Footiebusiness Vault: Marketing in Dallas

On the road tonight, so we thought we would revisit our interview with Justin McCord of FC Dallas. On Monday, we’ll back with our usual Monday After post including a look at the business ramifications of Bob Bradley’s departure and some more tidbits from Don Garber’s media Q&A at the All-Star Game.

Enjoy the discussion below.

 

Over the last couple of weeks, we posted our Q&A with Timbers VP of Marketing Cory Dolich and interview with Revs COO Brian Bilello.  Today, we are fortunate to have had an opportunity to chat with FC Dallas’ Director of Marketing and Digital Media Justin McCord.  Mr. McCord has been with the team for three seasons following a couple of years with the Dallas Morning News and Mandalay Baseball Properties.  He has a BA in Communications and an MS in Sports Management from Baylor.  Mr. McCord was kind enough to provide some insight into the marketing and business aspects of FC Dallas.

Footiebusiness.com:  How is FC Dallas 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?

Justin McCord:  Digital media is one of the top imperatives for FC Dallas.  Twitter and Facebook carry over the editorial tone of our website, which fills a void in Dallas/Ft Worth in providing unique and distinguishable soccer content for soccer fans.  We’’re talking about soccer at all levels: FC Dallas’ first team and development academy, local adult leagues, EPL, La Liga, International.  Over the last 12 months we’’ve made a concerted effort to establish our digital content team as a significant source for soccer information.  And social media is a big part of that.

Twitter and Facebook also allow us to approach soccer fans three-fold:

1)      Pushing breaking news or unique content, like promoting Bobby Rhine’’s total soccer podcast.
2)      Communicating back and forth with fans that have a connection to the game or our club.
3)      Driving revenue through special offers.

Lastly, with respect to both of these platforms, social media gives us the opportunity to empower our fans.  Last November, amidst the most successful season in FC Dallas history, we were at a loss at the lack of coverage through local media.

Doug Quinn, our president & CEO, sent an open letter to the major media outlets in our market, informing them what they had missed.  We published an except from that letter (http://www.fcdallas.com/news/2010/11/open-letter-doug-quinn-dfw-media) and include the phone number, Facebook page and twitter handles for DFW media with a call to action for FC Dallas fans to contact the stations and let them know that they wanted more FC Dallas coverage, using #IWANTMYFCD.  Twitter and Facebook played a unique role in that campaign, which resulted in a significant social buzz, inches and air-time.

Going forward it’s no different.  Our three-fold approach allows us to provide a complete content user experience and connect deeper with FC Dallas fans.  We do not have a team policy regarding the use of twitter, but, from a marketing and communications side love to see our players leveraging their brands in the social space.

FB: With respect to ticket promotions, some teams heavily utilize game day promotions to drive traffic while others have moved away from that model.  Others have recently started using Groupon for select games.  Do you anticipate using Groupon in 2011?   Should fans expect game day promotions in 2011?

JM: We are building on a shift and focus to being soccer-centric. So, while the answer to all of your questions is yes, it’s important to know that it is through a filter of being true to what it means to be a Football Club that we’’ve made decisions on ticket packages and promotions. We’’ll have some unique ticket promotions/packages launching in the coming weeks that I’’m very excited about, including a Derby Package that includes games against some of our biggest rivals like Houston and Chicago.  Our gameday promotions will also include premiums that are traditional to the culture of the game, like scarves or over-sized yellow cards.  We want our promotions to enhance the game experience for the soccer fan – tying them closer to the game and team they love.

Groupon is a great tool and one that we experienced success with in 2010.  We’’ll continue to use it strategically, careful not to compromise the investment from our package holders, primarily our full season ticket holders.   

FB: In a recent interview with the Dallas Business Journal, Doug Quinn indicated that season ticket sales are up 300% year over year?  How does that figure translate into actual numbers? Will the team announce its final season ticket numbers at some point during the season? What does the team offer as season ticket incentives?
JM: Doug has put in place a leadership team that is going to propel this company in many departments, including Ticket Sales, Business Development, Marketing/Communications, the International space, Broadcast/Digital, FC Dallas Youth and more.  And that doesn’t take into consideration what our Technical staff does on the field.

With respect to ticket sales, we have more than 25 ticket sales representatives.  That’s more than three times what we had at this time last year.  Kris Katseanes (Director of Ticket Sales & Service) and his sales staff is hungry for success and is showing that when you combine the right people, the right strategy and right work ethic you will see results.

The number Doug referenced includes new packages buyers, both full and mini plans/flex buyers.  That doesn’t include the 92% renewal rate.  This is a great first step to our ultimate goal and gives us great momentum for 2011.

Our season ticket packages include many benefits that range from special opportunities/invitations to meet the team, exclusive gifts and the ability to exchange tickets.  For me, the most unique benefit our season ticket holders receive is priority communication.  Our season ticket holders receive information on player signings, awards, accolades and more before press releases go out of the building.  When David Ferreira won the 2010 MVP or when we signed our MLS leading fifth homegrown player, Jon Top, – it was our season ticket holders that knew first.

FB: What type of marketing efforts does the team make to attract soccer fans in the Dallas who follow the sport (in Europe, Latin America, etc…) but not the team?  Do you use billboards and newspapers or a more targeted approach?

JM: We want to be in the spaces where the DFW soccer fan consumes soccer.  That means partnerships with local adult leagues and spending time and resources through our pub network and on college campuses.  The other place we’’re trying to lead the charge for “all things soccer” is through media.  Our TV Analyst, Bobby Rhine, answers questions about soccer from all over the world in his weekly podcast on FCDallas.com.  We’re exploring opportunities to expand this type of programming in local media, both TV and radio.

Our paid media includes a mix of traditional and non-traditional, with a considerable focus in the digital space and social media.  We don’t have unlimited resources, so, for us, it’s about being smart with our dollars and placing buys around research and the analytics on previous campaigns.  We are targeted in our placements when we can be, for instance, running spots during Champions League and EPL broadcasts or online campaigns on soccer-specific sites. We do realize that not every medium allows us to be targeted specific to soccer, and in those instances, we are placing media in spaces to at least hit the general sports fans.

Our 2011 campaign, “Dallas ‘Til I Die,” has layers of meaning for our club.

“Dallas ‘Til I Die” is the premiere and traditional chant for the FC Dallas faithful.  Through thick and thin they have proven that the idea behind this simple chant is more than just words.

Likewise, “Dallas ‘Til I Die” is intended to be a vehicle for us to reach out to all soccer fans in the Dallas/Ft Worth area.  That includes fans of EPL, Primera Division, La Liga and so on. Our market is ripe with people who have been bitten by the soccer bug.  We don’t want to replace their affinity for their club.  We want to supplement that addiction and give them their fix for an exciting brand of soccer through their hometown team. Lastly, “Dallas ‘Til I Die” is a means for us to communicate the rich soccer history in North Texas.  Our patriarch, Lamar Hunt, is directly responsible for the growth of soccer in the United States and the Dallas/Ft Worth area.  Through this campaign and our 2011 marketing strategy, we want to celebrate that legacy.

FB: Finally, Commissioner Garber announced in November that a number of teams will announce jersey sponsors for 2011.  Other than a brief relationship with ESPNDallas.com, FC Dallas is one of the few remaining teams that has never had a jersey sponsor.  Do you view that as a lost revenue opportunity over the past few years?  Recently, the team has indicated that four companies are vying for the front of the team’s jersey Do you anticipate FC Dallas joining the list of teams with a jersey sponsor prior to the start of season?

JM: Yes, it’s lost revenue.  But, like Doug also said, this isn’’t a decision you rush into “to keep the lights on.”
The partnership between the FC Dallas brand and official sponsor whose logo will be on the jersey has to be a perfect marriage.  You represent each other and work lock step in all activations.  The courtships that Doug mentioned are in a really good place – but there’s no ring on the finger just yet.

Thanks again to Mr. McCord.

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All-Star Ramblings: A Business Look

Major League Soccer’s Mid-summer classic went off in Harrison on Wednesday night before a (mostly) packed house at Red Bull Arena.  We thought we would offer some random business observations on the pre-game festivities and the match itself.   Prior to the game, the MLS sponsors were out in force, with an entire section of the stadium grounds devoted to the major MLS sponsors.  There were rows of VW cars, jersey give aways from AllState and soccer street performances by Pepsi Max.   Players from the Red Bulls were  signing autographs in abundance, hidden in the tents of various league sponsors. Other American soccer luminaries such as Tony Meola and Alexi Lalas also mingled with the crowd signing for fans.

The crowd started building outside the arena hours before first kick.  Many were confronted by branding themed  surveys looking to evaluate the connection between American soccer and the league’s primary sponsors.  The questions asked fans about their relationship with the various brands and about whether they were associated with soccer.

Inside the stadium, the press box was full, photographers crowed the field and league personel were in abudance.  As the event was once again presented by AT&T, the sign boards constantly reflected the relationship as did the MLS jerseys.  AON joined the rest of the league sponsors on the stadium stadium sign boards.  In addition, league jersey sponsors such as Jeld Wen and Bimbo featured prominently.

More to come tomorrow, including a business centered media chat with Commissioner Garber from halftime of the game.

MLS All-Star Game: Aftermarket Ticket Sales

Even in soccer mad Portland, Seattle and Toronto, there is rarely a big market for MLS aftermarket tickets.  At most stadiums, plenty of tickets are available on game day or offered through heavily discounted group sales.  Plenty of teams partner with sponsors or community groups to offer free or heavily reduced ticket prices in order to bring fans out to the stadium.  Even “big” events such as MLS Cup matches or All-Star games typically don’t provide subtantial aftermarket opportunities for ticket holders.

Yet when you combine the MLS All-Stars with Manchester United, New York City and “smallish” Red Bull Arena you get a rare opportunity for MLS ticket holders to explore after market ticket sales.  This week the All-Star Game was the lead event on the Stub Hub website.  As of this writing, there were 248 tickets available on the website, almost 1,000 less than Sunday and 2,000 less than last week. Prices on the site range from $194 to over one thousand dollars per seat.  While many were available in groups of 2-4, there were blocks in excess of 8 tickets also available (suggesting brokers looking to unload seats).

Perhaps most remarkable is the significant markups earned for these seats.  Tickets listed at $150 face value were selling well in excess of $300 per seat.  While this suggests a significant profit for the seller, note that StubHub takes a significant percentage from each sale.  A $300 seat will generate approximately $50 in commission for the site.  StubHub facilitiates the sale of the tickets,  mails them (or e-mails them) to the purchaser and collects a tidy sum.

World Football Challenge tickets are also available through StubHub, with special focus on Barcelona.  Tickets for Barca are significantly less expensive than those for the ASG.  Red Bulls tickets also are readily available on the site, but many are selling for less than face value.

MLS All Star Update

Here are some scattered business thoughts on the MLS All Star Hub and other items from Major League Soccer’s descent on New York.  The Hub itself is set in a swanky SoHo building decorated with a clubby feel.  Most of the league sponsors are represented through various  themed booths in the Hub that offer an array of interactive events.  There is foosball, video games, a pub and more.  There are also retail sales, product demonstrations and a large number of staff attirred in gear branded with the logos and marks of the league sponsors.

Unfortunately, the Hub wasn’t particularly well attended by the public.  While some folks did wander in and out on their lunch break, most of the exhibits were lightly used.  Because the Hub also serves as the media credentialing center, there were plenty of journalists wandering around as well as MLS Staff.  There was a fair amount of advertising for the All Star Game and Hub in the surrounding neighborhood, including at the nearby Sheraton. The moment that generated the most excitement was the arrival of the MLS team bus, specificall, the arrival of David Beckham.  Attached to the HUB was space reserved for a press conference given by both teams.

As part of the week’s festivities, MLS All-Stars and executives, Manchester United executives and Sir Bobby Charlton will join forces with representatives of various other organizations to construct the Splash House Pavilion in New York.  According to the league press release,  volunteers will spend the day painting, cleaning and raising the pavilion while academy coaches from the New York Red Bulls and the Claudio Reyna Foundation conduct a clinic for approximately 100 local children.

There was a also a penalty kick event in Herald Square, a reception hosted by the Mayor and a training session by the MLS All-Stars.  The MLS All-Star team and hundreds of fans in New York City now hold the world record for the most penalty kicks taken.

The Monday After

Quick note before we dive into our usual “Monday After” updates.  The rest of the week will be devoted to the All-Star Game from Red Bull Arena.  I will be at the game on Wednesday night and at some of the events leading up to the match.  Lots of important business goes on at the ASG and I will do my best to document what I can.  MLS sponsors and their representatives will descend upon New York and I will try and cover it all.  Notes about small business items like  El Jimador’s sponsored Margarita events and the AT&T sponsored All-Star Hub in SoHo will continue via my Twitter feed.  @Footiebusiness.  Drop a line via Twitter or e-mail if there is some business point you want us to explore over the next couple of days.

The usual Monday after must start with an impressive attendance weekend in WPS.  The Western New York Flash played host to magicJack and more than 15,400 people on Wednesday at Sahlen Stadium.  The game was also televised by FSC (despite not appearing on the original schedule). On Saturday, only 1600 brave the New York Metro area heat to see Sky Blue and Philly.  However, Atlanta filled its new stadium beyond capacity on Saturday night with more than 9k in attendance for their scoreless draw.

On the MLS side, there was a complete slate of league and WFC matches bringing crowds to the stadiums.  Just under 15,600 were at RFK on Wednesday night despite searing heat in Washington.  More than 21k came out to BMO Field to see TFC’s new additions lose to Dallas.  Colorado cracked 15k that night and the Galaxy crested 24k.  Only San Jose disappointed with just over 8k.   On Saturday, just over 17k filled Red Bull Arena on a night that included a protest by the fans, while in Columbus, just over 11k made the trip to Crew Stadium.  Colorado dropped 3k below its mid-week number while KC cleared 16k for its tilt against TFC.   RSL packed Rio Tinto with more than 19k while Chivas barely cleared 11k.

Looking at Major League Soccer Television Ratings

By e-mail and by comment we have had some requests to take a look at 2011 television ratings for Major League Soccer.  TV money is the lifeblood of any sports league and MLS is no different. Before we get into a detailed look at the ratings and what they mean, check this link for the latest 2011 ratings.  In sum, viewership appears to be up with ESPN broadcasts averaging approximately 560k viewers (with ESPN2 less than half that number).  FSC is averaging 75k viewers per match.  Last year, the varoius ESPN broadcasts were near 250k while FSC was near 50k.  This shows great progress year over year.

Years of stagnant ratings have made fans of the American game nervous about the coming renewal of the agreement with ESPN to broadcast MLS matches.  ESPN pays $8.5 million annually for MLS rights, yet that deal is part of a larger SUM/ABC/ESPN package that includes USMNT games and FIFA World Cup.  However, the uptick in 2011 could portend well for the coming negotiations with the worldwide leader

The league’s other big English language partner, FSC, is on a one year deal and improved ratings could certainly help MLS with its coming negotiation. FSC and MLS  re-upped their broadcast relationship for the 2011 season after MLS was reportedly talking with other suitors.  Reports indicate that the deal is for slightly more than the $6 million, a significant increase over the $3.25 million FSC had been paying.  Under normal circumstances, this would be viewed as a success for MLS, but after SBJ broke a story earlier in the off season that MLS was demanding $20 million per year for a long term relationship, MLS fans were disappointed.  However, the one year deal affords both the league and the network maximum flexibility.  From the league perspective, MLS can spend the next year searching for a long term, big money deal with the security of a significant payday from FSC.

So what does it mean? MLS is certainly still a “niche property” but expanding viewership could lead to a bigger deal with a secondary English language partner (some have expressed an interest in Versus).  The WFC matches also bring eyeballs to the league which can increase the viewer base.

Soccer Business Bits: Impact Update, WFC Merchandise & More

Future MLS expansion side, Montreal Impact have announced a five year partnership with Quebecor Media.  The relationship covers sponsorship, media, technology and more.  As part of that relationship, TVA Sports will be the team’s flagship broadcaster and will have rights to most of the team’s broadcast matches.  According to the official press release, the relatinship with TVA will go further than just broadcasts.  TVA Group PResident and CEO Pierre Dion says,  “We want to offer rich, varied coverage that gives viewers full information about the Impact and the game of soccer through interviews with players, behind-the-scenes reports, and interviews with the team’s owners and with experts.”  Hat tip to MLSRumors for the Link.

The Sports Business Journal (via Don Muret), is reporting that the oft mocked World Football Challenge will generate $3-$4 million in gross merchandise sales during its 2011 iteration.  The WFC is co-promoted by SUM and CAA and merchandise sales will be handled by Gameday Merchandising.  The Denver based company already boasts relationships with Portland and Vancouver in MLS, as well as teams across the sports landscape.  For the WFC and All-star game, the company will run retail sales via exterior trailers and through cooperative efforts with in-house merchandise sales staff.

Keeping with the WFC theme, the SBJ is also reporting about the substantial costs associated with hosting individual WFC events (reportedly in excess of $5million).   Fortunately, SUM has been able to offset these costs with a mixture of MLS and non-MLS sponsors.  Interestingly, Bridgestone, a direct competitor to MLS sponsor Continental Tire, is a WFC sponsor.  A relationship with WFC is expensive, reportedly in the mid six figure range.