Henry is Coming?

Even with MLS starting up over the weekend, most American soccer fans remain focused on South Africa.  However, as soon as the World Cup ends, the “silly season” starts with the international transfer window opening on July 15.  Prominent players from around the globe will be making moves and gearing up for the long European club seasons.  However, MLS promises to be a prominent player in the transfer market this year with new DP rules and the prospect of World Cup Stars coming state-side. At the same time, we could see some players heading out with multiple Landon Donovan rumors and the understanding that Jonathan Borenstein will move to Atlante.

As part of the incoming, it appears that the long rumored Thierry Henry signing is just days away, with multiple reports of his release from Barcelona.  Henry will now come to New York without a transfer.    At 32, Henry will immediately become the league’s 2nd most prominent player in history and will provide an instant shot of attention to the Red Bulls and MLS.  Unfortunately, the French implosion in South Africa and Henry’s limited role (two appearances off the bench), did little to boost his name recognition among casual fans.

It will be interesting to see how Henry’s image is used by league sponsors to market their products.  Will he become a household name to mainstream soccer fans?  Will companies other that Gillette pony up dollars to put Henry in front of American eyeballs?

Soccer Business Bits: BMO Stays on as Sponsor, Portland Tickets & More

The Sports Business Journal is reporting that BMO has re-upped its sponsorship of Toronto FC through the 2015 season.  BMO will remain on the front of the TFC jersey.  The deal is worth a reported $4 million per year, a dramatic increase over the previous $1 million to $1.5 million.  The deal also puts TFC with the Galaxy at the top of the sponsorship pyramid.   Right now, nine franchises (plus Red Bull) have jersey sponsors with deals ranging from $1 million to the Galaxy’s $4-5 million.

This is good news for MLS.  BMO represents the second renewal for the league (after RSL).  The bank is making a significant statement about their belief in the future of Major League soccer.  However, with a number of teams still waiting for sponsors and a number of renewals are coming due.  The next year will be an important indicator of the league’s attractiveness to potential sponsors.  In the article, SBJ also reports that Canadian broadcasts are averaging 50-100k viewers per game.

In Portland, the Timbers are reporting that ticket sales and corporate investment are ahead of schedule. Merritt Paulson is reporting that more than 7,000 season ticket deposits have been put down.  He also also indicated that the franchise will likely cap season ticket sales at around 12k.

Finally, initial reports are very positive about the PPL Park’s opening. Click here to for one take on the City of Chester’s view of the stadium.

The Monday After & Some World Cup Ratings

The big soccer story of the weekend took place in South Africa, but with MLS back in action there were a number of story lines in domestic soccer that deserve mention.  Sunday afternoon saw the opening of the PPL park in Chester, PA and the park looked great on television.  ESPN did a nice job with the telecast using Glenn Davis and rising star Kyle Martino in the booth.  The announced sell out crowd (looked a little short on the screen) was in full voice and the field and views looked great.  It also appeared that the ESPN broadcast included some new national sponsors (including Wendy’s) which would be a good sign for the league.  ESPN’s limited plugging of the match during their World Cup broadcasts seemed a little short.  Attendance around MLS was fairly solid with good crowds seemingly everywhere except Houston.

The early US/Ghana ratings are in and the numbers were great for ABC.  The preliminary ratings suggest that just under 15 million people watched the match on ABC. These numbers represent an increase over the England/USA match and are the high water mark for the tournament.   From a ratings standpoint, this is likely the highest number until the final for the World Cup.  These numbers do not include viewers for Univision which could bring the total number up over 20 million.  Statistically, San Diego has continued to be the top market for the USA matches.

Promotions, Promotions Promotions & Some Ticket News

MLS is back this weekend, so we thought we would take a quick look at promotional efforts around the league in advance of the weekend games.  In Houston, the Dynamo will offer a ticket promotion in honor of outgoing President and GM Oliver Luck.  The team will offer $10 tickets for certain seats to honor Luck’s Number 10 jersey from his days on the Houston Oilers.  This will be Luck’s last game before he takes over as athletic director for West Virginia.

In Columbus, the Crew are offering a “Play Harder” pack that offers tickets to 4 games and a t-shirt for $60. At the same time, the June 26 match against DC is one of the Columbus “Buck a Brat” nights.  The promotion is sponsored by the food chain Bob Evans.

Finally, Chivas USA is offering tickets for as low as $7.50 for their Saturday night game against Dallas.  There will a Disney half time show at the game and the promotion is available for the purchase of one adult and one child ticket.

In Portland, the Oregon Business Journal is reporting that the Portland Timbers have received more than 1,000 season ticket deposits over the last 10 days.   Season ticket prices for the inaugural 2011 campaign will range from $99 to $1500.

The Tipping Point: Covering the Coverage

With the massive amount of coverage generated by the National Team’s inspiring run through the World Cup, we thought we would take a look at how some of the mainstream media (non sports) outlets are covering the victory over Algeria.  The New York Times provided excellent coverage of the match with front page coverage of the game and this outstanding collection of American fan reactions at bars across the country.

The Donovan goal was the most popular story on USAToday.com and the paper devoted significant coverage to the American victory.  Even the USA Today “Oval Blog” posted on the White House reaction to the victory.  The US victory was the headline story on yahoo.com for most of the day on Wednesday and the trend continued with a lead story on the relationship between Landon Donovan and his ex-wife.

If you believe those who say that when you have Drudge you have the American people, soccer has arrived, as the American victory featured prominently on the site.  The New York Post got in on the Act with their usual clever headlines.  Salon.com featured the game with an outstanding article about the meaning of the event and just about every newsaper in the country featured the game prominently with many using staff writers rather than AP or Reuters.

We’ll close with with the New York Mets game where play-by-play man Gary Cohen (an admitted non-soccer fan) stated that it was one of the best sporting events he had ever seen.  The World Cup has certainly grabbed America’s attention.  The question remains whether this will simply be a World Cup fad or a trend towards acceptance of the beautiful game.

Soccer Business Bits: NY Times Signs a Deal, Graphing the Cup

The New York Times announced a deal with California based Match Analysis to provide real time, data and statistics from the 2010 World Cup.  While the timing of the deal seems strange, the arrangement will give the Tiems access to a continuous stream of match and player data.  Match Analysis assigns five analysts to each game and then creates a library of real time and stored information.  According to the official press release, Match Analysis has worked with all current MLS franchises and a number of national teams.

British website Knowyourmoney.co.uk has produced an interesting graph looking at the economics of the World Cup.  The graph looks at the cost of stadium improvements and the investment of sponsors in the tournament.  Some notable numbers include the amount of investment of the different levels of corporate sponsors and partners and the $1.6 billion total sponsorship revenue generated by the tournament. The graph further indicates that the total cost of the Cup is $3.5 billion.

Finally, we recommend checking out this recent piece from Time Magazine on the television ratings at the World Cup.  The article looks at the impact of the World Cup’s recent popularity on MLS and soccer in the United States.

World Cup: By the Numbers

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting theory the 2010 World Cup is grabbing a large portion of the American sports pie.  Americans are discussing the World Cup around the office, media outlets are carrying increasing coverage and bars are filling at odd hours nationwide for matches involving all teams.  The ratings complete the story.

We reported earlier on the numbers from the early parts of the tournament.  The opening game of the 2010 World Cup (played before breakfast on the West Coast), averaged 5.4 million viewers on Univision and 2.6 million on ESPN. The Univision broadcast was the number 1 program of the day in more than five US Cities.  The USA/England game on ABC averaged just under 13 million viewers and was the fifth most watched soccer match in ABC history.  For purposes of comparison, game 4 of the NBA finals on ABC achieved an estimated 16 million viewers on Thursday night, making it far and away the most highly viewed show of the week.  Neither number factors in “mass audiences” .

The ratings have continued, with Reuters reporting that through the first 14 matches of the World Cup, ESPN and ABC have delivered an average crowd of 3.35 million viewers, marking a 64% increase from the same period in 2006, when the networks drew 2.9 million fans.  Univision has shown similar success across all platforms, with Reuters further reporting that through June 15 Univision.Futbol.com had tracked 6 million visits in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, double its 2006 traffic. The site averaged 250,000 unique viewers during live matches, peaking with 130,000 concurrent users during the Brazil-North Korea match.

Excellent ratings have continued during weekday games, with almost 4 million viewers watching the USA/Slovenia match on Friday morning. The broadcast shattered records for ESPNradio.com and ESPN3.com. with almost 1 million viewers spending more than 45 minutes on the site during the early broadcast.

These numbers are excellent and promise to increase as the tournament moves forward.  A USA run through the tournament would significantly increase ratings and ESPN is likely salivating at the possibility of a USA weekend match should the Americans qualify for the round of 16.  Regardless, ESPN will expect great ratings as the tournament moves into the final stages.

The Tipping Point? What Should MLS Do?

Over the last two weeks, ESPN has bludgeoned mainstream American sports fans with its outstanding coverage of the World Cup. This has included all platforms, including the game broadcasts, pre-game shows, Sportcenter, ESPN Radio, website and more.  Other national outlets such as Sports Illustrated and USA Today have also provided extensive coverage of the tournament.  Prominent and local newspapers have also featured the matches extensively and the games have also featured on local television and radio.

Soccer has definitely been elevated to the forefront of the American sporting landscape in June, 2010.  World Cup games are now water cooler fodder and sports fans of all stripes are displaying more than a passing interest in the beautiful game.  The question facing the teams of MLS, is how to capitalize on the current prominence of the sport.  Is this simply a passsing fancy (similar to the Olympic games), or will soccer have more staying power?

We’ll look at this question a number of times over the next few weeks, but we thought it worth starting with the players on the field.  Are there players that MLS can bring in that will attract the interest of either non-MLS soccer fans or fans who became intersted in the sport through the World Cup? Should these players be American or foreign?  Must they be goal scorers to attract attention?  What role will ESPN coverage play in the drawing power of a particular player?

Let us know your thoughts on this.  Either post below or send us an e-mail to footiebusiness@gmail.com.  What can MLS do to use the World Cup as a springboard?

Soccer Business Bits: Salaries Revealed, Portland Ticket Prices & More

With a new collective bargaining agreement in place, the MLS players Union has released player salary figures for the 2010 campaign.  Some of the significant numbers include the new minimum salary of $40k per season, the exceptionally low number for Barros Schelloto, the amount of money the Revs have tied up in injured players and more.  The list also provides insight into the remarkable salary discrepancies between international caliber players like David Beckham ($5.5 million) and Jonathan Borenstein ($100k).

In Portland, the Timbers have announced ticket prices for their inaugural MLS season in 2011.  Season ticket prices range from a remarkably low $99 to a fairly high $1500 per seat.  There are few of the $99 tickets and some of those include obstructed views.  The tickets are priced on a 20 home game season.  Sections designated for the Timbers Army are priced at $360 for the season. Like other teams featuring new stadiums, Portland is also offering an interactive seat selection feature.

Multiple sources are reporting that MLS will greet its newest Designated Player on July 15 when Montenegrin midfielder Branko Boskovic joins DC United.  While Boskovic is not a household name, his signing may represent the start of a fairly active DP period in the next month.  MLS teams now have access to multiple DP’s that allow a number of signings of high profile or expensive players.

Footiebusiness Vault: Interview with Cara Joftis

On the road today so we thought we would revisit a post from a few months back.

We are now about a few weeks away from the Philadelphia Union’s stadium opener..  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.