Time to Vote: Business Stories of the Year

Last week we gave you our  our take on the top business stories in the world of American soccer.  Now it’s time for you to cast your vote.  Don’t agree with our options?  Vote “other” and drop a line in the comment space with your choice.  If you want our take on the five finalists, read the summaries below the poll.

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.

Third Entrant

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.

Fourth Entrant

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 are 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.

Fifth Entrant

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.