Stories of the Year

This is our last installment in a series of post setting out the top business stories in American soccer from 2011.  We have looked at Portland and Kansas City while also discussing NBC’s entry as a soccer broadcaster and FOX’s big play for World Cup television rights.  We will set up a vote to select the top story early next week.  For now, here is our fifth and final entry for the top story. For entry number five, we will borrow from 2010’s top stories and look at Twitter.

Entrant Number Five

Few sports fans are as devoted to social networking sites as soccer supporters.  Because of the lack of soccer coverage in mainstream media, soccer fans are forced to the web to follow their favorite teams and games abroad.  Twitter has provided the perfect vehicle for fans to keep track of live matches, interact with players and journalists and discuss the beautiful game 140 characters at a time.  Anecdotaly, Twitter use among soccer follower has exploded in 2011, with even technophiles recognizing the value of Twitter as a source for information on the beautiful game.

Twitter makes our top stories list for the second consecutive year.  The medium has seen continued growth and has become a necessary companion for any fan of the beautiful game in the United States.

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Stories of the Year: Part Two

Over the next couple of days (and in no particular order), we will present the top American soccer business stories of the year.  Early next week we will conduct a vote to see which of the entrants you think is the winner.  Yesterday we looked at the arrival of Portland and the re-birth of  Kansas City.  Today we will look at the broadcast world, where NBC has replaced Fox Soccer as the second tier broadcast partner of Major League Soccer.

Entrant Three

In August MLS and NBC  announced a three year television rights agreement that will put Major League Soccer on the Peacock and its affiliated sports channel from 2012-2014.  The three year deal is worth an estimated 10-12 million dollars per year and will replace the league’s current $6 million + deal with FSC.  As part of the agreement, NBC and Versus (soon to be NBC Sports Network), will air regular season and playoff matches from MLS and USMNT games.  Specifically, the cable channel will air 38 regular season games, 3 playoff games and 2 USMNT matches.  The broadcast network will show 2 regular season matches, 2 playoff games and 2 USMNT games in each of the three seasons.  All games will include pre and post game coverage.

The deal will make MLS one of the primary sports primaries on the re-branded NBC Sports Network which will debut at the start of 2012.  The deal is obviously a coup for MLS which now moves from a network in less than 40 million homes to one almost 80 million homes.  Games on NBCSN are more readily available in HD and are typically placed in a more prominent line-up location than FSC, which is typically relegated to a special tier and a high number designation. Games on NBC’s broadcast outlet  will reach almost every American home and will mark a return to over the air telvision after a multi-year absence.  NBC has also promised to promote its MLS coverage across multiple programs and broadcasts and these promotions have started with ads on Sunday Night Football and other NBC properties.

Entrant Four

When FIFA put US television rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup’s up for bid, it was assumed that ESPN or NBC would be the big players for English rights.  Yet when the bids were in, neither the Worldwide Leader nor MLS’s newest partner were left standing.  FOX outbid NBC and ESPN to claim the rights for approximately $450 million dollars.  The Spanish language rights were won by Telemundo for an estimated $600 million.  The combined $1 billion bids shatters FIFA records and confirms both stations as primary player in the soccer broadcast arena.  The package includes rights to the Womens’ World Cup events in intervening years and rights to various youth World Cups.  In 2005, ESPN paid $100 million for the English-language rights to the 2010 and 2014 games. Univision paid $325 million for the Spanish-language rights.  US rights remain the most expensive in the world.

The network is also aggressively pushing its EPL property.   As we have reported, the network has seen great ratings from its re-broadcasts of the EPL and the live telecasts promises to generate an even larger audience.  FOX’s broadcast of Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat of Chelsea on Nov. 20  delivered a 1.1 household rating, with 1.67 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.  Two weeks after the January 22 match on Championship Sunday,  the network will offer live coverage of Chelsea and Manchester United as part of the lead-up to its Superbowl telecast.

Stories of the Year

Over the next couple of days (and in no particular order), we will present the top American soccer business stories of the year.  Early next week we will conduct a vote to see which of the entrants you think is the winner.  We’ll start with two entrants today, one in Portland and the other in Kansas City.

First Entrant

In their first season in Major League Soccer, the Portland Timbers generated fantastic local publicity while becoming a sensation in the national sports media for its passionate crowds, Timber Joey and national anthem. The team also featured great commercials with its Alaska Air partner that made waves around the web and was so successful at the gate that capacity was increased mid-season.  Newly renovated Jeld-Wen Field became an instant soccer retro classic (does that make any sense), while the team showed a strong ability to find corporate partners.  Team owner Merrit Paulson is a regular presence on Twitter, keeping fans apprised of transfer rumors and more. The team also generated enormous buzz with a clever billboard campaign that featured real fans plastered all over the City while immediately stoking the fires of their Pacific Northwest rivals in Seattle.  Of the two new teams in 2011, the Timber were the brightest on and off the field.

Second Entrant

Sporting Kansas City closed 2010 with a complete re-brand that included a name change and much more.  The team’s front office effectively communicated the change and the reasons for the switch to its fans and to the media.  Team representatives made themselves available to explain the new brand and the website effectively supported the message.  In 2011, the team moved into  beautiful new Livestrong Sporting Park and effectively paired the move with intriguing video tours, ticket sales options and more.  The team’s relationship with the renown LiveStrong charity generated a massive amount of publicity outside soccer media.  The team also efficiently handled the brief presence of Chad Ochocinco, generating more positive publicity for the club and team.  The team effectively managed its social media presence, ensuring that fans and media were kept apprised of important developments all season long.  Finally, the team shattered its own attendance mark, averaging more than 17, 600 for 2011.

The Monday After

Overall a pretty quiet holiday weekend in the world of American soccer. We’ll start in Philly, where the Union have hooked up with a local confectioner to add a new sponsor to the team’s list of brands.  Goldendberg Candy Company, the maker of Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews will have signage and other brand opportunities at PPL Park.  Fans should also expect on-site sampling opportunities during the season. The company is now owned by Just Born brand, which is based in Bethlehem, PA.  Goldenberg is a Philly company and has been around for more than 90 years.

While we don’t typically cover transfer  news here, it is worth noting that MLS teams have continued to fill out their rosters for 2012, both through the signing of internationals and the inking of players obtained through the re-entry process.  A number of teams have managed to keep themselves relevant in their local markets by adding and subtracting players throughout the month of December.  Once the curtain goes up on the league’s main transfer window in the January, droves of new signings, international intrigue and trade rumors will keep fans interested until preseason starts at the end of the month.

Keeping with the transfer discussion, we have studiously avoided the “will he or won’t he” David Beckham saga. Without delving into the gritty detail, it bears noting that Beckham’s 2012 destination has been a hot topic ever since the Galaxy raised the trophy in November (and before), and thus MLS has continued to garner substantial media attention from their out of contract star.

Posts of the Year: Marketing in Dallas

Things are slowing down around the holiday, so as we do every year around this time, we scatter some “best posts” among our usual content.  So here is our interview with Justin McCord of FC Dallas.  Have a great Christmas, Chanukah, weekend or whatever and we’ll be back live on Monday.

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.

Thoughts on Naming Rights

The big business news of the day was the announcement that the naming rights deal between FC Dallas and Pizza Hut was coming to an end.  The $1.2 million per year deal was a significant milestone when signed, and the loss of the naming rights agreement doesn’t bode well for a franchise also struggling to secure a jersey sponsorship. No reasons for the termination of the relationship have been provided.

Reports indicate that FC Dallas is speaking to a number of other naming rights partners, but nothing in the history of the Clark Family suggests that such a deal is in the offing. They have failed to secure stadium rights for Crew Stadium since the day the facility was built. Moreover,  in a market where teams are searching for income opportunities and sometimes struggling to find naming rights partners (see Cowboys Stadium), it should be expected that FC Dallas will struggle to find a new partner. The facility will be known as FC Dallas will be known as FC Dallas Stadium  until a new partner can be found.

The end of the relationship with Pizza Hut is especially poorly timed because of the recent Houston Dynamo deal for stadium rights deal over 10 years for $20 million.  FC Dallas and the Dynamo are longtime rivals and a new stadium and a valuable new partner will be a tough pill to swallow.  Things are especially stark given that FC Dallas couldn’t secure a jersey sponsor the year after its run to the finals and now is hunting for partners on multiple fronts.

Soccer Business Bits: Less for NBC, Sporting Tickets & More

One of the biggest soccer business stories of 2011 was Major League Soccer’s move from Fox Soccer to the newly named NBC Sports Network for broadcast of its second tier television package.  Fox was a long standing partner of the league and now, buried in this biography of NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus from the New York Times, comes the news that the league took less money from NBC than was being offered by Fox.  If true, this is a pretty significant statement about the vision NBC sold to MLS.  NBC Sports is seeking to make a splash in the television world that will allow it compete with ESPN. MLS apparently believes it is part of that vision.  For MLS fans, the article provides some interesting insight into the man with whom MLS is casting its lot and sheds some light on the league’s new partner.

The Sports Business Daily is reporting that Sporting Kansas City, for the first time in franchise history, has sold out its premium inventory for an entire season.  The sale of these 35 luxury seats includes terms of up to ten years and run up to $85,000 for a single season.  LiveStrong Sporting Park was a remarkable success in 2011 and the sale of this high end collection of seating option for the second year (and beyond) suggests significant staying power for high levels of interest in Sporting and their newly minted ballpark.

Finally, the New York Daily News offers some reporting on a study that looks at brain injuries and heading the ball.  In short, the research suggests that repetitive heading (i.e. more than 1,000 headers per year), can have an impact on brain activity.  Whether these types of findings will impact youth soccer in the United States remains to be seen.