Covering the Coverage

Every so often, we take a look at how various media are covering soccer in the United States.  We’ll start with Forbes Magazine, which conducted a lengthy interview with Commissioner Garber and posted more than 30 minutes of the discussion on its website.  Given the nature of the publication, the questions and answers have a dedicated business focus and he provides some fantastic insights into how MLS is run as a business.  He discusses expansion, the finances of the team/leagues and much more.  For those interested in the business of MLS, we definitely recommend this interview.

The Boston Herald (via Revs beat writer Kyle McCarthy) provides a discussion of the upcoming Manchester United visit to Foxboro,  Most interestingly, McCarthy includes some quotes from the Commissioner about the tension inherent in growing the game through visits from such enormous clubs and the congestion it creates in its schedule.

The Portland Tribune continued its coverage of the nascent Timbers with this piece about the US Open Cup victory over Chivas USA.

The Salt Lake Tribune continued its excellent coverage of RSL with a piece on the Champions League match against Saprissa.  Seemingly no team in MLS receives better coverage from its local media than RSL.  Team members are frequently featured on local radio, the paper frequently provides in depth reporting and local news and sports broadcasts often devote significant time to covering the team.


Broadcast Blogging: USA v. Paraguay

Every so often, we provide a business blog of big matches broadcast on US television.  Typically, those games are on the Disney family of networks, so we thought we would look at some of the business aspects of the FSC telecast of the USA/Paraguay.  The match was preceded by a studio pre-game show, presented by Pizza Hut.  The studio included Cobi Jones, Eric Wynalda and Christopher Sullivan.  In addition to Pizza Hut,, General Auto Insurance, Kuhmo Tires and Capital One were among national sponsors.

The lead in to the broadcast included highlights of the USA /Argentina.  The booth team was JP Dellacamera and Kyle Martino. Nike, Gatorade, Bud, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Kuhmo, Jimador, AT&T and Dick’s were among sign board sponsors.  For those who are offered FSC in HD via their television providers, the match was available in that medium. Quick note about Kuhmo Tire USA.  The Argentina game was the first match that featured the new US Soccer/Kumho partnership.  This is especially interesting given the relationship between Continental Tires and MLS/SUM.

Martino and Dellacamera worked very well together in the booth and their familiarity was evident.  Brian Dunseth was the third man on the broadcast team.   The camera work was far better than typical for an FSC broadcast and they did a good promoting the FSC Friday night broadcast of the Crew match. FSC promoted the game both verbally and with graphics.  There was also an effort to promote Martino’s Twitter account.

The first set of ads going into the halftime show included Kumho Tires, Pizza Hut, Dick’s, ArmorAll and Proactiv.  Other ads included Gatorade, Army Reserve, Capital One, ZQuiet and Budweiser.  The halftime studio included the same cast of characters as the pre-game and also featured an interview with Tim Howard and FSC wisely had the booth team conducted the interview.  Howard stayed in the booth during the secnod half.  Howard added some great insights and was a valuable add to the broadcast.  The halftime show was sponsored by Dick’s.  The stat line was sponsored by Kumho Tires.

Critical Mention Update

Over the last year or so, we have discussed MLS’ efforts to measure the value of its television exposure through various local and national broadcasts.  Through the website, MLS tries to alert media  to the “value” of its presence on various television programs.  Since a few weeks have passed since we last checked in on this metric, we thought providing a snapshot of this metric of MLS media exposure.  Given the exposure generated by Chad Ochocinco, we thought now would be an especially interesting time to check on MLS’ level of exposure.  The 10 clips reached a cumulative 2.85 million viewers, for over $112,000 in exposure.

The biggest clip was a Sportscenter spot on Ochocinco’s Kansas City trial.  The clip reached more than 816,000 viewers for an estimated publicity value of more than $94,000 dollars.  The feature is especially well done and was also part of the Outside the Lines broadcast over the weekend.  We have been preparing these updates for more than a year and this likely represents the biggest single exposure from any single spot referenced my Critical Mention.  For those who question the value of Ochocinco’s participation in MLS, this really quantifies the valuable exposure.

Moving to Portland, the Timbers got some airtime on the local FOX affiliate as part of the 11:00 p.m. newscast.  The spot focused on Futty Danso, a Timbers defender who also features for Gambia.  The coverage included an interview with the player that lasted over two minutes and went into significant depth about the Portland Timbers.  The interview reached more than 24k viewers and was worth almost $5k in exposure.  This was a great interview for MLS, yet the limited financial value of the spot shows the real value of ESPN coverage.

Finally, we’ll stop in Salt Lake City, where the local Fox affiliate covered the Galaxy/RSL match.  In addition to highlights of three goals from the studio, the coverage also included a report live from the field and player interviews.  This really shows the exposure teams can get from being the “big fish” in a smaller pond.  In total, the coverage reached 51,600 people for a total value of $6600.

The Monday After

Another full weekend in MLS brought the start of FSC’s Friday night matches, the absence of a league game on ESPN and competition from the USMNT. As we do every Monday, here are some business stories from late last week and the weekend that we haven’t yet hit.  We will finish up with a rough summary of MLS attendance.

Probably the biggest business story of the weekend didn’t involve MLS, but rather the enormous crowd in East Rutherford that saw the USA and Argentina play to a 1-1 tie.  Almost 79k filled the stadium and were treated to a fantastic matchup.  The game also brought the return of Ian Darke to USMNT broadcasts and the British announcer was his usual immaculately prepared self.  Darke did a great job in the booth and effectively noted the relationships between players on the field and MLS sides, and matter of grat importance to MLS teams trying to reach American soccer fans who don’t follow the league.  One surprising business note was the presence of a large in-stadium ad for WPS franchise Sky Blue.

Week two of MatchDay Live was not without some hiccups, as the RSL/Galaxy game froze-up for the first 20 minutes.  Nevertheless, the MDL service is great for the league and great for fans.

Attendance around MLS got off to a great start with more than 36k in Seattle for the Sounders’ Friday night matchup. 20k were at BMO Field for Toronto’s home opener win, while just over 10k were in Columbus and almost 13k in Foxboro for the Revs.   In Philly, 18,500 saw the Union win while 12,100 were in Chicago for the Fire home opener.   RSL set a stadium record with more than 20k with and sold the match out well in advance of the kickoff.   Only 11k made it out to Pizza Hut Park and more than 13k saw Chivas USA at the Home Depot.

Seattle Joins the Groupon Parade

In January we wrote about the spread of Groupon as a means for MLS franchises to sell tickets.  We also promised to keep track of efforts to sell tickets through Groupon in 2011.  One of our readers let us know that the vaunted Seattle Sounders marketing machine has joined the list of MLS teams selling tickets through the discount website. The team put 350 tickets for its Friday night game against Houston up on Groupon, with $37 tickets in the stadium corner on sale for $16. Given the remarkable success the team has had in selling tickets during its first two seasons, it seems surprising that the team has utilized Groupon and seemingly devalued its brand by discounting seats.  Yet 350 is not a huge number and the deal sold out very quickly.  We will keep checking to see if the Sounders keep using the site.

Seattle is not the only team using Groupon this season.  FC Dallas used the site to help pump its big crowd for the home opener.  The Galaxy sold more than 770 tickets to their home opener using the site.   Below, we reprise our earlier thoughts about Groupon and how MLS sides have used the site.

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.

Socer Business Bits: The Ochocinco Show, Portland Hits the Target & San Jose Sponsorships

We have avoided comment on the Chad Ochocino story until today, but after the start of his trial, we feel an obligation to weigh in.  At its core, this is a business story.  Sporting KC pulled out all of the stops to provide media access and coverage of the four day trial.  The team was aggressively tweeting throughout the first day, Ochocinco was made available to the media,  the practice was streamed on video and SKC was a big trend in the Twitterverse.   We continue to believe that this is a win-win for SKC and MLS.  In the midst of a re-brand, the Ochocinco show is putting the squad’s new identify into the mainstream.  At the same time, Ochocinco has been (and will likely continue to be) extremely complimentary of the sport and the league and his involvement is introducing both to new audiences.

In Portland, the Timbers have announced that they have sold their entire allotment of 12,500 season tickets.  The team has established a waiting list and has always sold out its home opener against Chicago.  There were reports of fans camping out to buy single game tickets when they first went on sale.  Timbers matches will be held at the newly named JELD-WEN Field.  Season ticket packages also include a friendly against Ajax.

Finally, the Earthquakes have signed up sponsorship deals with Farmers Insurance and 7-Up. The carbonated beverage will now be sold at San Jose matches and will get rights to the Earthquakes mark in the San Jose area.  Farmers will get stadium signage as part of their deal and will also get advertising in the gameday magazine and on Spanish language radio.

A Look at Jersey Sponsors

Unfortunately, WordPress software was down for most of the evening making it difficult to put up some new content.  The plan was to right about the surprising lack of new jersey sponsors in MLS.  When Commissioner Garber made his bold statement last November suggesting that most teams would have sponsors in 2011, fans did not expect to see teams like Chicago and Columbus lose the name on the front of their jerseys.  Equally disappointing, neither of the MLS Cup finalists have secured a sponsor.  Unfortunately, because of the time crunch, we cannot hit this in depth, but here is a piece we drafted a while back about the shocking value of MLS jersey deals.

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.

The Art of Broadcasting: Play-by-Play with Dave Johnson

Last week, we posted our first entry in an ongoing series on the art of broadcasting soccer.  Today we are fortunate to have some thoughts from renown soccer broadcaster Dave Johnson on the art of play by play.  Mr. Johnson is the voice of DC United and is the radio voice of the Washington Wizards.  He received an Emmy as host of the NHL’s Washington Capitals “Face Off” television show and is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in Washington, DC and in 2008 won an Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for his sports commentaries on WTOP.  Thanks to Mr. Johnson. In your career you have broadcast sports ranging from soccer to basketball to football.  What makes the play-by-play of soccer different from other sports?  Does your approach to calling a game differ for a soccer match?

Dave Johnson:  Each sport has a unique texture and feel and there is the obvious difference between play-by-play on TV and radio. On radio it is artistry with the attempt to paint a picture. On TV the play-by-play role is like that of a pilot-get the show off to take off…few bumps in between and then a smooth landing and in the process weave the color analyst in to the game comfortably. My philosophy on broadcasting is make sure the “the game is the thing”. Broadcasters are not the show, the players are. With soccer versus basketball, it take more of a feel for the texture of the game to broadcast soccer. Sports like basketball often go in predictable segments-each team gets a possession or a turn at bat. With soccer it is constantly changing and there are so many games within the game that are also going on that need to be brought out. Lastly I try to bring energy and passion to soccer while also letting the game breathe.
FB: What do you have to do to prepare for a soccer broadcast?  How much time do you spend in advance of a game getting ready for a telecast?  What aspect of pre-game preparation do you think fans would find most surprising?

DJ:  Preparation is endless. The internet changed that. There is always another article, another link, another interview on you tube. It’s hard to put a time figure on preparation. For example as I write this on a Monday, I have already started preparing for a game on Saturday. It is a high-tech world, but I still map out my players formations with 4 different colored sharpies and the both blue and black pen. It is a system I have used since my days with the MISL Baltimore Blast in the early 90s.

FB: Does your style change if you are broadcasting a match as a DC United broadcaster rather than a World Cup match?  Do you change your approach depending on the audience? Do you try and stay “neutral” regardless of the game or do viewers of DC United games expect a “partisan” voice?

DJ: That’s a good question. It is different to some degree when I am doing a DCU TV game vs. FSC or the World Cup like I did on XM Radio in 2006. My late partner Gordon Bradley had a phrase…”respect the game, enjoy the moment”, which I apply to broadcasting. In short I still provide energy when an opponent does something well on a DCU broadcast.  In ‘home” broadcasts there is the appreciation that the most of  (but not all) of the audience are DCU fans, but that does not mean I call the game through DCU broadcasts. My broadcast partner Thomas Rongen and I try to call it like we see it. Again we truly love and respect the game.

FB: During a game, what goes on in the broadcast booth that viewers don’t see and hear?  What type of discussions are occurring between you and your production team?

DJ: It’s hard to have conversations with the production team during soccer because the game is always moving. Still we will hit the talkback button and talk with the producer about matchups we need to watch or things we are seeing develop. The producer will also have an ear out for content and might ask questions in talkback in case we are overlooking something.
FB: Finally, “it’s in the net, it’s in the net” is your well recognized signature goal call.  What is the origin of that call?  Is having such a signature a “must” for broadcaster?

DJ: I don’t think it is necessary to have a signature call. I did not sit around thinking of “it’s In the Net” It  started when I was calling Baltimore Blast games in the MISL, 1990-1992. It was just a natural response that fans picked up on. For me it is still natural and there have been some goals where I didn’t use it because it just didn’t come out. Over the years I have taken some hits for it. Some have said it is contrived. Is it anymore contrived than longs shouts of “GOAALLLLLLLLLLLLLL”? I don’t think so and I like goaaaallll calls. It is an expression of excitement and joy….that’s what a goal in soccer is all about. It is the moment. For me it’s natural. But it’s true signature calls evolve….Marv Albert “yessss”…Baseball’s…”how about that”..etc.

Thanks to Mr. Johnson

The Monday After

Week One is complete, so as we will do every Monday, here are some business thoughts on the weekend that was.  For fans of MLS, it was a great weekend of games, with matches kicking off from 6:30-10:30 ET on Saturday night.  The free preview of Direct Kick, combined with MatchDay Live and FSC brought a constant stream of games.  We thought that Direct Kick functioned great.  Other than a weather related hiccup in Houston, the broadcasts were smooth and the free preview was a fantastic advertisement for the season long service.  From a business perspective, it is always interesting to see the in-game advertisements that are part of the local broadcasts.

By all accounts, the MatchDay Live service functioned well despite some initial issues.  We found the “MatchCenter” to be woefully slow in providing scores and highlights.  Despite the website’s front page revealing the 3-1 DC/Columbus final, the Matchcenter showed the score as 1-0 well into the evening.  The i-phone app was great, providing up to the minute highlights and game summaries. The features are better than last year and were a significant addition to the MLS fan experience.  We’d welcome some thoughts on all of this items and on the Android App.

Attendance wise, it was a very good day in MLS.  The week started with a very big crowd in Seattle and continud with just over 20k in Dallas (a great number), almost 21k in New York (although the pictures tell a different story), more than 19k in Houston, 23k in Vancouver, more than 17k in Colorado (almost a sell-out), a reported 18k at the Home Depot Center for Chivas USA (looked much less on TV), 27k sellout on Sunday and 10,500 in San Jose.  This is a dynamite opening weekend for the league.  Typical laggards Dallas and Colorado looked great (can it keep up), and Vancouver started with a bang.

Finally, it was disappointing to see the number of teams withoug jersey sponsors.  We will write more about this in coming days, but after Don Garber’s pronouncement in November that most teams would have sponsors in fairly short order, the blank spaces on the jerseys of teams like Chicago, Dallas, Colorado, New England, Kansas City and more were disheartening.

Deals, Deals, Deals: Home Opener Offers Around MLS

Thanks to one of our readers for letting us know that Red Bulls’ tickets for their home opener against Seattle this weekend are being offered at a 40% discount through TravelZoo.  The tickets are priced in three different ranges and start at $16 for the highly anticipated match.  We wrote in January about the success MLS teams have had using sites like Groupon to move tickets.  Teams moved a significant amount of tickets in 2010 using the discount site.  It will be interesting if a price reduction through a site like TravelZoo could be equally effective.  That isn’t the only deal the Red Bulls are offering for the home opener.  The team is offering a 4 ticket Family pick starting at $96. The deal includes the tickets and a $20 concession certificate.

Elsewhere, United is offering a 4 pack of tickets for their home opener against the Crew on the 19th.  The package includes 4 limited edition pint glasses.  Prices range from $90-$182.  For as little as $89, United is offering a different 4 ticket package that includes a poster autographed by sensation Andy Najar.

We’ll stop in Houston, where the Dynamo are offering a deal in conjunction with McDonald’s. For just under $55, fans can get 4 tickets to the team’s March 19, 2011 match against Philly.  The deal also includes 4 Dynamo T-Shirts and 4 meal vouchers to McDonald’s.   The team re-opened its Budweiser Party Zone where fans can spend $20 for a ticket, beverage, BBQ and admission to a pre-game tailgate.  The tailgate will include big screen televisions showing March Madness.