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.

Critical Mention Update

Over the last year or so, we have discussed MLS’ efforts to measure the value of its television exposure through various local and national broadcasts.  Through the website criticalmention.com, MLS tries to alert media  to the “value” of its presence on various television programs.  Since a few weeks have passed since we last checked in on this metric, we thought providing a snapshot of this metric of MLS media exposure. Today, the Critical Mention report suggests that MLS related clips reached just over 202,000 television viewers for an estimated publicity value of approximately $10,000.  The number of viewers is especially low this cycle because the measured time period (September 12-14), was pretty limited with respect to the amount of MLS events.  Many measured time periods reach hundreds of thousands of viewers for hundreds of thousands of dollars in values.

The biggest reach for this period was from a broadcast in Denver as part of the local Fox affiliate’s morning news program.  The clip reached more than 30,000 viewers for a total estimated exposure value of just over $4,000.  The piece focused on Drew Moor’s iron man streak and included a preview of the team’s Champions League Game.  Moor was in studio and the lengthy interview was informative and provided great exposure for the team and the Champions League.   A direct link to the broadcast is here.

One other broadcast of note was the evening news for the NBC affiliate in Portland.  The spot reached more than 70.000 viewers and was estimated to have achieved $3,600 in free exposure for the league and team.  The spot focused on the team’s playoff hunt and emphasized the improbability of the expansion franchise reaching the post season.  A link to the clip can be found here.

Soccer Business Bits: MLS Salaries Released, Fox Goes Wall to Wall & More

The Major League Soccer Players’ Union has released the latest batch of player salary numbers.  The numbers are offered both by team and player and show the wide range of salaries in the league.  This latest release is most interesting because it reveals the wages of some of the league’s most recent signings.  Revs “DP” Milton Caraglio is earning just $45k per season while newest Galaxy DP Robbie Keane is earning $3.4 million.  Vancouver’s disappointing DP is earning more than $400k while Adu is making almost $600k. Toronto’s newest DP signings are earning a combined $2.5 million.  The numbers are always illustrative and revealing.  Fans of the business side of the game can easily get lost in the numbers for a while trying to find the biggest busts and bargains in the league.

The Fox family of networks is aggressively pushing its Champions League broadcasts this year with wall to wall  coverage of all of the matches.  Games will be available both on television and online with the most prominent games broadcast live while the rest of the matches will be shown on delay.  The matches will be available for rebroadcast on demand over the internet.

Finally, we recommend this article from The Sporting News about MLS Expansion.  TSN was long a bastion of old world sports media that paid little attention to soccer.  However, with the recent retention of Brian Strauss, TSN has now really upped its coverage of the sport.

 

SUM for Sale?

The big business story to hit the web today was the possible sale of a minority stake in SUM.  The Sports Business Daily is reporting that Providence Equity Partners is seeking to purchase 25% of SUM for $125-150 million. The deal would certainly infuse cash into the investors and operators of MLS franchises, but whether the funds would be used to improve the standard of play is an open question.  On a per team basis, an investment of $150 million into SUM is significant, but not a game changer for league owners.  The article suggests that the league might use the money on high end players to attract the elusive soccer fans that don’t follow the league.

From SUM’s website, here is how SUM describes its own role.  “SUM holds the exclusive rights to the most important soccer properties in the region, including: all commercial rights to Major League Soccer; the United States Soccer Federation; promotional and marketing rights to Mexican National Team games played in the United States; and the marketing and promotion of the CONCACAF Gold Cup™. Since 2008 SUM oversees a long-term partnership with La Liga’s historic club FC Barcelona, which includes tours of the legendary Spanish club. SUM also manages promotional and marketing rights in the United States for Mexico’s most popular sports team, Club Deportivo Guadalajara (Chivas).”

From our perspective, this seems like a curious move.  MLS has taken great steps over the last few years aimed at growing the game in the United States, while increasing the television and web presence of the league.  Now the league seems to be considering introduction of a purely for profit entity who may have motivations solely based on profits.  While the current league investors/operators don’t shy away from making money, they have devoted significant resources towards advancing soccer in the United States and a new partner may not share that vision.

 

The Monday After

Big week and weekend of games in MLS, so we’ll start right in with a look at attendance.  Starting with the Monday game, more than 20k were in KC for the Galaxy and Sporting match.  16k came to PPL Park for the thrilling 4-4 draw with the Revs.  The game was rescheduled from a couple of weeks ago when Hurricane Irene blitzed through the Northeast.  On Friday night, the Home Depot Center hosted more than 20k for the Galaxy weekend.

On Saturday, LiveStrong Sporting Park saw its smallest crowd of the year on Saturday night (just under 15k).  Has the saturation point been reached? Another solid crowd in Seattle with just under 36k.  Philly had another solid crowd, with more than 18,500k at PPL Park.  In Columbus, just over 13,500 saw the Crew fall to TFC.  In New England, just under 15,500 saw the rare Revs home win and just under 20k for the Red Bulls home tie against Vancouver.  Chivas USA reported more than 12k at the HDC on Saturday night.  More than 10,500 saw San Jose on Saturday night.

Some other non-attendance related tidbits from the last couple of days.  First kudos, to the multiple MLS local broadcasts that devoted some air time to the life and passing of Bobby Rhine.  Rhine was a figure in American soccer for a long time and it was an outstanding gesture to those teams that offered fans a sense of his accomplishments.  Also, the MatchDay Live feature remains an outstanding offering on MLSSoccer.com.  The opportunity to watch three games, full broadcasts and more in high quality is outstanding and the league deserves credit for making that feature available.