The Monday After: Preseason Underway

Time for our usual roundup of the business weekend that was in American soccer.  The big story is the start of preseason camps throughout MLS.   Teams are gathering for initial training sessions, physicals are being performed and preseason schedules have been released.  From a business perspective, one of the most interesting stories is the coverage provided by the local papers of the preseason happenings.  In Vancouver, the Sun is providing fairly regular coverage of the the expansion Whitecaps, with stories about some of the players and significant events coming out of preseason.  Although the paper is not providing daily coverage, its reporting has been regular and thorough.

As has been the case for the last three years, the Seatle Times have provided excellent coverage of the Sounders’ preseason events.  Stories run both in the paper and on the blog and regularly include interviews with the players and coaches involved in training camp. In Houston, The Chronicle offers photos and stories from the first days of training camp in addition to a series of soccer blogs covering the beautiful game.  Their website also offers a convenient forum for fans to comment on training camp and other stories  involving the team.

The Salt Lake Trib offers an excellent array of training camp stories with seemingly a new story every day.  As is common when outlets cover other sports in the preseason, the Trib provides features on various players and other “soft” reporting.  In Philly, the Inquirer has also provided regular coverage of the second year Union. An active blog on the sports pages offers regular items on the teams.

Unfortunately, coverage of some of the other Eastern teams is limited.  Despite the presence of excellent soccer writers at the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, there is essentially no coverage of the Revs preseason.  The major New York papers make scant mention of the Red Bulls (despite some AP briefs).  While the Washington Post has the excellent Steve Goff’s coverage on the Insider Blog, the main paper’s coverage is sporadic. Offseason coverage of the Fire in the Tribune has also been fairly sporadic.

Marketing in MLS: Going with Groupon

One of the great business success stories of the last couple of years is the mass coupon site Groupon.  For those who don’t know, Groupon is a deal of the day website tied into major metropolitan areas.  Members are offered one coupon buying opportunity each day that offers a significant discount.  If they purchase the deal, they must adhere to the terms of the offer and typically must use the opportunity by a fixed date.

Last season, some MLS teams got in on the Groupon game.  The Galaxy offered half off ticket deals to their playoff games.  Purchasers were entitled to buy a VIP seat or a berm seat for either of the Galaxy’s home playoff games in 2010.  The deal was effective for the Galaxy, with 984 of the deals sold.   By way of comparison, the Galaxy also offered a Groupon deal for their July 4 game last year.  That deal offered tickets to the game and fireworks show for up to 61% off face value.  The team sold 109 of those deals.

The Galaxy weren’t the only team to try Groupon. RSL tried Groupon last year for the 7/31 match against DC United, and offered two tickets, a parking pass and two mini- back packs at a significantly reduced price.  The deal was purchased by 307 people.  The Revs offered a deep discount for fans for their September 4 match last year.  The package included a long sleeve shirt and a ticket for only $18.  The offer was also very successful, with the team selling more than 2,500 tickets through Groupon for that match. The Red Bulls tried Groupon in 2009.   173 people bought into the 42% discount. Chicago took a different tact this year, offering $400 season tickets for $150.  The deal sold out all 400 coupons that were available.

Is this a good marketing strategy for MLS?  We think so.  Groupon is exceptionally popular and its membership probably includes a significant amount of people outside the teams’ typical marketing targets.  While its impossible to determine how many of the purchasers would not have gone to the game without the deal, the offer likely got some people to the stadium that otherwise would not have been.  The numbers above show that the teams have enjoyed success through Groupon.   We will continue to monitor Groupon to see how aggressive teams are in 2011.

Soccer Stadium Update

Time for our first stadium update of 2011.  We’ll start in Houston, where last week we reported that the team will break ground on the project on January 29.  That date has since been delayed to an uncertain date, but the team is maintaining that the building will be ready in time for an April 2012 opening.  The Dynamo are expected to contribute $60 million to the project.  The proposed stadium will be shared with Texas Southern Football and other local events. Total cost of the projected 21k seat stadium is expected to be about $95 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,  Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (“TIRZ”) money and from some of the stimulus money floating around.

In Portland, the Timbers, in conjunction with local pizza restaurant (and multi-year team sponsor) Papa Murphy’s will host community tours on Saturday to provide fans with 30 minute walking tours of the ongoing renovations.  The project contractor will also discuss the project with fans.  For a live look at the ongoing renovations, click here.

In Kansas City, Sporting is continuing towards its Summer stadium opening.   The 18,500 seat, natural grass stadium will feature 36 suites, 300 HD televisions and fully covered seating.   There will also be 6 locker rooms, an 1800 square foot video board and 6 locker rooms.  The stadium web cam (complete with a presenting sponsor), can be found here.

We’ll stop our stadium look in Vancouver, where renovations continue at BC Place, with an expected Summer of 2011 re-opening.  Until then, the Whitecaps will play their games at Empire Field, a 20k seat venue. The new BC Place will have a retractable roof that can open and close in 20 minutes minutes.  The stadium will also feature movable loge boxes that will bring fans of the Whitecaps directly down to the field level.   The stadium will also have a four sided HD television that will be visible from every seat. Vancouver webcams are here.

Soccer Business Bits: Chivas USA Gets a Sponsor, TFC Academy Initiative & More

One of the quiet business success stories in MLS has been Chivas USA’s ability to consistently land a jersey sponsor. While teams such as New England and Colorado have failed to secure such a sponsorship, Chivas USA has landed such prominent sponsors as Comex, Extra and now Corona.  In the big news of the day, the Los Angeles based team announced a deal with Grupo Modelo for “Corona Extra” to appear on all team apparel and on in stadium advertising.  While full details of the arrangement will be released on February 16, 2011, the team can be proud of the deal.  From Grupo Modelo’s perspective, the deal puts one of the most prominent companies with cross border brand recognition on the face of Mexico’s bridgehead in American soccer.

MLSSoccer.com is reporting on TFC’s efforts to pour money and energy into their youth set-up.  The team recently invested more than $17 million in a training facility and is working toward a 3rd academy team in 2012.  Although a location for the facility has not yet been determined, the team expects the new site to be operational sometime next year.

Finally, kudos to CNNSI.com for its continually excellent soccer coverage.  The soccer page on the site is easy to use with clearly defined sections for US Soccer, EPL, Europe and more.  SI features a number of solid soccer journalists and now offers Grant Wahl’s weekly podcast.

Hardcore in Big D

One of the big business stories of the day was the announcement that FC Dallas’ season ticket sales are projected to be up 300% year over year.  The team is coming off of a year when the team reached the MLS Cup final, yet averaged less than 11k per game at Pizza Hut Park.  The team has never had a full season jersey sponsor, yet there are reports that there are multiple companies competing for a place on the team’s jersey.  Dallas has long been criticized for its business efforts, but 2011 is a critical year for the franchise.  Last March we conducted an anecdote based survey in Dallas about the team’s  marketing effort and here is what we said:

Almost everyone we met had heard of Pizza Hut Park, but nobody had every been there.  Most associated Pizza Hut Park with the Roughriders, a Double A baseball team playing at Dr. Pepper Park in Frisco, TX (same location as Pizza Hut Park).   We spoke with season ticket holders for the Mavericks, Stars and Cowboys, all of whom knew nobody that had seen an FC Dallas game, yet almost everyone knew about the team.  Everyone we spoke with was shocked that FC Dallas struggled to fill the stadium; they all mentioned how popular soccer is in Texas.  Interestingly, almost everyone we spoke with knew where the stadium is located, knew how to get there and said it was “close.”We saw no advertising for the team, whether on signs, buses, television or newspapers.  There was no evidence of FC Dallas merchandise at Dallas-Forth Worth airport and we heard no commercials on the radio for upcoming games or events.

In the most recent edition of Sports Business Journal, President and CEO of FC Dallas, Doug Quinn, discussed the team’s efforts to reach out to hard core fans in 2011.  The team has more than doubled its ticket sales staff and is promoting multi-game plans targeted to younger fans who undertstand the nuance of soccer fan-dom.  Dallas is a long proud franchise that saw its attendance continue to decline last year to third lowest in the league.  The team seems to have a solid plan in place to turn its success on the field into success in the stands.  As we said, this is a critical year for FC Dallas, and team is late to the “hard core” party, but recognizing that the younger group is the key to sustaning fan support is key.

The Monday After: Chile/USA, Friedel Bankrupt & More

Time for our weekly wrap of the weekend that was in the world of American soccer business.  We’ll start in Los Angeles, where the Home Depot Center hosted USMNT friendly against Chile.  A reported crowd of approximately 18,500 was in attendance for the 1-1 draw.  The game was notable for the lack of an English language broadcast showing the game.  Although the match was available on Telefutura and ESPN3.com, no broadcast or cable channel showed the game.  Fans without access to ESPN3.com or Telefutura were left to scour the internet for illicit feeds or follow some of the online blogs covering the game.

A player’s financial position is not typically fodder for this site, but former US International Brad Friedel’s financial problems are notable because of his efforts to build a European style soccer academy in the United States.  The academy was a non-profit enterprise intended to assist young players in succeeding in high end club soccer.  The academy was considered very high end, but a shortage of sponsorship dollars doomed the academy and it now is bankrupt.  The year round academy was based in Ohio.

Finally, fans in the Pacific Northwest will get a taste of their much anticipated soccer rivalry during a pre-season three team showcase involving Seattle, Vancouver and Portland.  Each team will play two games at the Sounders’ alternative Starfire complex.  Tickets will go on sale on February 1 with each ticket costing $10. This is a great marketing ploy by the franchises and will let the teams stoke their rivalry a few weeks before the season starts.

 

 

 

Houston Stadium Update

We are on the road today, but we thought it worth making a quick mention of ongoing developments in Houston to construct a stadium for the Dynamo.  The Houston Business Journal is reporting that the team will break ground on the project on January 29.  The Dynamo are expected to contribute $60 million to the project.  The proposed stadium will be shared with Texas Southern Football and other local events. The team  hopes to open in 2012.  Total cost of the projected 21k seat stadium is expected to be about $95 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,  Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (“TIRZ”) money and from some of the stimulus money floating around.

By way of brief refresher, according to the City of Houston website, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones are:

special districts created by City Council to attract new investment to an area. TIRZs help finance the cost of redeveloping or encouraging infill development in an area that would otherwise not attract sufficient market development in a timely manner. Taxes attributable to new improvements (tax increment) are set-aside in a fund to finance public improvements in the zone. Zones in the City of Houston have been created for one of three reasons:

  • to address inner city deterioration
  • to develop raw land in suburban fringe areas
    or
  • to proactively address the decline of major activity centers

The stadium project is not the only soccer construction going on in Houston.  A while back, the Sports Business Journal, reported that the City of Houston  is nearing completion of a $15 million soccer training complex in Southwest Houston.  The City contributed the entire purchase price for the land and the entire construction price.  The facility is scheduled to be completed in February and the Dynamo will take control at that time.  The team will contribute approximately $1million per year in operating costs and will have the right to manage and charge usage fees at the complex.  The Dynamo will also have the right to sell founding partnerships for the new training facility and will contribute a significant amount to the build out of the locker room.

Jersey Sponsors: MLS v. Europe

On January 12, 2011, the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer announced a four year, $12 million dollar deal with Mexican food conglomerate Bimbo.   While the notion of prominent uniform advertisements is foreign in most American sports, MLS has embraced such sponsorships as an important source of revenue.  After the expiration of deals in Columbus and Chicago, six MLS franchises are searching for a primary jersey sponsor,while  the rest of the teams have inked deals worth millions of dollars with world renown companies such as Microsoft, BMO and VW.  Although still in its infancy, MLS’s recent foray into the world of jersey sponsorships provides an interesting comparison to the value placed on such ads in other prominent leagues.

In December, FC Barcelona signed a five year, $200 million dollar jersey sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation.  The deal was especially notable because of the storied club’s prior refusal to carry a commercial sponsorship on their chest.  The team had paid UNICEF for the past five years for the privilege of wearing the charity’s name on its kit.  In England, EPL leaders Manchester United wear the name of Chicago based Aon Corp. on their jerseys.  According to USA today, the deal to replace fallen AIG was valued at $131 million dollars over four years.  According to the same report, the deal was worth more than 17% over the T-Home sponsorship of Bundesliga club Bayern Munich.

Yet for purposes of comparison, these world renown clubs are probably not the best marker for the nascent teams in MLS.  Many of the mid-table and drop zone candidates in European leagues carry deals that compare favorably to their MLS cousins.    Last season, the BBC reported that seven EPL clubs carry sponsorship deals valued at less than $1.6 million dollars. According to a recent analysis conducted by SPORT + MARKT, the 18 remaining teams in La Liga (after Barcelona and Real Madrid are removed), average less than $2.5 million per jersey deal.  Similarly, with all 20 teams accounted for in France’s Ligue 1, the average jersey sponsorship is valued at less than $4 million dollars per team.

With a significant number number of MLS deals worth in excess of 2 million dollars annually (and some valued over $4 million per year), the data shows that once extreme outliers such as Barcelona and Manchester United are exluded, companies are willing to invest similar dollars for a slice of the uniform in MLS and Europe.  While many fans will find these numbers surprising, these figures show the value of the American marketplace and the tremendous growth MLS has made among corporate marketers in the last 15 years.

Critical Mention Update

Time for our monthly look at 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.  We’ll start in Portland, where the local NBC affiliate provided primetime coverage of the Timbers’ first ever MLS SuperDraft.  The Sunday evening newscast addressed the draft, showed photos and bios of the Timbers’ first two draft picks, made mention of the team’s home opener and noted the renovation of PGE Park.  Acording to Critical Mention, the broadcast reached almost 125,000 between 8 and 9 p.m.  According to the Critical Mention metric, the total value of the coverage was almost $9,000.

For our next analysis, we’ll stay in Oregon, where KPDX covered the draft as part of the station’s 11:00 newscast.  Interestingly, the broadcast included an interview with the Timbers’ Technical Dirctor, Gavin Wilkinson.  The interviewer was very informed and asked important questions of Wilkinson.  The interview touched on the draft, the offseason and more.  It was an impressive spot, but unfortuantely for Portland, it only reached 12,500 people and was valued at less than $3,000 in exposure.

The final broadcast we will feature might be the lowest exposure value of any we have previously mentioned.  In Corpus Christie, TX, the local CBS affiliate devoted some time during its early morning newscast. The spot featured Bobby Boswell and Kevin Hartman of the Dynamo and FC Dallas who were promoting a February exhibition match between the teams in the City (as an aside, this is a great way to promote both teams in their mutual State).  The telecast reached 4,000 people, but was valued at only $200.

Selling Tickets in MLS

With training camp just around the corner, we thought we would take a look at some of the ticket sales efforts around MLS.  DC United is offering a Winter Four Pack.  The package includes 4 pint glasses and 4 tickets to the DC united home opener against the Crew.  The tickets start at $90 for the package.  Add in the $10 convenience charge for ordering online, and the cheapest package runs for $100.  The Revs are promoting four and six game packages that include a ticket to the opening game, a commerative scarf and wall calendar for a discounted price.  The packages start at $68. The Red Bulls will start offering 5 and 10 game mini-plans on Thursday. The packages start as low as $90 for the smaller packages and $170 for the larger ones.

The always aggressive Chivas USA sales department is offering a season opener package for their March 19 match against Sporting.  Interestingly, the team is using the debut of Mexican International Omar Bravo as a marketing tool. The team is offering 4 tickets, 4 hats and 4 VIP passes to a preseason practice.  The whole package is starting at $48 plus a $5 handling fee.  Houston is offering packages of 2 tickets for the team’s home opener.  For as little as $49.95, fans can get the seats plus 2 scarves.  We’ll end in Dallas, where the MLS Cup Finalists are offering all you can eat season tickets.  The package runs for less than $500.