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.


Footiebusiness Vault: Interview with Larry Tiscornia

We are on the road tonight, so here is a vault piece from earlier in the season. This was part of our series that looked at the art of televising soccer.

The Major League Soccer 2011 season got started on Tuesday night with a nationally broadcast match carried by ESPN.  Fans of all sports are frequently critical of the television presentation of  sports events and soccer fans are no different.  Anger is directed at  announcers, camera angles, crowd sounds, commercial intrusion and more.  We thought it would worthwhile to dig a bit deeper into the world of broadcasting soccer to explore the process involved in bringing the beautiful game to the screen.  To make sure we cover the issue, we will present a number of interviews with broadcast professionals and industry insiders over the next couple of weeks to provide insight into the art of televising soccer.

We start with Larry Tiscornia, the Senior Director of Broadcasting with MLS.  This is Mr. Tiscornia’s 12th year with the league.  Prior to his time with MLS, Mr. Tiscornia worked for ABC and before that USA Network.  Thanks to Mr. Tiscornia for his thoughts

Footiebusiness.com:  How much input does the league have in how its various broadcast partners present MLS matches?  Is it a collaborative process or does the league have a number of requirements that the broadcasters must meet?  Does the league’s requirements or “wish list” differ if the broadcast is national versus local?

Larry Tiscornia:  We are in constant communication with all League partners, both locally and nationally, on how all MLS broadcasts are presented to the fan. We have annual seminars, weekly conference calls and various meetings throughout the season. The League also has minimums that are enforced on the local broadcasts to ensure that all broadcasts are presented in a professional manner.

FB: Does the league look for consistency in its broadcasts regardless of the event or are you cognizant of different audiences for an ESPN game of the week versus an all star game against a European power or Superliga game attracting fans of Mexican teams?  If the league is looking to address the distinctions between these audiences, how does the presentation differ?
LT: We’d like the look of all our games to be consistent; however, there is more emphasis to have a big-time feel  for our marquee events, such as MLS Cup.

FB: How many cameras are typical at nationally broadcast MLS match?  What different views/angles have you found are best?  Where are crowd mics typically placed?
LT: On a national broadcast, there could be anywhere from eight to 18 cameras for a regular season game. It is the League’s preference that all high game cameras are lower to the field to bring the viewer closer to the field. For bigger events, we like to see various super slow motion cameras, slash cameras and reverse angle cameras to maximize the viewers’ experience. As for audio, microphones are typically placed throughout the stadium, within the stands and on the field to maximize the natural sound and make sure that comes across to the viewer.

FB: What type of research does the league do into fan preferences for viewing?  What type of fan originated suggestions have you implemented?

LT: The broadcast department started a Twitter account to gather feedback from our fans. We will pass along the constructive comments to our partners throughout the season.

FB: Finally, should fans expect any new technolgies during MLS broadcasts in 2011?
LT: We are always looking to improve our broadcast with new technology, and this year we’ll be incorporating OPTA stats into our broadcasts.

The Monday After

Big weekend in Major League Soccer as teams are jockeying for playoff position in the last few weeks of the season.  Whatever the downsides of the over inclusive MLS playoff  setup, the 10 team system does keep more teams in the hunt until the end of the season.  The possibility of playoffs keeps an informed fan base interested (there is certainly an argument that a fair number of MLS in stadium attendees have limited knowledge of the home team’s place in the stadiums) and coming to games.

This weekend marked the debut of FOX’s effort to showcase the EPL on over the air television.  The network broadcast (on tape delay), the Manchester United/Chelsea match that had earlier been broadcast on Fox Soccer.  The game was a good one and is the first of four such telecasts this season.

Now here is our weekly look at league attendance.  In midweek action, about 10,700 were in Columbus.  On Friday night, the Timbers opened their newly expanded capacity and sold all the seats for an attendance of more than 20,300.  On Saturday, TFC announced a crowd of more than 20k on a day that BMO Field looked lightly attended.

Almost 19k were in Philly for the Union’s big victory, while more than 15k were in Chicago.  Seattle saw its usual 36k plus, while RSL pushed up against 20k in what has been repeatedly described as an “ugly” game.  FC Dallas managed to draw more than 17k for the RBNY match (actually a disappointing number given the opponent) while more than 18k were in Houston on Saturday night.  The Galaxy crowned the weekend with almost 23k for their home match against Vancouver. Overall, with the exception of the blip in Columbus, it was an outstanding attendance weekend for the league.

A Closer Look at the Dynamo Stadium

Every so often we take a global look at the development of soccer specific stadiums in MLS.  Today, we will focus the entire post on the structure rising in downtown Houston. According to an official press release from the Dynamo, the team has sold out 20 sections for 2012 through season ticket sales.  According to the team story, “the club’s premium seats have sold out, as have field-side seats, two of the three sections set aside for supporters’ groups, and six sections in the stadium’s 100 level. Seats still remain throughout the 100 level, including at midfield on the east side of the stadium, and in most of the 200 level.”

The team has put out a webcam of the stadium that can be viewed here. Tickets will go on sale to the general public on September 20.  The available sections are for sale here.  Season tickets range from $1825 to $250 for a 20 game package.  Founding partners for the stadium are Dr. Pepper and Greenstar Recycling.

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 22k 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.