Looking at MLS on the Web

Last year we conducted a lenghty interview with MLSSoccer.com editor Greg Lalas.  At the time we spoke with him, the site was undergoing struggles as it emerged in its new format. Last Spring,  the new MLSSoccer.com replaced the outgoing MLSsoccer.net with great fanfare, as MLS took its website in house and completely redesigned the format and content.  At the start, an array of technical issues created an uproar among MLS fans unable to access stats, video and other features of the website.  According to Mr. Lalas, one of the key goals of the new site was to create a destination for fans of soccer to get information about MLS, world soccer and more.  It took  many fans some time to get accustomed to the new types of articles and commentary available on the site, but in year two the site is running smoothly.  We thought we would take a look at the site in its current form.

Perhaps the best part of the site is the wealth of video and highlight options available to readers.  The front page features entire game highlight packages, single goal replays and more.  Purchasers of MatchDay Live also have access to a wide ranging library of full matches that are easily accessible and easy to use. Multi-media options like the weekly highlight show and the extra time podcast allow fans of the league to access in depth content in a variety media.

The written content is also quite varied, with a nice combination of league news, team specific stories and commentary.  Interestingly, just 48 hours since the European final, there was no coverage of the Barcelona win. This suggests that the site has trended towards a more MLS-centered focus.  The site also includes FutobolMLS.com, a section devoted to Spanish language coverage.    At the bottom of the page, there are links to a number of features that provide in depth reporting, analysis and more.

Overall, MLSSoccer.com continues to grow into a great destination for American soccer fans seeking information, video and cvoerage of the league.  The site is part of our regular rotation and should definitely be part of most fans dose of soccer coverage.


The Monday After

Time for a Memorial Day Version of the Monday After.  We spent some of the weekend in the Boston area and were treated to a number of billboards on the major highways surrouding the City that were promoting the Revs/Manchester United match. The boards show images of players on both teams with large replicas of both teams’ crests.  With the recent visit from the Galaxy, the upcoming US/Spain match and the Mancheter United visit, the Summer promises some sizable crowds for soccer at Gillette.  Although Revs have struggled in the attendance department this year, these events could provide soccer fans in the area with the opportuinty to make the trip to Foxboro and perhaps return for a “regular” Revs game.

As we discussed multiple times in the last couple of weeks, the Fox network broadcast the Champions League final on Saturday afternoon.  Some of the initial reviews of the broadcast were not favorable, but Martin Tyler carried the play by play and did his ususal professional job in communicating the game to the viewers.  Most of the trouble lay with the non live action elements of the telecast. FOX included an odd piece with Michael Strahan comparing football and soccer and relied heavily on current and former US Internationals to provide analysis.  Overall, there actual broadcast was of sufficient quality and the combination of top teams and an entertaining game should drive a successful ratings number.

Now on to attendance from a busy week in MLS.  Mid-week numbers inlcluded just over 18k at Red Bull Arena, more than 36k in Seattle and almost 14,500 at the Home Depot Center (perhaps the lowest Galaxy attendance in HDC history?).   Saturday got started with more than 20k in Toronto for a fairly remarkable match that was fun to watch.  Vancouver sold out 21k  seats while the Galaxy circus brought more than 21k into Foxboro.  Columbus failed to clear 10k while Chicago almost hit 12k.  Both Houston and Colorado were near 16,500 with solid numbers for both teams.  RSL brought in about 14,600 while Portland brought in its ususal 18,600+.

Marketing in New England

On the road tonight, so we thought we would revisit an interview from early February with Revs COO Brian Bilello.  After a tough start, Revs attendance has started to climb and Gillette stadium will soon be host to two big soccer events: Spain/USA and Revs/ManU.  Since this interview was conducted, the Revs landed United Healthcare as a jersey sponsor and made productive use of Groupon, two of the items discussed below.   How are the marketing efforts raised in the initial interview working in 2011?

Today, we were fortunate to have Revs COO Brian Bilello answer some questions about the Revs marketing strategies and efforts.    The Revs have really amped up their online presence in the last couple of years and have started to aggressively use Twitter as a marketing tool.  Also, their new blogger initiative is very innovative and should provide a great forum for fans to connect with their team.  We last chatted with Mr. Bilello in April of 2009.  A copy of that interview is here.  Thanks to Mr. Bilello.

Footiebusiness.com: In a recent interview with the Sports Business Journal, you discussed the Revs’ decision to credential independent bloggers in 2011.  What is the motivation behind that decision?  Do you believe this will help the team better connect with its fans?  What will qualify a blogger for a credential?

Brian Bilello: In terms of team communication, we’re always exploring ways to better inform, entertain and service our fans. During the past few years, social media has opened new avenues for bloggers to increase their reach to fans. In our case, they can tweet an entry with #Revs or post it on our Facebook wall and have it seen by tens of thousands of Revolution fans. Given that bloggers now have this larger promotional platform, they are reaching more and more fans and becoming greater influences in the soccer community. We feel it’s important to help them get accurate information about the team, so that has been the basis for this new initiative. In terms of qualifying, we’ll be looking to first credential those who have existing blogs and who regularly write content. It will be somewhat of a work in progress as we get into the season and we launch the program. But as you can imagine, we won’t be able to credential 100 bloggers, so we may have to create a new accreditation process at some point.

FB: Similarly, how are the Revs utilizing social media?  Some teams are aggressively relying on Twitter, posting frequent training camp updates, linking to blog posts about the team and providing teasers about signings and ticket promotions, while others have been slower to adopt the technology. You are currently on Twitter as are members of the team’s communications staff.  How do you anticipate the team using Twitter and Facebook going forward?  Does the team have a policy on players using Twitter?

BB: In terms of Twitter and other social media tools, we’re going to continue to use them to update fans on the team, website content and events and give fans some snippets from behind the scenes. For me personally, it is a great way of getting real-time updates on soccer news as I follow all the relevant writers so when Kyle McCarthy or Grant Wahl post an article, I can see it right away. I also like the ability to be able to reach out to fans directly when they have questions about the team.

We don’t yet have any formal policies as they pertain to Facebook and Twitter with players. They are individuals and are, of course, free to do whatever they like, but we are in the process of creating suggested usage guidelines to help them navigate social media. That being said, we continually emphasize that commenting on Twitter or Facebook is the practically same as making an on-the-record statement to a reporter, so they need to be careful as to what they post or say.

FB: With respect to ticket promotions, last year the Revs used Groupon to sell more than 2,500 tickets to the Revs/Seattle game.  Do you anticipate using Groupon in 2011?  Is it possible to identify how many purchasers of that opportunity will become repeat visitors to Revs games? Does the team view that promotion as a success?  Should fans expect other game day promotions in 2011?

BB: We’re certainly looking to work with Groupon again in 2011 but we’re have to be careful not to devalue our tickets through vehicles like this. As a one-off, it’s nice to be able to give fans a free t-shirt or other value-added amenity, but I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to just start throwing such significant discounts out on a regular basis. There is no direct method of tracking GroupOn purchasers since they are fairly protective of their lists. (After all, that list is their business.) However, we used other incentives in the stadium that night to encourage them to sign up for our newsletter, so could communicate with them directly about the team and upcoming games. That promotion was certainly a success and we are looking at more promotions in 2011.

FB: What is the Revs rate of season ticket renewal for 2011?  Will the team announce its final season ticket numbers at some point during the season? What do the Revs offer as season ticket incentives?

BB: At this point we are at 82% with about two months to go in the process. Given past results, that will likely put us among the top 2-3 teams in the league for renewal percentage. That’s also off of a base that is essentially the median for the league.

We really try to provide our Season Ticket Holders the best service and benefits in the league, and this year especially they have rewarded us by coming back strong. Given our performance on the field last year, the success with our Season Ticket Holders renewals really speaks to the hard work done by our customer service team throughout the year. We offer a long list of benefits, including several exclusive STH events with owners, players and coaches, a dedicated parking lot, early stadium entry, discounts on additional tickets and pre-sale opportunities to events at Gillette Stadium (international soccer games, concerts, Patriots games, etc.), not to mention a great discount on their Revolution tickets versus face value. Ultimately, I look at our renewal success this year as a leap of faith by our Season Ticket Holders that we’re going to be better on the field.  Now it is our job to reward them for that faith.

FB: Finally, Commissioner Garber announced in November that a number of teams will announce jersey sponsors for 2011.  The Revs are one of the few remaining teams that have never had a jersey sponsor.  Do you view that as a lost revenue opportunity over the past few years?  Do you anticipate the Revs joining the list of teams with a jersey sponsor in 2011?

BB: Yes, it is a lost opportunity for us and we need to get a partnership finalized. We were very close this off-season, but it didn’t happen. We’re still in talks with a number of companies, but hard to put a timeline on it right now.

Covering the Coverage

Full power tonight after some downed wires made posting impossible yesterday.  Every so often, we take a look at how various media are covering soccer in the United States. We thought now was a good time to take a look at some mainstream sports outlets.

We’ll start with Sports Illustrated, where the most recent edition of the magazine to hit the newstands included a four page spread on the Cascadia rivalary.  Written by Grant Wahl, the piece provides a great look at the Pacific Northwest and includes a fantastic photo of the banners and flags in the stands at Qwest Field at the Sounders/Timbers match as well as other images of the rivalary.  Wahl includes interviews with coaches, players, Timber Joey, fans and more.  The article is especially important beause it provides coverage of a great MLS story without a traditional particular event (e.g. MLS Cup, All Star Game, etc…) to build around.

With the Champions League final just days away, the front page of Foxsports.com includes multiple references to the match, including a banner advertisement promoting the game.  Ryan Giggs’ unfortunate last few days are among the lead stories and additional ads about the match line both sides of the home page.  The soccer section of the site includes even more in depth coverage of the upcoming Final.

The under appreciated Yahoo! Sports offers a wide range of soccer coverage with articles looking at an array of European soccer teams, players and matches.  Finding the MLS coverage takes a little doing, but the MLS front page includes a number of pieces from Martin Rogers and links to Goal.com articles.

Power Outage

A night of no power means no new post…back tonight with something new.

More on the Champions League Final

Yesterday we talked about the upcoming Fox broadcast of the Manchester United/Barcelona Champions League final.  Last year, Fox felt so strongly about the ratings potential for the game that the network elected to show the match in lieu of its typical Saturday afternoon baseball.  The Yankees/Mets game was bumped back a couple of hours and the Final was shown in its entirety.  Some sources indicated that Fox was hoping to reach 2 million households with the game.  The final in 2009 was seen by just over 1 million households on ESPN.  The game had been scheduled to be broadcast on FX, but the network (which owns the American rights to three years of UEFA broadcasts), moved the game to to its main network.

However, the ultimate ratings last year were not nearly as good as expected, with the match scoring a 1.1.   The 2011 match-up brings the teams with the best cache to network television.  Barcelona and Manchester United have enormous followings in the United States and the ratings promise to be much better than last year.

The Sports Business Journal ran an excellent piece in its most recent edition about the success of Champions League broadcasts the family of Fox networks.  According to the article, ad inventory for the final sold out in January, while the entire portfolio of Champions League telecasts sold out ad inventory for the entire season.   According to the same article, the combined audience for the semifinals was 800,000.

We’ll discuss the broadcast in further detail after the match, but the continued broadcasts of these games on American television represents a significant leap forward for soccer in the United States.

The Monday After: Ads on Fox, Business of the Rapids and Attendance

Time for a Monday wrap of the weekend that was in American soccer.  We’ll start with the Fox’s efforts to promote its Saturday afternoon broadcast of the upcoming Champions League Final.  The game will feature as part of a “split” doubleheader on Fox that includes the match at 2:00 and a 7:00 baseball telecast. During the Mets/Yankees Saturday night game on Fox, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver were tasked to read a promo of the game (on multiple occassions) accompanied by graphics.  Their read of the spot included some vanilla banter about the idea of Fox televising both a soccer and baseball match on the same day.  A Saturday afternoon May is not prime television time, but the broadcast of a European soccer match on network television is remarkable given where soccer has come from in this country.

We forgot to note last week’s Sports Business Journal Q&A with Rapids Managing Director Jeff Plush.  The interview is worth a read, but some highlights include the addition of Westerra Credit Union as the full season presenting sponsor, key rolls for Porsche and Coors Light in the team’s sponsorship roster and a 30% increase in season ticket sales.

It was a solid attendance weekend in Major League Soccer.  More than 18,300 were in Philly for the Union’s 2-1 victory over Chicago, while more than 25k were in Houston to see the Red Bulls and Dynamo play to a 2-2 draw.  The late games on Saturday were quite solid, with 27k in Los Angeles for the Galaxy/Chivas match, 26k+ in Seattle for the Sounders and more than 18k in Portland for the Timbers.  Only San Jose, with less than 10k in attendance, had a subpar night.  On Sunday night, the Dallas crowd was impacted by bad weather, while the Rapids seemingly put together a very solid crowd for their match against TFC

Soccer Stadium Update

It’s been a while since our last look at stadium construction around MLS.  We’ll start in Houston, where the Dynamo’s efforts to build in downtown Houston has progressed far enough to warrant a webcam. 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.

In Kansas City, the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park is now just weeks away.    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.   The June 9 home opener will be one of 3 home games for the team in June.  The match against the Fire will be nationally televised on ESPN2.

There has been less news on the San Jose Earthquakes stadium front.  San Jose started the process a couple of months back, by beginning the demoltion of its future stadium site. Although the event included a fair amount of pomp and circumstance, the demoltion does not guarantee construction.  Financing and ownership committment still need to be confirmed before the job moves forward.

Selling Tickets in MLS

As we do every few weeks, we take a look at the promotions and marketing efforts MLS teams are using to sell seats for the upcoming matches. We’ll start in Houston, where the Dynamo are offering a creatively marketed Hawaii 2-5 Package.  The $99 deal includes 2 tickets to the May 21 match against the Red Bulls at Robertson Stadium and entrance to a pre-game tailgate. Buyers also get a pair of Brian Ching autographed flip flops. The package is offered in conjunction with Dymamo Charities.  The deal is more expensive than most packages but it includes no information about the pre-game tailgate that likely makes up the most significant portion of the cost.  The team is also offering a $68 4 pack in conjunction with McDonalds.

San Jose is also offering a promotion in conjunction with New York’s only appearance this year. The team is sponsoring a fireworks night for the Red Bulls match.  Specifically, the team is offering a 4 pack for $50 that also includes 2 team T-shirts.  The match will be held at Stanford Stadium.  The team is also trying to sell a two game package that includes seats to both the West Brom friendly and the Red Bulls games.  Unfortuantely, the link on the team site leads nowhere helpful in search of that deal.

We’ll conclude in Philly, where the Union are pushing the last opportunity to purchase season tickets.  Pro rated seats range from $209 to $534

Major League Soccer Seat Licenses

It is GSL purchase time in MLS again.  With the 2011 All Star purchase window closing, we thought we would revisit an interview we did with Brad Pursel of MLS about the Guaranteed Seat License program.

For the last few years, MLS has offered its fans the opportunity to purchase a “Guaranteed Seat License” for the MLS Cup and MLS All-Star game.  For a one-time fee, the GSL affords the purchaser the lifetime right to purchase tickets for those two events every year.  We were intrigued by the program, and MLS Vice President of Club Services Brad Pursel was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the GSL.  Mr. Pursel has worked with MLS since 1997 in various capacities and his answers are below.

Footiebusiness.com: What is the intent of the GSL program?  What is MLS trying to achieve by offering this opportunity?

Brad Pursel: The intent of the GSL program is to offer our fans the opportunity to always secure seats for our annual All-Star Game and MLS Cup, our two biggest events. It’s a special and unique program that does not exist in other professional leagues.

FB:   Who is the target audience for the GSL program?   What is MLS doing to promote the program to this target audience?

BP: We’ve targeted core MLS fans for this program, which is why it is primarily promoted via our websites, MLSnet.com and FutbolMLS.com, and through our e-blasts. We’ve seen many purchases by families and as gifts for children to enjoy for a lifetime.

FB: Has MLS capped the amount of GSLs it will sell? How many has it sold so far?  When will the offer end?

BP: We have not yet capped the number of GSLs that are available, but we will monitor it closely to determine when the offer should end. Although we do not disclose the number of purchased GSLs, the number has exceeded our expectation.

FB: As the popularity of MLS increases, do you envision GSL holders using the GSL as an investment opportunity?  Will holders buy tickets using the GSL and then try to sell them at a profit?

BP:  GSLs are a personal investment for enjoyment and entertainment and the price could increase in the future. GSL holders are not permitted to sell their tickets.

FB: Finally, how did MLS decide on the $500 price point?  The amount seems too low to be much of a revenue generator.  Was it intended as such?

BP: In the beginning, we wanted to offer GSLs at price point that was not too low or too high. We are considering increasing the price,  especially as the number available decreases. The program has generated a significant amount of new revenue.

Thanks to Mr. Pursel for his responses.   We think the GSLs are a great idea for fans seeking to hedge against the increasing popularity of the League.  In an ideal scenario, MLS Cup will become a hot enough ticket such that GSL holders will have a chance to purchase tickets for an otherwise sold out event.  When MLS holds these matches at soccer specific stadiums, the events typically sell out and thus GSL holders have an avenue to purchase tickets for these games.  However, when the League uses bigger venues, tickets are typically available the day of the game and thus the value of the GSL is minimized.

We were a bit surprised by Mr. Pursel’s responses about the re-sale of tickets purchased through the GSL program.   The terms and conditions of the GSL preclude the transfer of the license, however the rules do not appear to preclude the sale of individual tickets purchased via the license.  That said, even if MLS didn’t explicitly preclude the sale of tickets purchased with the GSL, the ticket holder would be subject to applicable state laws.

Overall, we think this is a worthwhile program, especially if League’s profile continues to grow. Imagine if this opportunity was offered for the Super Bowl 40 years ago.  For more on the GSLs, click here.