The MondayAfter

On the road today, so just a quick hitter to review the weekend.  Thankfully, it was a quiet business weekend in the world of American soccer with MLS and WPS seasons in full swing and the World Cup less than one month away.  The best word to describe attendance this weekend was “solid” with most teams drawing at about the numbers predicted prior to the season.  The same held true in WPS where on St. Louis was a disappointing outlier with less than 2500 fans in attendance.

There were some changes North of the Border, where the Canadian Soccer Association held its annual meeting.  Significant changes were made in  the structure of Canadian soccer and the governance of the CSA.  For a great breakdown of the changes and potential impact of the changes, click here.

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World Cup 2010: Interview with Steven and Harrison Stark

Steven Stark and Harrison Stark are the authors of World Cup 2010: The Indispensable Guide to Soccer and Geopolitics recently published by Blue River Press.   The book combines humor, soccer knowledge and a bit history to discuss the World Cup from a variety of angles.  In addition to in depth previews of each team, the book also provides discussion on the politics of hosting, the background of the tournament and offers some predictions on the result.  The first part of the book provides context for the event, while the team guides will be a great companion for  fans looking for insight into the teams on the field.

The Starks were kind enough to take a few questions from us about their book, the politics of the World Cup and the games coming to South Africa.  Thanks to the Starks for a few minutes.

Footiebusiness.com: The book discusses the impact of the first African World Cup and addresses the politics, geography and climate that will make 2010 unique.  Recent reports indicate that ticket sales for South Africa are falling well short of expectations. How do you believe those elements that make South Africa a such a unique destination for the World Cup are affecting ticket sales?  Why are fans staying away?

Steven Stark/Harrison Stark:  There are a couple of things going on here.  It’s a long trip to South Africa for everyone – and an expensive one too. We’re in the middle of the worst economic downturn in over a half century, so money is tight. And, any time you put the World Cup in a locale that is not one of the leading industrial nations of the world, some people are going to be scared away.

For the home nation, we write in the book that like everything else in South Africa, the nation’s attitude to the sport is inextricably tied to the history of apartheid. Most whites in South Africa are more cricket and rugby fans than soccer ones. So that’s a sizable part of a potential audience, too, that may not be buying tickets.


FB: In addition to the geopolitical and historical elements, the book also provides detailed information on each team coming to South Africa.  Was the book  written for the “hard core” soccer fan or someone watching soccer for the first time.  How did you balance the difference in knowledge and interest among your target readers?

SS/HS:  We tried to reach both audiences. In a sense, the chapter introductions may be more geared to a first-time fan (along with the country profiles), while the team discussions are more geared to the hard core fan.

FB: The book offers a series of predictions about the results and classifies teams based on their level of expectation.  What is your basis for those predictions?

SS/HS: Well, we watch a lot of soccer and read a lot about it too. But in the book, we make the point that the World Cup is unusual in that pedigree tends to count for an enormous amount in trying to determine who will do well. A very small set of countries – namely Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Italy – tends to dominate this tournament. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win again but they’re always the best bets.

FB: What efforts have been made to market the book?  Have you been doing book signings and radio/TV interviews?  What types of stores will be carrying the book?

SS/HS: Hopefully the book is available everywhere, both on line in places such as Amazon and in stores. We are doing a tour featuring New England, New York, and California and we will be doing a fair number of radio/TV interviews. Information about all those is available on the book website (http://worldcupsoccervoice.blogspot.com/) and on booktour.com . We’re also analyzing the Cup for realclearsports.com.

FB: The cover depicts two prominent players (Ronaldinho and Beckham) who will not feature for their national teams? Was thought given to changing the cover to reflect that reality?  Do you think that “hard core” fans will be turned off by the cover photo?

SS/HS: Don’t judge the book by its cover! Yes Beckham got hurt after we had gone to press. But no, it’s too late to change things now.

FB: Finally, given soccer’s place on the American sports landscape, why do Americans purchase more tickets than any other country for the World Cup?  What does that mean for the future of the game in the United States?

SS/HS: It’s certainly a hopeful sign but one shouldn’t read too much into it. As we said before, this is a hard Cup for anyone to get to, and we’re a wealthy and large country so we have more fans available who can make the trip. Last year’s run to the Confederations Cup final may also have convinced some Americans that this team has a chance to do well.

Soccer Business Bits: Fox Soccer Ratings, Castrol Joins SUM & More

In an article addressing ratings for the MLB network, the Sports Business Journal reports that FSC is the lowest rated of the Nielsen rated sports channel.  From March 29 until April 25, FSC averaged less than 50k viewers in prime time.  MLSB Network was the second lowest, with just under 100k viewers in prime time.  However, given that much of FSC’s programming involves European soccer games that broadcast outside the 8-11 prime time window, the numbers are not surprising. The MLB rating includes occassional live broadcasts that included a Yankees-Red Sox game.   FSC’s three highest rated broadcasts in the same period were all over 215,000 viewers for specific European/EPL matches.

The Sports Business Journal is also reporting that FIFA sponsor Castrol has signed a two year deal with SUM that includes rights to the US and Mexian National Teams and MLS.  Castrol marketing will me directed to Hispanic fans and will include ads, appearances and other avenues.  MLS players will also be added to the Castrol Index.   This is a neat compartive device that includes players from some of the world’s biggeest leagues.

Finally, take a look at these ESPN World Cup promos.

Gambling On MLS: Part II

Yesterday we took a look at MLS gambling in Las Vegas.  Today, we will examine the opportunities to wager on Major League Soccer online.  Before we get into online gaming, it is important to note that there are serious issues with the legality of  gambling on the internet.  There are plenty of web resources that address this issue and we certainly recommend that you review that content and fully understand  the legal ramifications of online gaming depending on you country of residence and other factors.

With that said, opportunties to wager on MLS abound on the internet.   Many of the popular online sportsbooks offer lines for MLS and plenty of other soccer wagers.  The lines for MLS appear to fluctuate somewhat from site to site, but are generally consistent across the web.  It is difficult to say how much “action” the games get, and there are sites that don’t offer MLS wagering at all.  We sent inquiries to sites that didn’t offer games to determine whether they would ofer MLS betting and they quickly promised to offer such betting.   However, we question whether there is signifcant interest in gambling on MLS because most bettors don’t feel qualified to make such bets.

As we said yesterday, the lack of betting seems like a small thing, but gambling presents an important opportunity to bring eyeballs to the League.   MLS may not want to admit it, but gambing interest generates excitement and interest in sporting events.  It is our understanding that it is almost impossible to gamble online because of the restrictions on funding accounts.

We welcome your thoughts on online gambling on MLS.  Is there a market for MLS wagering?  Is there opportunity?

Please let us know your thoughts.

Gambling on MLS: A Two Part Series

For the last few years, LasVegas has been a popular candidate for MLS expansion.  Right now, that seems unlikely, but Vegas remains the go-to destination for legal sports gambling in the United States: unless you want to bet on MLS.  During a recent trip to Sin City, we went “sports book hopping” looking for betting lines on MLS matches  They were nowhere to be found.  We took a look at this issue briefly last year.  We will look at gambling in Vegas tonight and look at online options tomorrow.

In Vegas, you can bet the PGA, NASCAR and the first five innings of any baseball game, but MLS is not an option.  However, in every sports book I we saw, you could bet the EPL and there are World Cup prop bets aplenty.  When we spoke to Casino workers they indicated that they get very few inquiries for MLS betting.  Given the lack of interest, Vegas has little motivation to invest the time and energy into setting lines for MLS games.

The lack of betting seems like a small thing, but gambling presents an important opportunity to bring eyeballs to the League.  The NFL is incredibly popular, in large part because of the easy betting it provides.  In England, EPL betting is an enormous enterprise and adds excitement for millions.  MLS may not want to admit it, but getting itself into Vegas sports books would be an important step for the League.  Of course, it is bit of a chicken and egg issue; if nobody wants to bet the games, Vegas has little motivation to create lines.  Nevertheless, having gamblers interested in the League could allow the League to grow its TV audience.

The Monday After

Perhaps the biggest business news from the soccer weekend was the announcement  that storied Scottish club Glasgow Rangers is withdrawing from its 2010 American tour.  The tour was intended to include matches against Celtic in Boston and DC United at RFK.  The BBC article references the recent Boston Globe article that criticized Rangers’ fans and ultimately forced the Globe to withdraw the article and issue an apology.

Attendance across the league was varied with more than 10k in Dallas and the usual big numbers in Toronto in Seattle.  We’ve already discussed the sub 6k number on Wednesday in New England, so we thought we would focus on the solid numbers in Salt Lake City, where the defending champs are on pace to crush the attendance from 2009.  RSL is averaging 15,600 this year, up 25% from the first three games of 2009.  We’ve discussed RSL’s 2010 marketing efforts with team Marketing Director Davy Ratchford and it appears those efforts are paying off.  RSL is an exciting franchise to watch, as it garners significant press attention in its “smallish” market and puts an outstanding product on the field.  We will continue to monitor RSL’s attendance as the season moves into the summer.

The big attendance story for the weekend was the amount of empty seats in Atlanta for the Beat’s home opener against Sky Blue in WPS action.  While the crowd looked solid, you always hope to sell-out a stadium in its inagural match.  That said, kudos to WPS for streaming the game live and for free on the league website.

One final note.  The Seattle Sounders’  response to their big loss over the weekend to Los Angeles wasn an MLS first.  The team announced that season ticket holders will be refunded their money (i.e. credited on their account for next year).  This is a great P.R. move even if it is a bit strange.  Teams have bad games and franchises typically don’t offer refunds, but in this case the team will buy some good will with its fans while making headlines in media outlets across the country.

Welcome to the Party Montreal

The big story in MLS is the arrival of Montreal as the league’s 19th franchise. Although the announcement is scheduled for Friday afternoon, multiple sources are reporting the news.   The Impact are scheduled to start play in 2012 and will join Toronto and Vancouver as Canadian franchises.  Long rumored, the move to Montreal immediately provides MLS with a promising franchise and a fervent fan base.  The Impact regularly attract 10k as a second division club suggesting that numbers closer to 20k are possible in MLS.

Montreal has shown an ability to support soccer (remember that big Canada Cup crowd) and is close to securing a 21k soccer specific stadium. A third Canadian team would create a nice rivalry and Saputo is solid potential owner.  However, with Vancouver and Portland right around the corner, there is a question whether the League can handle another franchise so quickly.  The dilution of the talent pool is a big concern.  That said, Montreal would be a great venue for MLS. MLS will now have a huge footprint in Canada and provide a home team for an enormous swath of the Canadian population (big for TV dollars).

The plan is to expand the current 13k stadium to a capacity of about 21k for MLS matches.  Two years should be plenty of time for such an expansion. The Impact already have games scheduled against AC Milan and Fiorentina this Summer at Olympic Stadium and the looming entrance to MLS should provide extra eyeballs on those matches as the Montreal crowds gear up for first division football.

The Montreal move is a no-brainer.  There is no city in the US or Canada more likely to avidly support soccer than Montreal.  The big question is whether another city will join Montreal in 2012 or whether the league will wait for the perfect opportunity.