Soccer Business Bits: Bids Submitted, Vancouver Strike & More

Earlier this week we wrote about the bid submission process for television rights to the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup.  Those bids were submitted today in a closed door meeting.  English and Spanish language rights are both in play.  An announcement on the winner could come as early as Friday.  As we said a couple of days back,the stakes are especially high since both ESPN and NBC have rights to MLS through 2014.  Will the losing network in Switzerland have lessened motivation to promote the domestic league? Will a loss to NBC deprive MLS of the wall to wall coverage only ESPN can offer its properties?

The opening of BC Place was supposed to be a banner moment for Major League Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps.  However, just a few weeks after the grand opening of the new soccer facility, the Whitecaps’ last game of the season is in doubt because of a potential strike by workers at the facility.   The union issued a 72 hour strike notice which would enable them to strike in advance of the team’s final match of 2011. However, a deal could still be reached or the union may elect to not strike on the day of the game. For more on the story, check out this story in the Vancouver Sun.

Finally, the league has formalized plans for the Montreal Impact’s expansion draft at the end of November.  Teams must submit their protected list of 11 players by November 21.  Two days later, the Impact will have the opportunity to select 10 players for their 2012 rosters.  Non graduated Generation adidas players need not be protected, and there is no obligation to protect Designated Players.  For more, click here.



Davies Brings Suit

It has been a while since we have had to put our lawyer hat on to look at an issue facing American soccer.  However, the news just broke that DC United forward Charlie Davies has filed a $20 million lawsuit against various parties stemming from his car accident in 2009.  The defendants in the suit include the bar that hosted the event where he spent his night and Red Bull North America, an event sponsor.   As part of the lawsuit, Davies alleges that the accident negatively impacted his soccer career on both the national team and club level.  According to the Washington Post, “the lawsuit claims Red Bull hosted the event at Shadow Room and ”had a duty to be aware of the provisions” in the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Act that prohibits the “sale or delivery of alcoholic beverages to … an intoxicated person or any person who appears to be intoxicated.”

Many states have “dram shop acts” that allow victims injured by drunk persons to bring claims against the owners of bars and other establishments that serve alcohol to an intoxicated person. It is my understanding that DC does not have a traditional statute, however, according to MADD, District of Columbia common law (i.e. decisions by judges rather than statutes) imposes liability on shop owners. If that is correct, it will be interesting to see how Davies’ lawyers attempt to apply the law to Red Bull North America, the company that simply sponsored the event.  The irony of Red Bull and DC being competitors is an odd side issue in what promises to be an interesting case to follow.



World Cup Bidding On Deck

Just a few months back, soccer fans around the world eagerly waited announcement  of the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.  The conventional wisdom suggested that an award of future World Cup to the United States was essential for the ongoing development of the sport in this country.  The results were disappointing, but the bidding for television rights may be equally significant event for fans of the American game.  Bids are due on Wednesday, and whatever the ratings appeal of MLS, the World Cup has become a tv juggernaut.  Americans love an event, and the television success enjoyed by ESPN in 2010 suggests that there are significant opportunities as the beautiful game gains an increasing foothold in the United States.

Perhaps more important than television ratings is the relationship between the broadcast of the World Cup and coverage of Major League Soccer.  Many Americans shudder at the thought of an ESPN not fully invested in soccer.  The Worldwide Leader’s coverage of 2010 in South Africa was outstanding and the network’s dedication to MLS has steadily increased over the years.  Prior to 2010, many fans hoped that the experience in South Africa would lead to improved ESPN telecasts, and objectively, it has.  Fans are wary, however, about the impact of ESPN losing the bid.  Many allege that the NHL largely disappeared from ESPN highlights shows, commentary and radio after the league signed with NBC/Versus.  With NBC and its new sports channel the leading competitor for American rights, a similar situation is possible.

The stakes are especially high since both ESPN and NBC have rights to MLS through 2014.  Will the losing network in Switzerland have lessened motivation to promote the domestic league? Will a loss to NBC deprive MLS of the wall to wall coverage only ESPN can offer its properties?  Spanish language rights are also in play.  The questions, concerns and opportunities are many.

Grant Wahl of SI weighs in with a great piece outlining the issues and players, here.

The Monday After

Busy weekend in Major League Soccer with the regular season winding down and the playoffs just a few days away.  The attendance story for the week is the juggernaut in Seattle, which saw more than 62,000 for Kasey Keller’s sendoff match. Sales were buttressed by a multi-game package that included this game, but the total sales are extremely impressive.  In its third season, Seattle continues to be an amazing business story.  Soccer is an event in that city and the team has rewarded its great support with success on the field.  Unlike Toronto, which has taken a number of wrong steps both on and off the field, Seattle continues to be a model organization.

Numbers for the rest of the league weren’t as impressive, but the league continues to maintain great numbers this year.  A busy slate of midweek game started with just over 10k in Chicago on Wednesday night while just over 17k saw Vancouver severely damage DC United’s playoff dreams at BC Place.  The midweek games continued with the usual sellout in Portland of 20k plus while a solid 16k plus attended the Rocky Mountain Cup match in Colorado.   On Saturday afternoon, almost 20k were in KC for Sporting’s match with the Red Bulls, while more than 19k were at PPL Park as the Union clinched a playoff birth.  New England finished off their home campaign with just over 16k on fan appreciation night, while DC continued its late season swoon at RFK before a similar number.

FC Dallas disappointed with only10k plus for their home match on Saturday night.  The crowd may have been impacted by the MLB playoffs.  Seattle capped off the night with its big crowd.  On Sunday, the Honda Classico drew a 27k sellout on Sunday night.

Marketing in Chicago: Interview with Fire VP Emigdio Gamboa

On the road tonight, so we thought we would revisit an interview we did from the start of the 2011 MLS season.  Back then, Emigidio Gamboa of the Chicago Fire was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Fire’s promotional efforts for 2011, the team’s use of social media and more.  Now as the season comes to a close, it makes sense to take a look back to see how some of these efforts succeeded.

Today we are lucky to have an interview with Emigdio Gamboa, the Fire’s VP in charge of Marketing and Communications.  Mr. Gamboa was kind enough to provide some thoughts on Chicago’s 2011 marketing efforts and use of social media. How is Chicago 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.   How do you anticipate the team using Twitter and Facebook going forward?  Does the team have a policy on players using Twitter?

Emigdio Gamboa: For the past couple of seasons we have made social media a focal point of fan interaction. Over the past two seasons we have developed and implemented a progressive Facebook and Twitter strategy that has seen our Facebook numbers go from 8,700 in Feb. 2010 to over 50,000 fans at present. We see Twitter and Facebook serving different purposes & objectives moving forward.  Our Twitter is a complimentary tool to Facebook in our overall social media strategy.  As it relates to Facebook, we are continuously focused on improving the quality of engagement with our followers paying particular attention to the type & frequency of our postings.  We want to make certain that the content that we are posting is relevant and entertaining so that it is creating a two way dialogue with our followers.

Currently, we do not have a written policy on players using Twitter. We encourage our players to use Twitter & do so in an appropriate fashion.

FB: With respect to ticket promotions, some teams heavily utilize game day promotions to drive traffic while others have moved away from that model.    Should fans expect game day promotions in 2011?  Similarly, some teams have started using Groupon to sell individual game tickets.  The Fire used Groupon to sell season tickets.  Was that a successful relationship? Will you use Groupon to sell individual game tickets in 2011?

EG: Yes, fans should expect to see game day/ticket promotions in 2011.  Currently, we have been promoting a “family pack” offering that includes 4 match tickets, 4 hot dogs & 4 refreshments.  However, we have made a stronger emphasis on improving the overall game day experience.  We understand that we have a diverse and passionate fan base that expect and appreciate different aspects of a game day experience so we try our best to cater to our entire fan base. From the different activities in our fan fest area, to the food, the bi-lingual public-address announcements, etc., this is an area that will continue to evolve.

Our relationship with Groupon has been successful in the sense that it gave individuals who might have not otherwise experienced a match live the opportunity to do so.  Once you experience a match, the likelihood of returning is obviously much higher.

FB: What do the Fire offer as season ticket incentives?  Do fans get special values from being part of the team’s season ticket base?  How many season tickets has Chicago sold this year? How does that compare to previous years?

EG: Following the 2010 MLS campaign the Fire evaluated their ticket sales philosophy and integrated fan input to propose the most progressive season ticket campaign in the club’s 14-year history. Gaining feedback from its supporters about the kind of offers and incentives they want in a Fire season ticket package the Fire developed  a season ticket campaign built by-and-for a supporter. Starting with an unprecedented  move in Chicago sports, the club offered free and reduced parking to a majority of season ticket holders and a 12-month payment plan that allows Fire Season Ticket Holders to pay as low as $15 a month. In addition, the Fire created a referral program, allowing current Fire Season Ticket Holders to receive a 20 percent credit on referral purchases. Those referred receive a five percent savings on the purchase of their 2011 season tickets. The result has seen the club sell over 2,800 new season tickets in the offseason, breaking the previous club best of 1936 season tickets sold set in 1998, the Fire inaugural year.

Our season ticket holders are given a wide range of incentives from access to exclusive team events, gifts and other special offers including free parking (depending on the ticket package), discount on merchandise & concession items.  We strive to provide our supporters with an authentic soccer experience while providing them with extensive access to the club at a cost effective price point.

FB: What type of marketing efforts does the team make to attract soccer fans in the Chicago area who follow the sport (in Europe, Latin America, etc…) but not the team?  Do you use billboards and newspapers or a more targeted approach? Do the friendlies you play against club sides from around the world have a measurable effect on your regular MLS ticket sales?

EG: We have a heavy emphasis on grassroots marketing activities focused on areas in our community where the sport is being played from soccer fields on the south-west of Chicago to fields in places like Palatine, Naperville and beyond. We’ve developed a number of strong relationships with youth and adult soccer leagues to engage individuals who are playing soccer to help drive them to Fire matches.

We do have a targeted approach in placing billboards and other forms of advertising keeping different audiences in mind.  Friendlies have a minimal effect on our regular MLS ticket sales.   However, they serve multiple purposes from branding to different communities, building international relationships to simply improving our level of competition.
FB: The Fire had a long relationship with Best Buy as their jersey sponsor.  That relationship recently ended.  What efforts have you made to secure a new sponsor?  Do you expect to announce a new relationship soon?

EG: Our effort to secure a new sponsor is an on-going process, the jersey sponsorship is a unique opportunity & we continue to meet and discuss the opportunity with potential sponsors.

Selling Tickets in MLS

The playoffs are looming and the last few regular season games are here.  It has been a while since we looked at promotional efforts around the league, so we thought the stretch drive presented a good opportunity to look at ticket sales efforts for the end of the season and start of post season.  We’ll start in Chicago where the Fire are running a “pink” themed promotion as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Through the team website and phone number, fans are offered the opportunity to puchase $30 seats to the game that comes with a commerative T-shirt.  The first 200 people to buy through the promotion also get the opportunity to participate in a pregame even on the field.  The team will play in special uniforms as part of the promotion.

The always aggressive DC United front office is offering a “Drive for the Playoffs”  promotion sponsored by VW.  The team has three home games in one week and is offering tickets to all three matches at rates as low as $57 for the set.  All three games could have significant playoff implications for all of the teams involved. Tickets can be purchased all price levels at a slight discount over typical match prices.  You can see the promotional prices and offerings by clicking here.

Finally, a nod to the Seattle Sounders, who have opened up Century Link Field for their final game of the year.  The match is Kasey Keller’s last regular season home game and ticket sales .  In addition, the team is partnering with a local soccer club to offer special $15 seats that will benefit the club scholarship and field drive with $5 of each seat sold.  60k plus are expected for the game which was part of a three pack with the Red Bulls and ManU games.

Soccer Business Bits: Fox Soccer Renews, College Attendance

Left at the alter by Major League Soccer, Fox Soccer has nevertheless managed to maintain a prominent position in the world of televised soccer.  The network announced that they have re-upped their deal with the English Football Association to extend their exclusive rights for six more years through the 2017/2018 season.  According to the press release, “the multi-platform deal grants FOX Soccer exclusive rights to all FA content in all languages for the United States and Caribbean territories, including the prestigious FA Cup tournament…  England’s national team home qualifiers and friendlies are included in the agreement.”  The deal is significant for Fox Soccer because it guarantees eyeballs for the network for years and ensures content for the network which always struggles for live programming.

Soccer America checks in with an interesting look at the increase in attendance for college soccer programs.  According to the article, seven teams are averaging in excess of 3,000 attendees per match.  UC Santa Barbara is the leader in college attendance with more than 5,000 per game.  One UC Santa Barbara game was the clear winner, with more than 13k in attendance.  The ACC is the leading conference, with averaging more than 1,800 fans per game.  Five conferences are averaging more than 1,00 fans per game.

One final note, there have been a number of stories about the possibility of MLS expanding to Detroit.  The recently purchased Pontiac Silverdome has been proposed as a venue, although with some significant modifications. Now there are stories that appear to have leaked renderings of the proposed stadium.  For more on the released renderings, click here.   For more on this proposal, click here.