Soccer Business Bits: Disney Report, Timbers Tickets & More

Apologies for the lack of post yesterday, I was travelling back from Orlando and didn’t get access to my computer.  It makes sense to start with Orlando, which is now a center of MLS activity.  We have previously reported on the upcoming meeting between Comissioner Garber and supporters of an Orlando franchise and on the Disney Pro Soccer Classic currently ongoing at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.  On the positive side, the resort television channel focused on ESPN’s Wide World of Sports offered regular promotion of the Pro Soccer classic as part of its loop.  The repeat coverage included a schedule of the event and noted that the final and consolation games would be available on ESPN3.  Unfortunately, there was little additional evidence of the event that I saw.  At Downtown Disney, there is a retail establishment dedicated to sports and includes team and league gear from a number of sports.  Nowhere in that large shopping area was there any evidence of the Pro Soccer Classic or MLS merchandise.

Kudos to the Portland Timbers for managing to draw more than 16k to a preseason game.  That number bodes well for the expanded capacity of Jeld-Wen Field for the entire 2012 campaign.  Individual game tickets are on sale in Portland now and there is every reason to expect that the Timbers will pack the rafters for the entire year.

Finally, ESPN2 and ESPN3 will broadcast the USA v. Italy match on Wednesday afternoon.  The game will feature the return of Ian Darke to the microphone as ESPN’s voice for the US National Team.  Darke is a consummate pro and lends gravitas and skill to the play by play.  Soccer fans will have the opportunity to listen to both Darke and his NBC counterpart, Arlo White bring British sounds to American soccer.

The Monday After

Less than two weeks until First Kick and the pace of preseason is starting to pick up.  The various tournaments started up over the weekend with MLSSoccer.com offering high quality streaming of matches.  Various team Twitter accounts used the matches as an opportunity to reach out to fans by providing updates and play-by-play of the games.  The league has also done an effective job of promoting their matches through the league website. A great feature of the streams is the viewer counter at the bottom of the image which allows fans to track the numbers of folks tuning into the match.  I found the sound quality of the broadcasts wanting, but overall the video offerings of the games were impressive and MLSSoccer.com continues to serve as an effective platform for fans seeking league information and content.

Keeping with the video theme, I checked in with the MLS subscription on youtube over the weekend.  The feature now boasts more than 270,000 subscribers and offers a wide range of video content for fans of the league.  Highlight packages, interviews and other items provide a full suite of free video for fans to consume.   MLSSoccer.com is also promoting is MLSLive feature alongside the preseason coverage.  The service boasts more than 230 live games and compatibility with multiple platforms including mobile devices, computers, ipads and more.  Given the tech savvy nature of the average MLS fans and the portability of the subscription, it is likely that the ever improving digital offerings will replace Direct Kick in the coming years.  On a personal level, this may be the first year that I skip Direct Kick and focus on the website offering for my MLS fix.

Finally, the MLS page on Facebook now has over 300,000 “likes”.  By way of comparison, the NHL is just over 2 million, UFC has over 7 million, the NBA over 11 million and Arena football more than 370,000.

San Jose Stadium Moves Forward

We wrote last week about a key final hurdle for the stadium project in San Jose.  The team has cleared that hurdle, thanks to a unanimous vote upholding the planning permit.  The vote by the San Jose Planning Commission upheld earlier action by the same board in December.  However, concerns raised by a neighbor to the project required additional action.  The team is aggressively targeting next Summer to open the new venue.  For more on the action today by the commission, click here.

The stadium and associated land deal have been something of a moving target over the last couple of years.  Last February we wrote about San Jose officials’ recommendation of  a four million dollar gift to Lew Wolff and team to assist in constructing the facility.  funding for the planned stadium has always been a bit fuzzy.  The city of San Jose had previously agreed to chop $40 million off the purchase price of a 75 acre parcel that will include the Stadium and additional mixed use development.  The stadium will seat 15,000 (with additional seating for 3,000 more on a berm at the stadium’s open end) and will use 14 acres of the site.

The meeting was attended by many fans of the team, owner Lew Wolff and MLS President Mark Abbott.   The vote was a big step, but additional municipal action, especially those required by the construction process (including building permits, inspections and other items).   Nevertheless, the project, which includes s substantial mixed-use component, should start moving forward in fairly short order.  For a detailed interview with the team president about the stadium and other matters, click here.

Business Snapshot: Expansion

As Major League Soccer gets ready to open the season, we thought it would be worth taking a quick look at a number of business topics overhanging MLS that are bigger than just one season.  We’ll start with expansion.

When this blog started, expansion was probably the biggest business story looming over the league. After adding Toronto, San Jose rejoined the league in 2008 starting a wave of new entrants to the list franchises.

Since the first post on this site, Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland and Vancouver have joined the league and Montreal is just about to start. Each has seemed to be the right selection, with each new franchise creating buzz and helping bring the league to new heights.

The expansion process seems set to slow down significantly.  After adding franchises annually for years, the league probably has room for one more team in the foreseeable future.  On the business side, the constant addition of teams has ensured a constant stream of increasing expansion fees to line the pockets of league owners.  The added teams also improve Major League Soccer’s national television footprint and provide needed buzz as the new franchise starts play.

So where next?  Over the years, we have taken detailed looks at St. Louis, Miami, New York, Las Vegas, Detroit and elsewhere as part of the search for Major League Soccer’s next franchise.  Yet Commissioner Garber has repeatedly indicated that a second franchise in New York is the preferred option.  However, there is no apparent rush to lock down a 20th franchise and one of the potential ownership groups, the Wilpon family, is struggling to keep its head above water in Major League Baseball.

The league has earned the right to pause and consider its options.  After retrenching early in the last decade and eliminating two franchises in Florida, the league can review the field of potential suitors, set its priorities and make the

Soccer Business Bits: Union Tickets, Orlando Expansion

The Philadelphia have reached out to fans to announce that only 352 pairs of season tickets remain available for 2012.  The outreach effort is aimed at selling full 18 game seats for all Union home matches.  The packages do not include the All-Star Game but does entitle purchasers to have “priority access” to tickets for the event.  In addition to a parking pass, the ticket also comes with pre and in game access to the large stadium club. The available tickets are scattered throughout the stadium.

Elsewhere, it was announced that Commissioner Don Garber is meeting with representatives interested in bringing a new expansion franchise to Orlando. The March 1 meeting will include the owners of the local lower division franchise, the City Mayor, other community leaders and local media.  The league website offers the following quote from Don Garber, ““While New York City remains the league’s focus for our 20th club, it’s important to continue evaluating future options as we continue to grow the league…this growth has been built on a foundation of strategic expansion strategies, construction of new urban-based stadiums and a growing passionate soccer fan base across North America.”

Sticking with the Orlando theme, we commented yesterday about the tournament held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.  Thanks to the insights from @AdamSoucie, we learned that Disney has been putting substantial effort to promote the Pro Soccer Challenge.  Visitors to the resort have received materials about the games, and local television and radio media have aggressively covered the tournament.

Finally, here is the latest spot from new league partner NBCSN promoting the league and the season opener.

 

Looking at the Major League Soccer Preseason

Over the next few days, Major League Soccer teams will be continuing their preseason preparation for the 2012 campaign.  A number of those teams will be gathered in Orlando, Charleston or Tucson as part of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, Carolina Challenge Cup or the Desert Diamond Cup.  Each of the events feature multiple MLS teams performing in intimate venues in small tournament set-ups.  We thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at some of the business aspects of the events.

A visit to the Charleston Battery or FC Tucson websites finds the local event prominently displayed and easy to access.  The same is not true for the Wide World of Sports website. Unless you know the name of your event, “Pro Soccer Classic” it is pretty difficult to find information about preseason soccer on the site.

Pricing for the events also bears mention. The Disney event is selling session tickets (two games) for $19 including all fees.  Seating is general admission.  Tickets in Charleston range from $15-$25 for a full day session depending on where you want to sit.  Tickets for three days of the event can be purchased for $35-$50.  In Tucson, an array of price points are offered, including a VIP option that includes a food and drink ticket.  Prices range from $20-$75 for a full day session.

Also notable is local coverage of the Spring events. The Arizona Daily Star has devoted a substantial amount of ink to the MLS teams spending time in the Tucson area validating the importance of these teams to the local economy.  Coverage in the local Charleston paper is far more muted.  Finally, in Orlando, the Sentinel has started to increase its coverage of soccer in advance of the coming tournament.

Monday After

The last full week of February is upon us and the MLS season is just three weeks away.  Here are some business stories from the weekend to get your Monday off to a great start.  In San Jose, plans to build a $60 million stadium for the Earthquakes is continuing to creep forward.  According to this article from the Mercury News, the stadium plan is set for a final vote on Wednesday night by the local Planning Commission.  Final approvals were obtained by the team in late 2011, but a neighborhood group expressed concerns about the facility that is set to host 30-40 events per year near the local international airport.  The proposed stadium is set in a fairly industrial area, bounded by the airport, rail stations and highways and the final approval should be cleared (perhaps with additional conditions).  According to the article, initial suite sales are going well, “10 suites have been purchased by individuals or corporations, each for $350,000 for a five-year contract. Unlike other stadiums that feature luxury boxes, these suites are on the field for an up-close experience. ”

While not exactly an American soccer story, this tale from the NY Times about measures taken by Mexican Clubs to withhold salaries and training tools from their players is a must-read.  Remember the late 1980s move Major League (a personal favorite)?  From an MLS perspective, the refusal of Mexican owners to pay their players could have the effect of driving players to MLS. As has happened in places like Colombia, the relative safety and certainty of a weekly paycheck could motivate athletes to look North to ply their trade.

Finally, it was announced that PPL Park will host an international friendly between Chile and Ghana on February 29.  The Union are bringing the match to Chester as part of their partnership with the Philadelphia Eagles. The game will kick off at 7:00 and is set to feature the stars of both rosters.

Soccer Business Bits: SSS Concerts, the Fans & More

Time for some quick hitters from the world of soccer business.  The Sports Business Journal is reporting that the Soccer Stadium, a network of soccer specific venues (made up of a number of MLS franchises and the Rochester Rhinos), has realized some significant success though its effort to jointly book concerts.  The stadiums hit a sweet spot for outdoor concerts by offering venues that can accommodate 18-27,000 people.  Larger stadiums need to draw tens of thousands more to break even, while smaller outdoor venues cannot draw some of the bigger acts.  According to the SBJ, ” the alliance has submitted 20-plus offers to more than a dozen mainstream artists and tours, covering Kiss/Motley Crue, Def Leppard/Poison, Aerosmith and Journey. The decision is up to the individual members of the alliance whether they want to put in an offer on a tour or pass.”

Elsewhere,  the league’s website(through editor Jonah Freedman) weighs in with a great look at the league’s efforts and struggles in attracting soccer fans to MLS.  We have frequently written about the difficulty MLS faces in grabbing the millions of American soccer fans with limited interest in their domestic league.  Every weekend, millions sit on their couches watching soccer in Mexico, England, Italy in elsewhere, while live soccer is being played within an hour of their house.  Freedman says the following, ”

It’s time they became MLS fans, too. Luis’ Real Madrid blanco can live side-by-side with blue and black in his veins. Pat must understand that his Toon Army cred doesn’t prevent him from cheering with the Empire Supporters Club. Allen’s Rojiblancos pride can translate directly to the Rojiblancos in his own backyard. That’s our next big project. That’s the next step in our league growing up. MLS has taken the steps it needs to take to win these fans’ affection. Now we’ve got to snap them up and prove to them we’re worth the attention.”

Finally, the San Antonio Scorpions have announced that they will break ground on February 29 on a new stadium for the team.  To take a look at the proposed stadium, click here.

Crew Get a Sponsor

The Columbus Crew have announced a five year partnership with Barbasol to serve as the team’s jersey sponsor starting in 2012.  Two years after Glidden departed front of the Columbus kit, the team managed to secure a long term partnership with a venerable American company with a long history of involvement with the sports world.  As is typical with these types of deals, the arrangement includes print, television and stadium advertisements. In addition, cans of Barbasol will be marketed around central Ohio with the Crew logo.

On the business side, the deal makes great sense for both sides.  Shaving cream is an affordable product used and bought by the majority of MLS supporters.  We have long reported on the loyalty of Major League Soccer fans to brands affiliated with the league and that loyalty will likely be rewarded when soccer fans go to the store to purchase their shaving cream.

The deal is officially between Perio, Inc., the maker of Barbasol.  Perio, Inc. was formed as Columbus Dental in 1903 and joined forces with Barbasol in 20o1.  Perio is also involved in the sponsorship of golfers and has a long history of team, player and league sponsorship.  The Crew become the 15th team in the league with a sponsorship.

The amount of deal is not yet available, other than a statement that it is worth “multi-millions”.  For reference, the recent Fire deal with Quaker (also an iconic brand), is a reported $8million over 3 years.  Here is a quote from John Wagner of Hunt Sports Group courtesy of the MLSSoccer.com story. “It’s a great day for the organization, one of those milestone days a team has in its history because of the length of the commitment, the quality of the company and local proximity,” Wagner said, ticking off the three boxes teams crave when searching for a kit sponsor. “The fans now have a sponsor they can rally behind.”

 

Footiebusiness Vault:

It is Valentine’s Day, so no new post tonight while we attend to other matters.  Back in the Summer of 2010, we interviewed Rocky Harris of the Houston Dynamo about the team’s marketing and promotional efforts.  What a difference a couple of years makes.  Back then there was no stadium, the All-Star Game against ManU was on the horizon and Superliga was still a big deal. Here is that interview from 2010.

We thought we should check in with Dynamo Senior VP Rocky Harris about efforts to capitalize on the Red Devils’ trip to Houston and on some of the other marketing initiatives.   Mr. Harris has been with the Dynamo for about one year following a six year stint in the N.F.L. with San Francisco and Houston.  Thanks to Mr. Harris.

Footiebusiness.com: Soccer has seemingly reached new heights of popularity this Summer in the United States.  What steps are the Dynamo taking to capitalize on that popularity in marketing the team?

Rocky Harris: We created a marketing campaign called “The Summer of Soccer” to attempt to tie all of the soccer events together for the general market: MLS games, World Cup viewing parties, SuperLiga, US Open Cup, Dynamo Charities Cup and the 2010 AT&T MLS All-Star game featuring Manchester United. Our entire marketing plan has been built around capitalizing on the World Cup and the All-Star game. In soccer, you only have this opportunity every four years and we didn’t want to miss the chance to connect with international soccer fans and turn them into Dynamo and MLS fans. We intentionally went after major international soccer clubs for the All-Star game to maximize on the soccer buzz in the general market from the World Cup. We were lucky to land Manchester United and capitalize on the bounce from the World Cup. 

FB: The Dynamo are moving  towards the opening of a new stadium. What is the status of those efforts?  How do the efforts to open a stadium impact your marketing strategies?   How will the new location impact your fanbase?


RH: We fully expect to break ground on our downtown stadium by the end of this year and move into the new building in 2012. Our marketing strategy will definitely shift to address the opportunity to attract a few segments that have been difficult to reach by playing in an antiquated college football stadium in Houston’s 3rd Ward. Currently, MLS is known for its youth soccer fanbase and the Hispanic fanbase. We are going to focus our efforts on attracting three new segments that we think can grow exponentially: corporate community, international soccer fans and the urban 18-34 year-old male.

FB: On Footiebusiness.com we’ve written about the amigofreekick.com web page.  What can you tell us about that page?  What efforts do the Dynamo make to drive traffic to the site?  How successful is the site?
RH: Amigo Energy is on the forefront of driving the avid tribe of soccer fans to connect with their brand. They were smart to launch their brand in Houston with the Dynamo jersey sponsorship because they were an unknown entity before the launch. Since then, they have done a fantastic job activating their multimillion dollar investment by acquiring new customers at Dynamo games/events and utilizing technology to further connect with our fanbase. Amigo Energy wants to be the top electricity choice, not just among Dynamo fans, but among all soccer enthusiasts. We came up with the Amigofreekick.com concept to utilize Amigo’s sponsorship assets to better connect with Dynamo fans and reward them for visiting the site. We transferred all of our promotional touchpoints, including web/broadcast/in-game/PR, and all of Amigo’s contractual assets, to promote the contest. Amigo Energy is pleased with the results from the promotion, including: web traffic, opt-in information, and acquisition of new customers and retention of current customers.

FB: Manchester United is coming to play the MLS All Stars in Houston. What is the team doing off the field to capture some of the soccer fans who are coming to see Man U, but haven’t embraced the Dynamo/MLS?  What steps will the Dynamo take on the day of the game to bring those types of fans back to the Dynamo?

RH: I was an international soccer fan before I became an MLS fan and it took a lot for me to convert. You have to do everything you can to show international soccer fans that we are playing the same game and try to convince them that they need to support their local team, in addition to their favorite international team. I always tell international soccer fans that we aren’t trying to replace their favorite or hometown team, but instead support the growth of soccer in Houston. I also tell them to attend our games so they can celebrate the game of soccer – live – the way it is supposed to be watched. As far as the All-Star game is concerned, we have multiple ancillary events to support the match, including: 5K Run with over 1500 participants, Film Festival, All-Star Kickoff Party, Celebrity Soccer Match, Soccer Jam, Brian Ching postgame party and many charitable events. In my opinion, the most important way to connect with international soccer fans is through the play on the pitch, because the product is the most critical component of growing our fanbase. If the All-Stars are entertaining and put on a good show, we will gain new fans.
FB: Similar question  for SuperLiga.  Have you noticed any correlation between Superliga/Champions League participation and an increase in interest in the Dynamo?  What efforts has the team made to turn that interest into ticket sales during the MLS season?  What efforts have been most successful.
RH: SuperLiga has been a very successful tournament for us in the past because it gave us an opportunity to show Mexican soccer fans that the Dynamo can compete with the best teams in Mexico. Our success in that tournament has helped us build credibility in the Hispanic market and allowed us to convert fans to support the Dynamo. Our MLS business is up this year and we think the buzz around soccer is going to allow us to hit some of our biggest numbers in the second half of the season.