Soccer Business: Banks Galore and More

Over the last couple of days, both of Major League Soccer’s 2011 expansion teams have made key “Founding Partner” announcements involving local banking institutions.  The Portland Timbers announced that Key Bank will be the exclusive banking partner of the Timbers starting in 2011.  The relationship will include a Key Bank Club and Plaza at the Timbers’ newly renovated home. The Key Bank Club wiull be located at midfield and will include a full service restaurant and indoor/outdoor seating areas.

Not to be outdone, Vancouver announced BMO as its initial founding partner.  The four year deal will focus on the Whitecaps youth soccer initiatives and will give BMO a relationship with both of Canada;s MLS franchises.  The relationship will include opportunities for more than 100 local youths to participate in events surrounding Whitecaps home matches at the newly renovated BC Place.  Speaking of the Vancouver, the team also stated that the team has surpassed 15,000 season ticket deposits this week.  Given historical conversion rates of deposits, this figure bodes well for 2011 Whitecaps attendance.

Finally, kudos to ESPN for its rotating studio show in MLS pre-games.  They’ve relied up on Angel, McBride and Twellman in the last couple of weeks and the variety has added to the show.  So far, Bretos and Lalas have been willing to ask the tough questions of the players to which fans want answers.

MLS Playoff Broadcast Schedule

Major League Soccer has announced its broadcast schedule for the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs.  Every game of the first round will be part of a national broadcast with ESPN/ESPN2 showing 4 games, FSC showing 2 games and Telefutura showing 2 games.  The Telefutura matches will also be shown on the respective teams local broadcast partners.

Not surprisingly, the Galaxy/Sounders match gets two games on the Worldwide Leader including the lone ESPN match.  The 8:00 p.m. start time probably runs into some Halloween conflicts across the country, but it is nice to see all games starting at a reasonable hour on the East Coast.  Both of those matches promise large crowds and energized environments which should make for good television.  The Halloween game does go up against Sunday Night Football and the World Series, but will probably offer commerical relief for fans of the traditional sports.  Catching a glimpse of Beckham/Donovan or the scene at Qwest will provide a benefit to the league.

Telefutura and ESPN2 will flip the San Jose/New York matchups and Columbus Colorado.  As we have previously stated, the Thursday night New York game will provide the most interesting test of event ticket sales.  Can the Red Bulls Front Office get 20,000 on what will likely be a cold weeknight in Harrison.

FSC will get both legs of RSL/Dallas on consecutive Saturday nights.  Continuity between the broadcasts will be welcome and we expect FSC to trot out its number one MLS broadcast team.  RSL is aggressively selling tickets and will likely generate heavy interest in Salt Lake City.  Chained to a short turn around, Dallas may be hard pressed to sell a substantial number of tickets.

MLS Voting: How We Voted for the PR Award

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday, but if you have a cure for a four weeks of cough, cold and exhaustion, please drop me a line.  Voting season is over and, yes, we voted for Chris Wondolowski for MVP with a certain Dallas midfielder picking up our second place vote.  We gave coach of the year to Jason Kreis, with Schellas Hyndman and Hans Backe following behind.  However, this is a business site, so we thought we would post on how we voted for that award.  Recall that the standard for the award is as follows:  “Department recognized for consistent, accurate and proactive efforts in providing media members with information and generating coverage for its team.”

Last week you gave us your thoughts on the correct winner for the award, and we tend to agree with the front offices you raised.  Here are our votes.  Without further ado….

Our third place vote went to the Red Bulls.  The team did just about everything right in 2010 in launching Red Bull Arena and filling the stands with passionate fans.  The front office brought a good combination of friendlies to RBA and has promoted the arena as the site of the Big East Championship and more.  The Thierry Henry marketing campaign was attractive and drew attention in the NY media.  Henry was accessible to national media and effectively brought attention to the team and the league.

Our second place vote went to Kansas City.  The team has been aggressive in promoting its upcoming stadium and signing of Omar Bravo.  The team used a great opportunity against Manchester United to sell tickets, promote the brand and market the new stadium.  With rumors of a re-brand coming in 2011, Kansas City has set itself up well to hit the ground running in their new digs.  Despite missing the playoffs the team was competitive all year and has become a fixture on the local sports landscape. The front office has directly engaged fans and included them in all steps of the process.

Our winner was RSL.  The team started in the offseason with a state-wide campaign to bring the championship trophy to all the counties in the State.  The team is aggressive (perhaps overly aggressive) on Twitter and has effectively engaged its fans on all levels of social media.  The team effectively marketed its Champions League games and drew a huge crowd for the final group stage match.  The front office built upon the team’s success from 2009 and managed to keep fans coming and keep the team in front of the local media outlets. RSL’s front office has managed to make the games a destination and continues to improve the fan experience.  For all of the above reasons, RSL is our first place winner in the team PR award.

The Monday After: The Business of the Playoffs

The MLS Playoffs are here and the eight teams entering the post season have been decided.  Under MLS’  much criticized playoff format, there will be 6 representatives from the Western Conference and 2 representatives from the Eastern Conference.  As we did last year at this time, we thought it worth taking a business look at the playoff teams.

Seattle, Los Angeles and RSL are the big attendance draws in the round of 8.  All three teams will be big home draws with Seattle and and RSL likely to be sell outs and Los Angeles likely to have a crowd in excess of 20k.  Given the league’s reliance on group sales in many markets, big crowds are never a certainty in the playoffs.  However, these three teams are almost certain to draw well and will provide focal point of national broadcasts.

On the other side of the coin sit Dallas, Colorado and Columbus were big crowds are not expected for the playoffs.  Both Colorado and Dallas may be helped by visits from Designated Players, but none of these teams are anticipated sell outs.  Because it plays in such a small stadium, San Jose is a bit of an outlier.  The team has done a solid job generating enthusiasm for soccer in the Bay Area, and it will be interesting to see if that enthusiasm continues into the playoffs.  Their attendance will likely be aided by a visit from Thierry Henry.

That leaves with perhaps the biggest attendance mystery in the playoffs, the New York Red Bulls.  Armed with a new stadium, big stars and a two week lead on selling the game.  The game will be set for 8:00 on November 4, 2010 at Red Bull Arena.  The match will be nationally televised on a Thursday night and will provide a very interesting test of the Red Bulls’ ability to sell tickets to fans for a big match.   The league is certainly hoping that the Red Bulls will get more than 20k at the game in order to ensure a visual spectacle.

Soccer Business Bits: The Journal Weighs In, The New App & More

The Wall Street Journal offers an interesting look at attendance in MLS by comparing it to NBA attendance.  While venue size is limiting for the NBA, the city by city comparison makes for interesting reading.  Teams like Philly and Houston outdraw their NBA counterparts.  MLS will never be the NFL, but outdrawing the NBA (and NHL) in many communities is quite a feat for the nascent league.  Many MLS Soccer Specific Stadiums are being built with a capacity of less than 20k which makes them comparable to most NBA arenas.  Attendance is not the end all be all of league success, but the article is certainly worth a read.

Today MLS made its i-phone Application available for the first time.  We downloaded the application to our i-phone and played with some of the functionality.  The App was relatively easy to use and offered a wide variety of information including highlights, league stories, standings and more.  We also used the App during the Revs/Red Bulls games and found it to be a nice addition to the MLS online library.  In-game highlights were reminiscent of the ESPN coverage of the World Cup.  Regular text updates were also a nice feature.  We will use the App during the weekend games to see how it performs.

Finally, CNNSI offers some thoughts on Philly’s off the field success.  The article talks about some of Philly’s branding efforts, signings and interaction with the team’s Supporters.

MLSSoccer.com: The Business of the Website

Earlier in the season we conducted an interview with Greg Lalas, the editor-in-chief of MLSSoccer.com.  The trials and tribulations of the launch of the new site are well documented, but there has been some significant improvement over the course of the year.  Putting those issues aside, we thought it worth taking a look at some of the business aspects of the site.

We started our review on the Sponsors page, where the league lists its major sponsors.  Some, like Dick’s, VW and Gatorade are readily apparent to fans of MLS and league broadcasts.  Others such as Chase and Aquafina are less recognizable, yet are strongly invested in MLS.  The list includes some of the largest companies in the country and many that are huge buyers of sports ad time.

The Advertise section leads directly to SUM’s website. The link simply provides contact information for two SUM Employees.  Interestingly, the Media link also leads to a SUM website.  SumWorld.com is outdated (its lead story is the “upcoming” Oct. 12 friendly between Seattle and Chivas.  The press release is dated back to August.

Finally, the licencees section provides a comprehensive list of entities licensed to handle an array of MLS items and apparel.  The list is interesting, as it provides some insight into how MLS moves its merchandise and product.  Some of the entities are well known national brands (adidas, Fathead), while others are local and far less well known.

MLS Voting Season: Thoughts on the PR Award

It is the time of year when votes are cast in Major League Soccer.  These include the VW Most Valuable Player, Visa Defender of the Year, Coach of the Year, X-Box Fair Play Award, adidas referee awards and more (there are five with sponsors).  Among the lesser known awards is the “Team Public Relations Award”.  Because this is a site about the business of soccer, we find the PR award especially interesting.  Before we cast our vote for the PR award and the others (the deadline is Oct. 25), we thought it worth getting your input on what team MLS PR Department/Front Office is most deserving. Leave us a comment below with your thoughts or send us an e-mail

The Award is defined this way:  “Department recognized for consistent, accurate and proactive efforts in providing media members with information and generating coverage for its team.”    Here is how we described our vote last year:

After careful consideration, we elected to give our first place vote to the Seattle Sounders.  The pre-season guerrrila campaign was brilliant, the billboards were omnipresent and the results speak for themselves.  Despite the advantages of being “new”, the Sounders organization did an outstanding job of promoting their product and their players.  By the end of the regular season, a Swedish International was a household name in the city, the goalie was all over the news and the team was a lead story.

For the record, we also thought long and hard about our second place vote, and we ultimately gave that to the Dynamo.  Houston’s array of promotional events for each game, community outreach programs and other events are unmatched throughout the League.  Houston sets the standard among MLS franchises in working to promote each game to potential walk-up crowds.

We haven’t yet voted for 2010….what are your thoughts?