having a top notch website is an important step to keeping its fans involved, but ultimately it comes down to content.  MLS is investing much of its editorial decision making in former Revs broadcaster Greg Lalas.  Technology is great, but ultimately, content drives traffic.

We’re on Twitter!: And Some WPS News

Before we get down to business, we just wanted to let you know that Footiebusiness is on Twitter as….Footiebusiness!  After more than a year of covering the business of American soccer, we thought it was time to make the full leap to twitter.  We hope you will follow us.  If you are on Twitter, drop us a line in the comments section or via e-mail (footiebusiness@gmail.com) and let us know your Twitter Account.

Big news out of WPS.  The Women’s league has announced Citi as an official “founding partner”    joining original founding partner PUMA.  As part of the arrangement, Citi’s logo will be on the back of every WPS jersey. The press release also notes that season ticket sales for the returning teams are up about 17%

It has been an interesting offseason for the league.  WPS signature franchise Los Angeles Sol announced that it will cease operations and not participate in the 2010 season, despite being the only WPS team with a jersey sponsor.  The deal, with Amway International, included the Amway name on the jersey, stadium signage and placement on an array of Sol items.   At the same time, the expansion Atlanta franchise will be the first to play in a soccer specific stadium built for a WPS franchise.  The 8,300 seater is less than 30 miles from downtown Atlanta.   The stadium will cost less than $20 million to construct and will host both the Beat and Kennesaw State University Women’s soccer team.  The stadium is designed to increase to 16k for purposes of concerts and is expected to host NCAA events.  Click here for images of the stadium.

In its second season, WPS has added teams, sponsors, ticket sales and a stadium.  Things are certainly looking up for year two.  We will keep you posted on business developments from WPS as the season gets closer and during the heart of the campaign.