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.  ESPN.com 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.

Ticket Sale Deals

With the Holiday Season upon us, we thought it worth taking a look at some of the ticket sale deals being offered around the league.  The Revs are offering a Holiday mini plan.  The plan, starting at $68, includes tickets to four games and a choice of a Revs themed gift (e.g. Revs playing cards, ball, etc…).  Fans also have the option of adding a 5th game that automatically becomes a 6th match.  Purchasers of the mini plan also most of the benefits afforded to Revs season ticket holders.

The Red Bulls are offering Holiday Packs for the 2011 season.  The packages include a seasdon ticket plan, five game plan and opening day package.  The deals include discounts, Red Bulls gear and other items.  The packages are available in all sections of the stadium.

Philly is offering a similar package (and is the most aggressive of these teams in pushing the deal on its website).  Although clicking the link to the holiday package brings users to a web page that is missing the usual style.  Nevertheless, purchasers of the pack can get access to four tickets and a Union scarf.

Moving West, Chivas USA is offering a very inexpensive holiday ticket package.  The deal includes 4 tickets, 4 hats, 4 passes to a team practice and holiday card.  The whole deal goes for only $48.

One final deal.  RSL is offering an $80 2 pack that offers fans 2 tickets to two matches.  The team is specifically using access to home opener to sell seats to its CONCAF match on March 1.  The deal also includes an RSL beanie.

UPDATE:  Sporting Kansas City let us know that they are offering supporters the opportunityduring the holiday season to reserve season tickets for 2011 without payment until February.

Critical Mention Update

Back in January (and a couple of times since), we discussed MLS’ efforts to measure the value of its television exposure through various local and national broadcasts.  Through the website criticalmention.com, MLS tries to alert media  to the “value” of its presence on various television programs.  Since a couple of months have passed since we last checked in on this metric, we thought providing a snapshot of this metric of MLS media exposure.

We’ll start in New England, where Revolution COO Brian Bilello sat down with the Boston Fox affiliate to discuss the state of the New England Revolution.  The piece was part of an ongoing series on the station on the various local sports teams.  According to Critical Mention, the segment reached more than 100k people.  The total publicity value was $12,312 dollars.  The spot touched on the Revs, the World Cup bid and the Revs’ efforts to build a stadium.

In Houston, the CBS affiliate offered viewers a sneak peek of the new Dynamo uniforms.  The piece reached just over 68k viewers during an early morning broadcast.  The announcement included a bit of opinion from the broadcaster about having fun with families at Dynamo games.

One final note.  Yesterday we covered the opening of the new downtown Timbers store.  The opening was also covered by the Portland Fox station. The 8:30 a.m. story reached 26,000 viewers and was estimated at just under $500 in publicity value.  The official jerseys are set to be revealed today.

Soccer Business Bits: VW Ads, Portland Billboards & More

For the first time that I can remember, MLS sent out a purely commercial e-mail today in the form of a VW advertisement.  The e-mail was presumably sent to all who have registered their e-mail with MLS.  The e-mail made no reference to soccer (other than the sender address and an official partner note) and simply included a number of lease deals for the longtime MLS automobile partner.  This represents a fairly brazen (and arguably offensive)  marketing effort by MLS.  Sending out e-mails about deals at the MLS Store, or on tickets would be pretty standard in the sports industry, but a sole purpose sales e-mail for a commerical partner seems slightly over the top.  The language “you are receiving this e-mail becaue of your interest in Volkswagen” is simply not true and these e-mails risk alienating already over-spammed fans.

Elsewhere, MLS Rumors posts about the billboard marketing campaign in Portland.  The ads feature Timbers’ fans in a series of poses and prominently features the Timbers logo.  The ads are part of the “We are Timbers” campaign and represent an impressive effort to combine affordable marketing with a catchy slogan and fan involvment.  The team is also just days away from opening its team store in downtown Portland.   Ultimately, the team’s flagship store will be at PGE Park.

Finally, the Re-entry draft is set for today.  This will be the first go for this process (which was made part of new CBA).  Given that free agency was such an important component of the negotiations, it will be interesting to see how teams handle the new framework.  Veteran players will get to test their value after finishing their contracts with their current clubs.

Dynamo Add a Jersey Sponsor

The Houston Dynamo will have a new jersey sponsor in 2011.  The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the Dynamo have signed a five year $12.7 million jersey sponsorship with Greenstar Recycling. In addition to its logo on the front of the jersey, Greenstar has signed on to become the first founding partner of the team’s new downtown stadium.  The deal is set to be offically announced tomorrow.  Interestingly, the deal contains a reported opt-out clause after the third year.  The more than $2 million per year puts the Dynamo in the upper echelon of MLS jersey deals.

Greenstar’s parent company, NTR,  employs more than 2000 people around the world.  Greenstar offers a full array of recycling services, management, secure document destruction and more. NTR is headquartered in Ireland.

The new five year deal also represents an important step in the second round of MLS jersey sponsors.  The Crew’s deal with Glidden is expiring at the end of this year and Portland and Vancouver recently inked their new deals.  At present, there are only 5 MLS teams without jersey sponsors: Colorado, Kansas City, Philadelphia, New England and Dallas.  Given Kansas City’s rebrand and Colorado’s recent success, it seems likely that these teams could be close to jersey sponsorships.  Commissioner Garber recently proclaimed that there will be a series of such announcements over the next couple of months.

These deals are important signs for the future of MLS and the strength of the league’s brand in the sports business.  In a down economy, it is impressive that MLS teams are able to find such impressive deals.

Life After Soccer: Interview with Kelly Gray

After more than seven seasons in MLS, Kelly Gray  retired in 2009.  Gray was part of the Project-40 program and was the 5th overall draft pick in the 2002 MLS Superdraft.  After a number of years in Chicago, he also played in San Jose, Houston, Los Angeles and Colorado.  Following his retirement, Gray has been involved in a number of business ventures, including coaching.  Less than six weeks ago, he went live with www.thesocialfootballer.com, a social networking site intended for soccer fans to connect with each other.  Gray was kind enough to answer a few questions about his site, and about how athletes in MLS prepare for their lives after soccer.  He provides some interesting insights into what efforts the league puts into preparing players for retirement and discusses the Project-40 program (the predeccesor to Generation Adidas program).  Thanks to Kelly Gray.

Footiebusiness.com:  You recently started a new website:  http://www.thesocialfootballer.com.  What is the purpose of the site?  Who is your intended audience?  What was your motivation behind starting the site?  How long has it been live?

Kelly Gray:  The purpose of The Social Footballer is to provide a place for football (soccer) fans to connect with each other.  I have a lot of friends on facebook, but not all of them are soccer fans, so when I post things about soccer and the footballer lifestyle people tend to get annoyed.  I simply wanted to create a place where people can share everything about the beautiful game.  The site was started on November 1, 2010 and has seen good growth in its first month.
FB: What efforts are you making to promote the site?  Are you running ads?  How has the site been growing?

KG: In order to promote the site I have focused on 2 areas.  Since I didn’t have much of an advertising budget I decided to reach out to many of the players that I know and see if they would help me promote it by “tweeting” about it.  The second avenue that I attacked was to email many of the soccer bloggers around the country and see if they would help me launch the site by writing a blog post or sending a “tweet” to all of their followers.  So far I have had a much better response from the players that I contacted, but I am hoping that the bloggers that I emailed will come through in the end.

I have monetized the site by adding a banner ad along the footer of the site.  It is important to me to have the site be focused on the people and the community and less on how to make money.  I subscribe to the philosophy that if the people enjoy the community, monetary solutions will present themselves.

FB: In the time since you retired, you have been involved in a number of ventures, including coaching, writing and more.  Is this how you envisioned your post playing career?  What steps did you take while you were playing to prepare for life after soccer?

KG: I am an entrepreneur at heart and always saw my post-playing career as something that I would have to work hard to build into a business.  I have always been a techie and wanted to do something in the web space for a long time.  It wasn’t until I retired that I found the focus needed to get something built and running.

In order to prepare for a life post soccer I had do a number of things.  I realized that soccer doesn’t last forever and that this sport, in America, doesn’t pay like it does in Europe.   I was going to have to work after soccer.  When I realized this the first thing I did was finish my degree.  Secondly I started taking meetings with people who worked in a number of different fields that I was interested in.  Being a techie in the Silicon Valley really helped me explore a number of different avenues.  I met with people from every industry and job title that I could.  From all of that I realized two things.  The first was that I really like the freedom that working for yourself allows, and the second was that I would be stupid to not capitalize on all of the soccer knowledge and connections that I amassed through out my career.

FB: You first signed with MLS as a Project 40 player.  How did that program prepare you for living the life of a professional athlete?

KG: The project 40 program was great in the sense that it provided the funds to be able to complete my degree, but that was about it.  They didn’t really have any affect on my day to day life as a professional.  I think if anything helped me prepare for that life it was my college team and the way with which it was run.  It was an extremely professional environment every day.

FB: What steps do the league/teams/players union take to prepare the players for life as a professional athlete?  Are programs offered that discuss life after retirement?  Are resources made available to the players to ease the transition into a second career?

KG: MLS doesn’t do to many things to help players prepare for life as a professional athlete.  Again, it is different in other sports because players are making millions of dollars.  When you are only making 60 grand it isn’t as important to teach players about how to protect themselves.  Players have to do that on their own so they can survive on that measly salary.  As far as I know there are no programs offered to discuss life after soccer by either the union or the league and the only resources that are available are made so by the Union and are focused mainly on coaching.

Thanks to Kelly Gray.  Again, the website is http://www.thesocialfootballer.com

Stadium Update

Yes there was a big business story coming out of Zurich, but that ship has sailed, so we thought it worth taking a look at the MLS stadium situation.  The big news today came out of Houston, where the Dynamo announced that they had reached a lease agreement with the County Sports authority.  The proposed stadium will be shared with Texas Southern Football and other local events. The team is shooting for January groundbreaking and hopes to open in 2012.  Total cost of the projected 21k seat stadium is expected to be about $80 million with the Dynamo ownership (primarily AEG and Golden Boy Promotions) funding about $60 million.  The rest of the funds could come from tax credits,  the TIRZ money and from some of the stimulus money floating around.

Progress has continued at PGE Park in Portland.  Here is a link to the Portland webcam of stadium progress.  The Timbers also offer a great virtual viewer.  These viewers have become popular over the last couple of years and allow potential ticket buyers access to the stadium in a riveting and detailed online environment.  A link to the stadium viewer is here.

Finally, Sporting Kansas City is making progress towards its projected 2011 opening.  Here is a “fact sheet” about the stadium.  KC also offers a webcam of both the insde and outside.  Sporting also offers a virtual viewer that easily displays season ticket costs.