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.

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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.