Business Thoughts on the MLS Home Openers

As part of its ongoing (and successful) effort to keep MLS on the minds of fans during the winter months, the league has announced the home openers for all of the teams.  We thought we would take a quick business look at some of the initial match-ups. For the first time, the league will open its slate with a stand alone match on a Tuesday.  The ESPN broadcast will feature Seattle and Los Angeles at Qwest Field before what promises to be a large and vocal crowd.  The game will feature a number of high profile Designated Players, including Donovan, Beckham, Angel and Montero.  The presence of these players will allow MLS and ESPN to aggressively promote the opening match.  On the downside, the broadcast is scheduled to start at 9:30 ET, which likely means a 10:00 ET kick.  As a result, the league will lost a large part of its Eastern audience.  In addition, the the Tuesday night game will not expose the “bar crowd” to the match.

MLS’ as yet unannounced Saturday night broadcast partner (see our tweet about negotiations with FSC), will likely get the battle of Canada, when Vancouver opens at home against TFC.  We are typically against using the opener for rivalry matches (why waste such a game on opening night), but this game could generate significant interest in Canada.  Canadian tv ratings have been tepid, but the addition of Vancouver could be the stimlus needed to pump those ratings.

The same TV partner may elect to go with Seattle/New York on that Saturday night, with Henry and Marquez as the lead stories.  While a tough start for Seattle, this will be a great chance for the Red Bulls to generate a big crowd for a game full of big names.

The Timbers and Sporting KC will both start on the road while their stadiums are finished.  Last year we spoke out against Philly’s decision to open in the cavernous Linc rather than wait for PPL Park.  Sporting is taking a different route, and their home opener won’t be until June 9.  That puts a tremendous burden on the team and on ticket sales for a crowded home slate in the second half.  Portland only has to wait until April 14 to open the new PGE Park.

The league has done a nice job mixing rivalry matches, good broadcast fodder and compelling story lines for the opening weeks of the season.  Once the TV relationships are secured, we should expect to see the rest of the schedule rolled out and national broadcast games assigned.  We will provide some business thoughts on those events when they happen.

Selling Tickets in Toronto

Toronto FC has announced that it has sold its entire season ticket allotment for 2011.  In order to fill out its season ticket roster, the team transferred 700 members from its waiting list to replace tickets that were not renewed.  Given the state of the team, lack of a coach, lack of success on the field and the disappointing display at MLS Cup, this represents a remarkable achievement for the franchise.  In its 5th year of existence, TFC has now sold out its season ticket allotment in each season.

There are reports that the waiting list is 10,000 strong.  These members have the right to pursue partial season ticket plans and walk-up tickets on the day of game.  The partial plans are for 9 games, which include 6 MLS matches, 2 premium games and a Canadian championship match.  The team wisely holds about 25% of the stadium for partial plan holders and walk-up tickets.  This allows non-season ticket holders to stay connected to the team and makes season tickets more desirable.  The league has rewarded these fans with an All-Star game and an MLS Cup over the last few years. Now it is time for the team to reward its own fans by winning on the field and making  run towards MLS Cup.

Toronto has yet to make the playoffs in MLS, yet it continues to enjoy support in the Toronto area.  The team has expanded the stadium, added a grass field and brought two DPs to BMO Field.  Although there have been some disputes with Supporters, the team has generally been responsive to its fanbase and the players have generated significant loyalty among its customers.

Soccer Business Bits: WPS Moves Forward, Gold Cup & More

After an exciting day of action on Wednesday in the re-entry draft, there are a number of smaller stories that are generating interest in American soccer.  We’ll start in WPS, where the struggling league has announced that the six remaining teams will conduct the college draft on January 14.  The four round draft will be streamed on the league website.  Following the suspension of operations by Chicago, the shuttering of champions FC Gold Pride and more, it has been a shaky off season for WPS.  However, the draft will hopefully allow the league to turn the page and work on getting stronger for its 2011 campaign.

Elsewhere, the sites for the 2011 Gold Cup were announced.  Headlining the venues will be the new stadium in KC, as it joins Red Bull Arena and the Home Depot Center as soccer specific stadiums assigned to host.  It will be interesting to see if the league schedules MLS matches as part of doubleheaders for those dates in an effort to generate attendance and interest.  The final will be held at the Rose Bowl (CONCACAF is certainly hoping for a US/Mexico final), with the semi-finals in Houston at Reliant stadium.

Jose Romero is reporting (via Ives Blog), that at least six MLS clubs will train at the same venue in Arizona.  We wrote about Grande Sports World a while back and it seems that the venue is becoming the pre-season destination in the league.  In addition to warm temparatures and great facilities, the center will offer fans a great vacation opportunity to travel and watch their teams train and play.  Spring Training has long been a destination for baseball fans, in part, because of the close proximity of the teams and the warm weather.  This new venture may offer a similar experience.

Thoughts on the Re-Entry Draft

The second phase of the re-entry draft is over after a whirlwind day in MLS.  Leading up to the drafts, fans, players, journalists and teams were unsure what to expect.  After a quiet first phase, we got an orgy of activity that created buzz around the league and put MLS on the media landscape in the middle of December. Twitter was burning up during the draft as each selection and trade was announced. covered the draft as did much of the soccer media.

Perhaps more importantly, MLS found a way to keep its league relevant in the quietest month of the year.  MLS Cup and the expansion draft are done in November and the international transfer window opens in January.  By February, teams are reporting to camp and the Champions League is looming.  Now, MLS has created two drafts and a significant amount of wheeling and dealing in December that kep fans glued to message boards and the web.

Whether the draft has the effect desired by both sides to the Collective Bargaining Agreement will take some time to determine.  Jeff Carlisle pulled some quotes from MLSPA head Bob Foose that suggested that he was pleased.  “I think it is working and is doing exactly what it was supposed to do, which is to give veteran players more leverage and more control over the negotiations in the offseason,” he said. “And also, keeping guys under contract, or at least reduce the guys who are out of contract.”  The whole article is worth a read.

Regardless of Foose’s statements, we will have to see the types of deals negotiated by the players and teams and how many players make good use of their new “free agent rights”.   Regardless, the MLS paradigm has changed, and seemingly for the better.  The league gets publicity, players get freedom,  teams get a chance at new players and fans have a few more weeks to enjoy.

Business Thoughts on PPL Park

We are on the road, so we thought we would revisit a post from the early Summer after we took in a Revs/Union game at PPL Park.  It was a great experience and the stadium was impresive.  Here was our thoughts.

Structurally and aesthetically, the stadium looks great.  It’s waterfront location tucked under the Commodore Barry Bridge provides great views (ships heading down the river were visible throughout the match).  The stadium roof was classy and attractive and while it didn’t provide the promised shade, it was a wonderful design element.  The brick edifice was sharp as were the color schemes inside.  The stadium electronics were disappointing; the video screen was small and its images choppy.

The crowd was loud and PPL Park did an outstanding job capturing sound.  The announced crowd figure of over 18k seemed a bit overstated, but we were impressed by the percentage of fans wearing Union jerseys and apparel (the amount of Revolution jerseys scattered around was also impressive).  The absence of in-stadium announcements was a welcome change from other stadiums that we have attended.  Food choices were reasonable and included some local Philly favorites including Chickie’s & Pete’s crab fries.   Lines were long and there some problems moving fans through the concessions .

Highway access was very good with I-95 running right next to the stadium.  We were directed to off site parking and brought to the stadium in a shuttle.  The system worked very well on the way to the game and fairly well after.  However, we got on the first set of buses leaving the stadium after the game was over and it is likely that those who came later had a significant wait.  Those in our group who parked within walking distance were able to get out of their lots fairly quickly, and within 45 minutes of the end of the game we were back in Philly eating dinner.  Those who took the train also had a positive experience.

Overall, we thought the stadium great in almost all respects.  It is a great addition to the roster of MLS stadiums and should be a premiere venue in MLS for years to come.

Soccer Business Bits: SUM’s new chair, San Jose Stadium News & More

Don Garber announced today that Kathy Carter has been named President of SUM.  Carter, who most recently served as Executive Vice President, will manage the day-to day operations of SUM, as well as lead the strategic planning and vision for increasing commercial revenues for Major League Soccer, all MLS clubs and all properties represented by SUM.  According to the official MLS press release,  Carter will oversee all commercial activity for the organization in the United States and Canada. She will be responsible for all sponsorship, licensing and advertising sales for MLS/SUM. Carter will continue to serve as a key member of the MLS/SUM Senior Executive staff, providing counsel to the League Commissioner and MLS Board of Governors. Carter also will oversee the commercial relationship with all three national broadcast partners and MLS Digital Properties, formerly known as the SUM Digital Network. MLS Digital Properties encompasses the only soccer advertising network of its kind, covering all facets of the sport in the U.S., which allows advertisers to reach millions of soccer fans via online advertising and sponsorship campaigns.

In San Jose, the Earthquakes are continuing their efforts to build a new stadium.  San Jose officials are recommending a four million dollar gift to Lew Wolff and team to assist in building a stadium in the San Jose area.  The stadium is planned near the San Jose Airport and will reportedly required two years to construct from the date of the ground breaking.  The funding for the planned stadium has always been a bit fuzzy.  The city of San Jose had previously agreed to chop $40 million off the purchase price of a 75 acre parcel that will include the Stadium and additional mixed use development.  The stadium will seat 15,000 (with additional seating for 3,000 more on a berm at the stadium’s open end) and will use 14 acres of the site.

The Sports Business Journal released its list of the top 50 most influential people in sports.  Sepp Blatter and Don Garber were among those making the list.


Covering the Coverage

MLS and WPS are firmly entrenched in the off season period and after its frustration in Zurich, US Soccer is also entering a quiet time.  With no games to play, we thought it would be interesting to see how some of the major publications are covering soccer during this period.  We’ll start in Salt Lake City, where the most recent article from the Trib discusses the signing of Saborio as the team’s first designated player.  During the season RSL receives outstanding local coverage, but the Winter does not produce a daily article.

In Vancouver, the Sun has continued to provide regular coverage of the expansion Whitecaps’ upcoming entry into the league.  The most recent article looks at recent roster moves.  The coverage is irregular, but does discuss recent events and key signings.  In Portland, OregonLive devoted significant coverage to the recent jersey unveiling for the Timbers.  Also notable was the prominence of advertising for the team on the main page of the site.

In Kansas City, Sporting has been getting regular coverage in the Star.  The Sporting page contains a fairly up to date series of articles on the team and world soccer stories.  Although largely blog based, the page is comprehensive and offers good coverage of the team.  In Houston, the Chronicle has done a solid jobo of coverign what has been a busy business off season for the Dynamo.  Between the drafts, new sponsorships and new stadium, the paper has offered consistent coverage of the team.

We’ll close in Los Angeles, where the Times presents solid soccer coverage, but ususally limited MLS reporting.  Despite the presence of longtime soccer scribe Grahame L. Jones, most of the articles in the Times address European stories, USSF events and more.  On the front soccer page there is little evidence of either MLS team.