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.

A Wednesday Night in Foxboro

Eight MLS teams are in action tonight playing league games across the country. We are at Gillette tonight for the Revs/Chivas game, but we thought we would touch on business notes from all of the games before providing some thoughts from Foxboro. All four games bring clear weather, juicy matchups and disappointing crowds (10k on hand in DC and less than 6k in Foxboro).  For the second consecutive week, the MLS Game of the Week on ESPN2 is played before a sea of empty seats.  The Worldwide Leader made a concerted effort to schedule games that would provide good atmosphere for their national broadcasts, but after a paltry crowd last week in Dallas, winless DC United is proving to be a similar dismal draw.

It is a gorgeous night in Foxboro, MA.   After the teams warm-up and clear the field, the Revs run one of the strangest promotions in soccer history.  In conjunction with Ocean Spray, the Revs offer a young fan an opportunity to shoot a penalty shot to win a prize.  In theory, not a bad promotion, but it takes about 5 minutes to set up a screen in front of the goal towards which the fan must direct his shot.  Unfortunately, the hole for which the player must aim (in order to win) is about the diameter of two balls….a virtually impossible target.  Moreover, the prizes are not particularly appealing.

Gillette is one of the MLS stadiums where only the “TV Side” is opened to seating, with seats also available behind the goals.  Only one section of the upper level is open and the far side is tarped with ads for American Airlines, Ocean Spray and Lumbar Liquidators.  Sign boards for the usual league sponsors and a number of local sponsors frame the field.  Prior to the game the Revs offer a “Soccer Celebration” for young fans that includes bounce houses, face painting and other activities.  There is a also a sample of the Gillette Stadium turf with the Revolution logo for fans to test.

In Foxboro, the weather couldn’t be better, but the crowd is depressingly sparse with less than 6k announced attendance and seemingly less in the building.  The fans in the Fort are trying to make noise, but the 22nd minute stadium-wide McDonald’s ad over the PA system is the loudest sound around.  At the CBS Scene (a restaurant that is part of the Patriot Place complex), the Bruins game is playing a big screen visible from large parts of the stadium.  Behind the North, the Fort is in good form with newly added tarps consolidating the supporters into a tighter area than last year.

Halftime brings an on the field trivia contest hosted by the Revs Girls that affords another fan the opportunity to get on the field and win a Revs’ jersey. That is followed by a T-shirt toss by the Revs girls into the crowd….tonight, just about everyone gets one.  Not much to add after half…the night continues to be beautiful, the stadium empty and the home team continues to struggle.

Stadium Update: Houston, Vancouver & More

A couple of quick hits from the world of soccer stadium construction and development. In Houston, the Dynamo have selected their architect and project manager for the $80 million stadium.  The Dynamo have retained the services of architectural firm Populous, who was also recently retained to design the Kansas City Wizards stadium project. Populous also prepared the initial renderings for the project. The renderings are out.  An important aspect of the agreement as far as obtaining city approval is the participation of Texas Southern University.  Although negotiations are ongoing, it is expected that Texas Southern football will also use the stadium for at least 30 years and a $2.5 million investment.

In Vancouver, the future home of the Whitecaps is undergoing a significant makeover.  The bubble roof has been taken down in preparation for the retractable roof that will replace the current setup. As we have said before about Vancouver, the ownership group seems solid.  Mr. Kerfoot has long been a friend of soccer and Steve Nash adds glamour and splash to the ownership.  The owners have the money; Kerfoot is a billionare.  The Whitecaps have done well at the gate and the market is hungry for higher level soccer.   BC Place is well situated and the proposed soccer stadium is also in a solid location.

Finally, the new home of WPS’ Atlanta Beat opened to the public on May 2, 2010.  The 8,300 seat stadium will host its first home game on May 9, 2010.  The team will be the only WPS franchise playing in a facility built specifically for womens’ soccer

Soccer Business Bits: MLS Merchandise Sales, Posing in Briefs & More

The Sports Business Journal is reporting on MLS first quarter merchandise sales.  The article includes a number of interesting tidbits, including that the Union has already sold seven figures worth of merchandise this year and it is expected to reach eight figures.  The article also reports that MLS has tripled its reach into soccer speciality stores while adding to its footprint with big box retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart.  The article also reports that 1,000 MLS fans have purchased $249 Zune MP3 players with MLS logos.

We often discuss on this site that any exposure for soccer is good exposure, but this recent Vanity Fair spread stretches that argument.  Calling to mind a number of previous unfortunate soccer photos spreads that include American soccer players. More importantly, the magazine includes a number of features on the World Cup that will bring the beautiful game to the American mainstream.

Finally, MLS’s annual mini-tourney Futbolito is kicking off.  The 13 event tournament, presented by league sponsor Panasonic, attracted 50,000 players of all ages last year.  The competition is now eight years old.  Associate level partners include adidas, Degree Deodorant, Fox Sports en Español, Glidden Paints, Makita, NAPA Auto Parts, Pepsi, The Home Depot, Visa, Volkswagen and Xbox 360

The Monday After & Media Matters

We’ve decided to take a different approach to our Monday After posts from today forward.  Rather than focus on attendance, we thought we look at any business issues that arose over the weekend and focus on one or two significant “gates” on either the high side or low side.  We are also starting a new regular feature called “Media Matters” when we will comment on the presence of soccer coverage in mainstream media.  If you stumble across such coverage, feel free to drop us a line at footiebusiness@gmail.com

On to the weekend.  For MLS fans it was a great Saturday night on Direct Kick, with games kicking off at 7:30, 8:30, 9:00, 10:00 and 10:30.  Add in the FSC game from Houston and there was plenty of soccer to choose from.  Attendance was generally poor across the league despite generally good weather nationwide.  Perhaps most dissappointing was the 15,400 in Los Angeles where the undefeated Galaxy beat expansion Phill 3-1.  Los Angeles is off to a great start this year and the franchise generally draws well and has had plenty of games in the Beckham era near the 27k capacity at the Home Depot Center.

WPS attendance has also been disappointing this year.  The weekend was notable for the 8k that saw Washington win 3-1 at RFK.  The match was part of a doubleheader with stumbling DC United.  Less than 3k were in Philly for the expansion franchise’s win over fellow newcomer Atlanta.

A couple of notes in our media matters section.  Two soccer stories in the most recent edition of Sports Illustrated.  One was a great feature on Jozy Altidore.  With the World Cup 6 weeks away, we should anticipate a number of these types of features in mainstream publications.  The other piece was in the “Scorecard” section that analyzed MLS’ status at the gate.  The article provided a neat two sided argument that compared MLS to the NBA and NHL with respect to attendance and provided reasons both in support and against the staying power of American soccer.

Keeping with the media theme, ESPN has certainly ramped up its World Cup coverage across both the internet and television platforms.  Ads for the World Cup are omnipresent on all programming on the ESPN networks and ESPN.com is running an article every day.  The WorldWide leader has invested an enormous amount of money in the World Cup and they are working hard to push their coverage