Expansion Thoughts

Yesterday we posted a poll to determine what you think the best candidate destination would be for Major League Soccer’s 20th team.  The overwhelming winner was Minnesota, and although an e-mail and Twitter campaign may have significantly contributed to the success of the Twin City area, there are definite upsides to moving MLS up North.   Here is what I wrote in December of 2009 about the prospects of a team in Minnesota.
“At a recent Metro Sports Commission Meeting, Chair Paul Thatcher suggested that the Vikings are interested in bringing an MLS team to the Twin Cities.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t offer much more detail than that.  Minnesota has never been a top contender for an MLS team, despite a successful run at the lower rungs of American soccer.  Stadiums are being built in the State, but it seems unlikely that MLS will find its way to Minnesota in the near term.”

Does that still ring true?

The second place finisher was New York2, clearly the favorite of the league office.  The dream of the New York Cosmos continues to dangle in front of league fans.  However, the Cosmos are not the only option.  Recall that Commissioner Garber has repeatedly stated that he believes the Wilpons would make excellent soccer owners and noted that Citi Field had hosted a WFC match the night before the ASG. He also noted that a Wilpon family rep was in attendance at the ASG. The Wilpons received some great news this week when they learned that their potential exposure in the Madoff suits could be considerably less than the previously reported $1 billion.

Atlanta was a surprising third place.  As we have previously stated, Arthur Blank (the owner of the Atlanta Falcons) has long been rumored as a potential league owner but there has long been suspicions that the city would be unable to support a team.

Where Should MLS Expand Next?

Our discussion of MLS expansion drew some interesting responses. So we thought it worth asking the question directly, where should MLS expand next?  We have discussed the merits of New York, Las Vegas, Atlanta and more over the years.  Tell us what you think?

In the comments section, tell us why.

Soccer Business Bits: New WPS CEO, LiveStrong Business & More

Women’s Professional Soccer has announced appointment of Jennifer Pogorelec O’Sullivan as the League’s new Chief Executive Officer. O’Sullivan formerly served as the Vice President of Labor and Legal Affairs for the Arena Football League.  She is a law school graduate and sports industry veteran.   According to the league press release, “O’Sullivan joins WPS following its most successful season to date, setting new attendance figures and earning a 50 percent increase in revenue at the league level in 2011.”

Elsewhere, the Sports Business Journal is reporting that the owners of Sporting Kansas City, are leveraging the knowledge gained from operating LiveStrong Sporting Park as a tech friendly venue in a new consulting venture.  According to the SBJ,”the new business will consult with other pro sports teams and leagues on how to use high-density wireless technology and ultra-high-speed broadband networks — both of which the club is familiar with because of the high level of technology built into its new stadium.”   Livestrong has two one gigabyte wireless fees, 196 routers and connection speeds well in excess of Cowboy’s Stadium.  The new company will launch with 30 employees and will soon make a presentation to representatives of MLS, EPL, NBA and more.

Finally, the stadium construction efforts in San Jose continue their slow march forward.  Monday night offered an opportunity for local residents to weigh in on the planned stadium at a municipal hearing.  The stadium has been on hold as team owners wait for favorable business conditions to combine retail and residential at the site.  The project is expected to cost more than $40 million dollars and will seat 15-18k.

Monday After

Busy weekend in Major League Soccer as the playoff picture is starting to crystallize with just about a month of the season remaining.  Before we get into our weekly attendance review, here are a couple of other items of business note from the last couple of days.  We’ll start in Vancouver, where the Whitecaps wrapped up their Empire Field portion of the home schedule.  The team is set to play its final home games at the newly renovated BC Place.  Empire Field served as a great temporary venue for the team who will now get set to enjoy their new home for the end of the season.

It was also announced that former USA National Team coach Bob Bradley signed a deal to coach the Egyptian National Team.  The deal is reportedly worth more than $400k per season.

Now on to attendance.  There were a pair of mid-week games in New York and DC that drew approximately 14,200 and 14,800 respectively. Portland also hosted mid-week and entertained its typical 18,600 sellout.  On Friday night, KC sold out LiveStrong with 18,700 plus.  In Dallas, the Texas rivalry with Houston only managed to draw 10,500 on Saturday afternoon, while Columbus reported a huge 20k number for the Galaxy match (which rested all of its DPs and won anyway).   On Saturday night, DC hosted 16k while more than 25k came to Red Bull Arena to see the team’s must win match.  Colorado also reported a big crowd of almost 18k, Vancouver a sellout at Empire of more than 20k and Chivas finished the night with 14,300.  Finally, the Fire reported more than 14k for their victory over the Revs.

Covering the Coverage

Every so often, we like to take a look around the web to see how local newspapers are covering soccer in the United States.  This was an extremely interesting time to take a look, given the rare soccer controversy that became a big story (Rafa Marquez’s scathing comments directed to his own teammates), on some of the national sports websites.  Combined with the Red Bull’s disastrous loss to RSL, there was plenty of fodder for the local soccer press.

Brian Lewis’ gamer in the New York Post is here.   The Newark Stark Ledger offer this take on the debacle.   Stefan Bondy of the Daily News offers his take here.   Notably, much of the New York coverage was blog based, while the New York Times offered only an AP article on the game.  Not surprisingly, the Salt Lake Tribune‘s coverage included a detailed story on the match.  On the paper’s website, the game story was the most popular piece on the site.

In Oregon, coverage of the Timbers remains thorough.  Here is the story from Oregon Live.  The site regularly features detailed news and feature stories on the team akin to many of the other medium markets.  The Mercury News weighed in with three soccer stories, including the AP take on the match, a full local report on the game and a wire story on Serie A television rights.

Nationally, Grant Wahl pulls no punches in offering his take on the Rafa Marquez experiment in New York. Finally, on ESPN.com, Leander Schaerlaeckens weighs in with a great piece on the MLS fan base.  Lots to enjoy in his article, but this quote especially stood out: “The Timbers even allow the Army to keep a commission on the tickets it sells. That has helped the Army raise $200,000 this season, which it spends on its own operations, replenishing its merchandise stock (sold nearly at cost) and charitable efforts such as sprucing up Portland’s soccer fields.”  Pretty novel concept and seems to be a great success.


The Ongoing Mystery of MLS Blackouts

As I type this post, I am watching the Red Bulls self destruct on Major League Soccer’s excellent MatchDay Live service.  Yet at the same time, the game is blacked out on DirectKick, the league’s television game package.  What makes the blackout mysterious, is the unavailability of MSG Network (the RSN that carries the Red Bulls) in the Hartford area.  Common sense seems to suggest that the league would aggressively work to make its product available to as many people as possible.

I asked MLS about these issues and about the success of the Direct Kick and MatchDay Live program, and this was the response we got from the League:
MLS has worked with its television partners and upgraded its online video player with the intention of allowing fans to see every one of their team’s games live. Nationally-televised games are blacked out on DirectKick and MatchDay Live as part of the rights agreements. DirectKick and MatchDay Live are essentially out-of-market pay-per-view games that are purchased in bulk at a flat rate.

Markets are determined by the zip codes to which the regional carrier is distributed.   The Red Bull games should be available live in the Hartford area online via MatchDay Live. If the game is not available online, then we need to know the zip code of those who are blacked out from the game, so that we can address the issue with the local carrier.

We have noticed an overall increase in interest in both MatchDay Live and Direct Kick, and we will continue to offer both packages going forward.

I would certainly be interested in your experiences with blackouts.  Are there games that you believe should be accessible in your area that are blacked out?  Drop a line in the comment section or at footiebusiness@gmail.com

MLS Expansion

The online soccer community is abuzz with recent statements from Commissioner Garber (courtesy of Steve Davis), that MLS has raised its expansion fee for a 20th team to $100 million for the New York market.   According to Davis’ article, the league remains focused on New York for team 20, but has not set a timetable for that expansion.  New York II has long been a stated goal of league leadership as has the sentiment of slow growth past team 20.  MLS has already expanded to the most likely new markets over the last few years, adding teams in Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Philly and Montreal.   If team 20 is not New York, where?

For years, St. Louis was considered  front runner for a team.  St. Louis has a long and proud soccer history.  For years, Jeffrey Cooper was the centerpiece of a St. Louis bid.  Despite an in place stadium deal, the League repeatedly expressed worries about Cooper’s finances and the Gateway City has been left behind through multiple rounds of expansion.  The league’s concern seems well placed.  Cooper has since played with various roles in the WPS and the NASL without much success. For more on Cooper’s problems, click here.

Miami has long been considered a possible destination for Major League Soccer, but those talks have died down in recent years.  Recall that Barcelona was rumored to have interest in a Miami based MLS franchise.  The Spanish powerhouse combined with Marcelo Claure and Florida International University to  submit a bid to bring MLS back to South Florida.  As MLS fans well know, the Miami Fusion entered the League as an expansion team in 1998 and were contracted just four years later.  That background, combined with South Florida’s rather weak history of supporting its teams (Florida Marlins anyone?), has lead many to scoff at any move back to the Miami area.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank has long been rumored as a possible expansion owner and there has been discussion about elevating Rochester or Carolina to MLS.  Some have also raised Hartford, Birmingham, Las Vegas as other possibilities, but the league remains focused on New York.