Joining the Nielsen Family

We are on the road tonight, so just a quick post on the world of Nielsen.  Starting Thursday, my family joins the ranks of the one week Nielsen Families as we are scheduled to start the process of logging our television viewing.  It will be a big soccer weekend in the house with MLS featuring on FSC and twice on ESPN2 during the relevant period.

Curious if anyone else out there has had this opportunity?  Drop us a line and let us know.

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A Ratings MisMatch

The talk today is all about ratings with Fox Soccer issuing a self congratulatory press release because of its outstanding ratings from the Gold Cup Final.  The FSC broadcast reached more than 950,000 viewers, crushing the previous FSC record set during the last Gold Cup Final.  The Nielsen rating for the match was a solid 1.43, the first time FSC has ever cleared the 1.0 ratings hurdle.  According to the Fox Press Release, “the Gold Cup final also delivered record ratings for FOX Soccer in the coveted M18-49 demo, earning a 1.65/383,000 and in the 18-34 year old demo, earning a 1.64 or 194,000 viewers, making it FOX Soccer’s highest key male audience of all time and beating network competitors ABC, CBS and NBC in impressions in that age group from 8:30 – 11:00 p.m. ET.”

By way of comparison, the Champions League Final earned a 1.8 overnight rating on the primary Fox network.  By way of further of comparison, last August the USA played Brazil on a Tuesday night in a friendly one month after the World Cup.  That game drew more than 800,000 viewers.

Overall, the game was even more successful on Spanish language television.  Univision scored a ratings win with approximately 8 million viewers.  According to multi-channel.com, “the 2011 event was Univision’s best yet with the Copa Ora tourney, which registered a 36% increase to 2.25 million viewers on average over the 2009 tournament. On the demo side, Univision scored advances of 36% with the 12-to-34 set (951,000); 34% with persons 18 to 34 (803,000); 36% among viewers 18 to 49 (1.42 million); 37% with guys 18 to 34 (529,000); and 36% against males 18 to 49 (929,000).”

The day also brought ratings news on the MLS front.  The Sports Business Daily is reporting that the recent ESPN2 Sporting/Fire match drew a season low in viewers, with less than 170k.  However, for the year, MLS broadcasts are pushing near the 300k mark, an increase of about 50k over last year’s ratings mark.

Shopping at the Team Stores

Over the years we have continually maintained the value of a good shopping experience at both the league stores and individual team stores online.  These stores represent an ongoing point of contact between the teams and their fans, and the goods they sell become walking advertisements for the franchises they signify.  Over the last couple of days we have shopped at a couple of those stores and have found the experience wanting.

We have been on the Philadelphia Union and DC United sites to purchase baby clothes for friends with newborns in those two cities.  Neither couple is a big soccer fan, but what better way to join the world than sporting the newest United and Union “onesie”!!!  Both sites had an adequate supply of goods for kids and the shopping experience was fairly painless.  It was on check-out that the experience was lacking.

Neither Union nor United had a mechanism by which a purchase could be termed a “gift”.  There was no way to wrap the items, no way to send a card and not even a way to send a note of congratulations.  Given the amount of purchases made on these sites for gift giving purposes, the omission seemed remarkable. This is especially so, because similar purchase two weeks ago from the Baltimore team store offered a wide array of gift options.

We contacted both shops to ask about options.  The United store simply indicated that there was no gift options and no plans to add one.  The Union store indicated that the area reserved for shipping comments (e.g. “use the back porch”) could serve as a spot for a gift note, but this is a half measure at best.  Merchandise sales are an enormous component of revenue for professional sports leagues and gift giving is an enormous component of those sales.  This seems like bad business to us.  Tell us about your experiences with these shops?  Positive? Negative?  Here is our story from January, 2010 about shopping online for soccer gear.

 

The Monday After

Big weekend for soccer in the United States with the Gold Cup Final, kick off of the Women’s World Cup and regular MLS action around the country.  This includes the odd decision to run a number of MLS matches while the Gold Cup Final was going forward in California.

All 32 matches of the Women’s World cup will be televised in HD on the ESPN family of networks.  ESPN will carry the bulk of the matches with only 9 games allocated to ESPN2.  Matches will also be available on ESPN3.com for those with access to that internet service.  ESPNnetworks.com will also carry the games.  Almost all of the games will provide commentary from the site of the match and all will be broadcast live.  ESPN wil have its pre-game, halftime and post-game shows from Germany.

Fox Soccer Channel broadcast the Gold Cup Final from the Rose Bowl anchored by its lead team of DellaCamera and Martino.  Wynalda, Sullivan and Jones continued to hold down the studio, with a guest appearance from US International Stuart Holden.  Brian Dunseth continued as the network’s sideline reporter. Overall the broadcast quality was solid as FSC continues to improve its ability to show live matches in the States.  More than 93k were in attendance at the Rose Bowl for the game.

On the MLS attendance front, the week started with solid crowds of more than 18k in Philly and 14,900 in Chicago.  Seattle opened its gates for the RBNY match and more than 46k came to Century Link for the game.  On Saturday night, more than 18k again packed PPL while just over 15k were at Rio Tinto.  Dallas and San Jose crept past the 10k mark while more than 18,400 were at LiveStrong Sporting Park.  DC and RFK hosted just over 15,700.  The big numbers continued with almost 17k at Toyota Park for a Sunday  matinee and another large crowd in Seattle for their Sunday game against the Revs.

The Business of the Gold Cup

On Saturday, the 2011 version of the Gold Cup will conclude in Southern Califormia with the much anticipated matchup between the United States and Mexico.  Before the tournament concludes, we thought it worth touching on a number of business items from the CONCACAF event.

The tournament is a big revenue generator as it provides ex-pats from a number of countries the rare opportunity to see the teams from their homelands playing live.  Unlike some versions of the Gold Cup, the 2011 version featured the top players from the region, as the teams are vying for a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup.  The games were scheduled for a mix of soccer specific stadiums and larger football venues including newly opened LiveStrong Sporting Park.  For a stadium like Red Bull Arena, the game provided both an opportunity to generate game day revenues and show the beauty of the stadium to another audience.

Unlike previous years, Gold Cup matches were not linked with a series of double and triple headers that included MLS matchups.  These games had always been attended as a “gateway” to MLS for many fans, but were not on the docket in 2011.  With the semi-final in Houston and the final at the Rose Bowl, CONCACAF guaranteed maximum revenue generation from the traveling show that is the Mexican National Team.

On the broadcast side, Fox Soccer Channel has done a solid job broadcasting the games.  JP DellaCamera and Kyle Martino are an improving pairing and the quality of the telecasts is better than prior Fox showings of the national team.  The studio team of Wynalda, Jones and Sullivan have added a fair amount of soccer insight, but the group is missing the glue of a polished host to keep the discussion moving.

According to a press release from FSC, ratings are up 82% over 2009.  The Panama/US match 389,000, a slight increase over the 2009 final.  Stuart Holden will be part of the Final broadcast.

The Revs’ Charitable Works

Part of our focus on the business aspects of soccer in the United States involves the occasional look at the charitable works around the sport.  According to a team press release, members of the New England Revolution, youth soccer players and leaders from The
Salvation Army Kroc Center celebrated opening of the center’s new soccer field with a ceremonial kickoff and scrimmage Shalrie Joseph, Kevin Alston, Chris Tierney and Darrius Barnes, joined about 150 local youth players on June
16 to commemorate the opening of The Salvation Army Kroc Center’s new soccer field at its state-of-the-art health, fitness and community center in the Dorchester Upham’s Corner neighborhood of Boston.

About 18 months ago, Revs Director of Communications Lizz Summers was kind enough to share a few words about the Revs’ good works.  Ms. Summers joined the Revs in 2006 after three seasons as the director of media relations at the University of Texas.  In her current role, Ms. Summers, who holds both an undergraduate and MBA from Boston College, oversees team media relations, public relations, corporate communications and new media activities.  In addition to directing the New England Revolution Charitable Foundation, Ms. Summers also directs the club’s other community relations efforts.  Thanks to Ms. Summers for answering our questions about the Revs’ charitable efforts.

Footiebusiness.com: The Revs are involved in charitable and community activity through the New England Revolution Charitable Foundation.  What is the goal of this group and what are the programs that the Foundation is trying to reach?  How is it determined what charities the Foundation assists?

Lizz Summers: The New England Revolution Charitable Foundation was actually founded very recently, in 2007, with a mission to assist New England-based charitable and community-based organizations, specifically those involved in education, family and health-related areas. Additionally, assisting programming involving and supporting youth soccer was also a priority. For the first few years, most of this support came through in-kind donations, although we’ve also made monetary donations to a select number of organizations. The Foundation’s mission statement has been the backbone for the team’s evolving community relations initiatives, too, so we have a consistent theme between the two entities.

Now that the Foundation has been going for several seasons, we’re taking a deeper look at the impact it’s had in several areas, and we’re re-examining its focus and mission statement. Being a sports team, we have tremendous ambassadors both on the field and off who can speak to a variety of health and wellness topics, more so in some respects than education and family. In 2010, we’re beginning the process of re-focusing the Foundation’s efforts, and extending the health and wellness theme to not only youth programming, but also adult programming to further involve our supporters. Between the Foundation’s growing involvement, its increasing fund raising activities and some of the team’s new community relations initiatives, we’re looking to increase our ability to help  charitable organizations with more monetary support as we head into the future.
FB: Many MLS fans are familiar with MLS W.O.R.K.S.  Do the Revs participate in such league-wide charitable efforts, or does the team focus on its own local charities and organizations?

LS: We do get involved with several of the MLS W.O.R.K.S. initiatives, and will have some deeper involvement in 2010 in some programs. The great thing about the MLS W.O.R.K.S. set-up is that teams can opt-in to most of the programs if they compliment the team’s efforts. Some teams may have conflicts either with local ties or sponsors and they’re unable to participate in some programming, but can incorporate other programs. We’re becoming more active in the league’s overall efforts as we continue to refine what our goals are in the community.
FB: Are the charitable efforts of the Revs separate and distinct from those of the New England Patriots and Kraft Sports?  Is there a company wide charitable philosophy that is consistent through all aspects of Revs/Pats?

LS: Where the Kraft family owns and operates two professional sports teams, as well as other sports and entertainment operations, there is certainly some crossover between the two teams. We also share a lot of best practices, especially us leaning on the Pats staff for advice and guidance since they have so much experience through national NFL programs, as well as their own. We’re actually looking to launch a program this year that we’re modifying from something the Patriots have done in the past, but tying it back to a health and wellness theme. The big thing that the Revs are now trying to do is create community and charitable opportunities where our fans and supporters can join us in giving back or lending a hand – hand-in-hand with the team. The great thing about the soccer community is that it’s a very close-knit group, especially in each city. We’re developing programs and opportunities that we hope our supporters will connect with, and that together with us – players, staff – we can make a greater difference.

FB: How is it determined which players attend certain charitable events?  Are players contractually obligated to participate in community/charity events?

LS: In the past, players have agreed to make a certain number of charitable or community appearances a year on behalf of the team, but we have never pushed players to participate if they don’t want to. Every year, we have some players who are more civic-minded than others, or who just enjoy being active in the community and they seek out opportunities to get involved. We’ve even helped a players connect and get involved with agencies and groups that they have an affinity to outside of the team’s work. Usually, we’ve tried to balance the appearances and rotate all the opportunities around, especially ones that fall in the afternoons or on weekends when the guys are looking to spend time with their families. For some higher-profile events, we’ll offer it up to the team to see who wants to participate.

Great stuff from the Revs and Ms. Summers.  Soccer is indeed a tight community and it is great to see players and teams acting as such valuable ambassodors for the sport.

When Social Media Bites Back

Over the last couple of years we have written extensively about the power of social media to connect teams with fans, promote a brand and drive message to the most passionate and interested potential consumers.  Every interview we have conducted with front office representatives has included a discussion about the use of social media. Universally, these front office representatives believe Facebook, Twitter, etc… are important and necessary tools for connecting with their current and future fans.  It provides teams with a dedicated avenue to reach the folks that have already identified themselves as having an interest in the team in an immediate fashion.  As the clubs become more proficient at using Facebook to connect, it will be interesting to monitor the “likes” to see if they are an accurate predictor of attendance, season ticket sales, tv ratings or something else.

Yet for all of the opportunity presented by social media, there is also great risk in allowing your fans to connect so directly and intimately with both the team and each other in a public forum blessed by the franchise.

Over the last three days, a dispute has erupted between the New England Revolution and their Supporters groups.  Whatever the merits of each side’s position, the disagreement has played out in a very public way on the Revs’ Facebook page.  The Revs’ social media home  is now ground zerio for personal attacks against front office members, angry diatribes directed against team policy and a small effort to defend the team. Most notably, team COO Brian Bilello took to the Facebook page to defend the team’s position by way of multiple three part posts.  Those efforts were met with anger and invective and the Revs’ Facebook page is now covered in anti-team passions.

The situation worsened when Mr. Bilello took to Twitter to defend the team’s Facebook policies.  Although well intentioned, sometimes 140 characters isn’t enough for detailed discussion and the Twitter exchanges failed to fully convey Bilello’s arguments.

Facebook and Twitter are wonderful tools and there will inevitably be bumps in the road as teams and fans learn the limits of their new relationship.  With the good comes the bad but ultimately, the ability of teams to connect with their fans instantly and intimately will be a phenomanal communication device. The Revs and the rest of the league should learn from the last few days and make sure they fully understanding the ramifications of the free flow of ideas permitted by the social media universe.

For more on what Mr. Bilello told us about the Revs plans to use social media a few months back, click here.