Footiebusiness Vault: Interview with Larry Tiscornia

We are on the road tonight, so here is a vault piece from the start of last season. This was part of our series that looked at the art of televising soccer.

The Major League Soccer 2011 season got started on Tuesday night with a nationally broadcast match carried by ESPN.  Fans of all sports are frequently critical of the television presentation of  sports events and soccer fans are no different.  Anger is directed at  announcers, camera angles, crowd sounds, commercial intrusion and more.  We thought it would worthwhile to dig a bit deeper into the world of broadcasting soccer to explore the process involved in bringing the beautiful game to the screen.  To make sure we cover the issue, we will present a number of interviews with broadcast professionals and industry insiders over the next couple of weeks to provide insight into the art of televising soccer.

We start with Larry Tiscornia, the Senior Director of Broadcasting with MLS.  This is Mr. Tiscornia’s 12th year with the league.  Prior to his time with MLS, Mr. Tiscornia worked for ABC and before that USA Network.  Thanks to Mr. Tiscornia for his thoughts

Footiebusiness.com:  How much input does the league have in how its various broadcast partners present MLS matches?  Is it a collaborative process or does the league have a number of requirements that the broadcasters must meet?  Does the league’s requirements or “wish list” differ if the broadcast is national versus local?

Larry Tiscornia:  We are in constant communication with all League partners, both locally and nationally, on how all MLS broadcasts are presented to the fan. We have annual seminars, weekly conference calls and various meetings throughout the season. The League also has minimums that are enforced on the local broadcasts to ensure that all broadcasts are presented in a professional manner.

FB: Does the league look for consistency in its broadcasts regardless of the event or are you cognizant of different audiences for an ESPN game of the week versus an all star game against a European power or Superliga game attracting fans of Mexican teams?  If the league is looking to address the distinctions between these audiences, how does the presentation differ?
LT: We’d like the look of all our games to be consistent; however, there is more emphasis to have a big-time feel  for our marquee events, such as MLS Cup.

FB: How many cameras are typical at nationally broadcast MLS match?  What different views/angles have you found are best?  Where are crowd mics typically placed?
LT: On a national broadcast, there could be anywhere from eight to 18 cameras for a regular season game. It is the League’s preference that all high game cameras are lower to the field to bring the viewer closer to the field. For bigger events, we like to see various super slow motion cameras, slash cameras and reverse angle cameras to maximize the viewers’ experience. As for audio, microphones are typically placed throughout the stadium, within the stands and on the field to maximize the natural sound and make sure that comes across to the viewer.

FB: What type of research does the league do into fan preferences for viewing?  What type of fan originated suggestions have you implemented?

LT: The broadcast department started a Twitter account to gather feedback from our fans. We will pass along the constructive comments to our partners throughout the season.

FB: Finally, should fans expect any new technolgies during MLS broadcasts in 2011?
LT: We are always looking to improve our broadcast with new technology, and this year we’ll be incorporating OPTA stats into our broadcasts.

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The Friendly Season

Over the last few days, the announcements of the annual parade of European club teams have begun in earnest.  Chelsea, Tottenham & AC Milan are among the big name teams heading to the United States as part of their Summer preseason.  These teams will play MLS franchises and each other in what has become an annual rite of Summer.  MLS teams cash in on the big gates, the European teams get some exposure and fans get a chance to see their favorite European teams.

Over the years, fans have debated the merits of these friendlies. The European teams are desperate to spread their brand to an American audience in an effort to collect fans and sell jerseys on these fertile shores.

At the same time, MLS teams can generate a large pay day by selling seats to see the foreign teams play (and these European teams don’t come for free).  MLS squads view these games as an invaluable opportunity to showcase their talents (and very existence) to soccer fans in the States who typically ignore MLS.  Some teams believe so strongly in these opportunities, that they readily shift MLS regular season matches to accommodate the games.

Overall, we think that these games are great for MLS. Every time that a fan of a team like Manchester United, Barcelona or Real Madrid enjoys their experience at an MLS game, is an opportunity to create a fan who comes back to see the players for their local side.  Moreover, these events typically generate substantial revenue for the MLS Sides.

What do you think?  Are these friendlies a good idea?

Selling Tickets in MLS

Three weeks into the Major League Soccer season and most teams have now had their home openers.  Yet the need to sell tickets is just shifting into high gear.  Every so often, we like to take a look around the league to see what teams are doing to promote upcoming matches and draw fans to the park.  We’ll start in DC, where United is continuing is drive to bring college aged fans to RFK Stadium.  The team is offering $20 tickets for anyone who orders tickets with a .edu e-mail address.   At the door, those same seats will be $22 with a college i.d.  DC has long been on of the most aggressive teams in marketing to a younger audience and its efforts to bring college students (and entertain them with music and drinks) has long been part of that effort.

It’s not often we stumble into a ticket promotion in Seattle, but with the announcement that the team will host Chelsea this Summer, the team is offering a 4 game package that includes tickets to the Chelsea, Galaxy, Timbers and Whitecaps matches.  The team is opening all of Century Link Field for those matches and tickets start at $110 for the four games.

The Rapids are offering a Family Four Pack starting at just $49.  The package includes 4 tickets, 4 meals and 4 Coca-Cola products.  The package is offered by the Rapids and Coke.

Finally, the Crew are offering their own college deal and pairing it with a military i.d. discount.  The team is offering seats for its April 7 match against the Red Bulls for $15 in advance or $17 on game day.  The team is also offering an $88 deal for four tickets in conjunction with Pepsi.  The plan includes the tickets, an equal number of snacks, Pepsi products, hot dogs and a coupon for a free 2 liter.

Monday After

Before we take a look at MLS attendance from the weekend, a quick note on our “new” look.  The front page of Footiebusiness has been revamped to (hopefully) make things easier to navigate.  After more than three years with the same front page, it was time to make a few changes.  Hopefully it will be easier to access the Footiebusiness Twitter feed and soccer links while still providing access to the site’s content.  Check out the About the Author tab and note the addition of a “Contributors” tab at the top of the page.  Dave Laidig has officially been added as a Footiebusiness Contributor (I’m sure his family is very proud), and you can see some of Dave’s content under the Contributor tab.  The process of cleaning up the links has started as well, as some of the sites had been inactive for quite some time.  Feel free to send some sites worth linking our way and don’t hesitate to drop a line with comments on the new look.

On to attendance, where the weekend got started with a solid 38,300 at Century Link Field for the Sounders’ home victory over Houston.  The match was broadcast on NBCSN and drew some national coverage because of a derogatory term shouted by Dynamo midfielder Colin Clarke.  The theory that any publicity is good publicity will be tested by the league’s reaction to the event.

Elsewhere, more than 20k braved the rain at BMO field to watch TFC get trounced by San Jose.  Later on Saturday, Columbus opened its home campaign before a solid 18k plus, while the Revs, despite a doubleheader pairing, managed just over 12k for their home opener. Chicago also managed more than 18k for their home opener.  The Chicago and Columbus numbers are especially impressive, because both represent a 50% increase over the home openers in 2011.

In Salt Lake City, more than 20k packed Rio Tinto for a rare RSL home loss. Vancouver pulled more than 19k in the nightcap.  In New York, attendance was reported at just over 21k.

Covering the Coverage

Every so often, we like to take a spin around mainstream sports to see how certain outlets are covering the beautiful game.  We’ll start with Sports Illustrated, where, thanks to a Post Office snafu (“we apologize for the damage to your mail”), we just received our March Madness preview issued.  Tucked therein, was a two page MLS preview authored by Grant Wahl which focused on the influx of Colombian talent into the league.  The two pages also included Wahl’s predictions for 2012, include order of finish, champion and more.  Although the preview appeared before week two (or week three for me), the tw0 pages devoted to MLS in such a mainstream sports publication always provides good exposure for the league.

NBC Sports “Pro Soccer Talk” has rounded into form in week three of its existence. Steve Davis has been remarkably prolific, putting out loads of content on a variety of topics daily.  Davis has now been joined by former Foxsoccer.com chief editor Richard Farley to create a staff of two.  Farley hasn’t yet produced much content, but the addition of  a second set of eyes and fingers to the group such only serve to increase the available soccer content on the fledgling site.

USA Today continues to offer solid soccer content, the trick is finding it on the website or in the paper.  On the site, the soccer tab has been relegated to the ranks of “other” rather to holding down a spot on the main page.  Nevertheless, the stories are varied and high quality.

Brian Straus continues to generate solid content on the suddenly soccer friendly Sporting News.  MLS Power Rankings, international stories and other soccer headlines are easily accessible on the site.  This represents as significant change from the days of old when TSN seemingly worked hard to avoid any mention of the sport.

Soccer Business Bits: Trumpeting TV Ratings, National Weekend & More

Following their inaugural broadcast, the folks at NBC Sports expressed some low key optimism after the television ratings were released.  Following the release of ratings from the network’s second broadcast, NBC Sports PR was shouting from the roof tops.  The second broadcast averaged 124,000 viewers, a 50% increase from the first match.  Even more impressive, the viewership increased when only the game (rather than the pregame) is included in the sample.  Most importantly, the most highly rated 15 minute segment was the end of the game where viewership peaked at more than 210k.  The ratings are especially impressive when compared with FSC’s numbers from last year.

Keeping with the television theme, MLS will have four nationally televised games this coming week.  The NBC Sports Network will open with a Seattle home game on Friday night, the first prime time broadcast for the league’s new partner.  TSN will follow on Saturday afternoon with Toronto hosting San Jose for the Reds home opener on TSN.  ESPN2 gets back in the MLS business with a Sunday afternoon home opener from Red Bull Arena and Galavision will conclude the weekend with a Sunday night broadcast from LiveStrong Sporting Park.

Finally, Lionel Messi broke Barcelona’s all time scoring mark on Tuesday at the tender age of 24.  Typically, this site doesn’t cover European soccer and certainly doesn’t focus on individual achievements.  However, Messi’s accomplishment is notable from a business sense, because mainstream sports sites felt obligated to cover the event.  CNNSI an USA Today’s sports sections put Messi on their front pages.  It is fairly remarkable that soccer has reached the level of popularity where the feats of a 24 years old Argentine playing in Spain is news in the States.

The Chivas Conundrum

Perhaps the biggest business story of the weekend was the sub-8000 crowd at the Home Depot Center for Chivas’ home game on Saturday night.  Chivas isn’t the first team to suffer indignity at the gate in the last couple of years (New England and Columbus have certainly put up some attendance stinkers lately), but the Chivas experiment has certainly risen to the top of the list of trouble spots.  Having already reduced their maximum attendance figure almost 10k per game, the team undershot their new cap by more than 11k.  Chivas USA is already a second citizen in their own stadium and in the eyes of most of their fans and owner.  Is the team long for Los Angeles?  Is a move to San Diego in the future?  What about a rebrand?

What is remarkable about Chivas’ current situation is the progress the team was seemingly making over the last couple of years.  We’ve long commended their aggressive marketing department for finding creative ways to put fans in seats at the Home Depot Center.  Creative promotions, giveaways and outreach programs have been a hallmark of Chivas’ marketing.  Can it be saved in 2012?

For fun, below is an interview we did with Chivas’ Director of Marketing Alex Gallegos three years ago:

Footiebusiness.com: What is Chivas doing differently for marketing in 2009?  How has the economy changed/impacted those efforts?

Alex Gallegos: We have instituted a ton of different programs either marketing, community or sales based, they are as follows:

All You Can eat Section
Stimulus mini- 5 game plan

Practices in the Community

Partnerships with the City of Hope, Special Olympics and the American Lung Association

School of the game

Band of the game

Family and kids packs

All aimed at community involvement, affordable entertainment and fan development

FB: In 2009, many teams in MLS seem to be struggling at the gate.  Yet Chivas seems to be doing quite well, and to date, numbers appear to better than last year.  To what to you attribute that success?

AG: A stronger market presence, diversified advertising avenues

A sales dept that is more veteran and versed in the soccer sales ways

Leadership from our CEO Shawn Hunter

A great team that makes it easy to highlight what we do on the field and off

A stronger presence in the community

Great media and corporate partners

FB: How have Chivas utilized online avenues such as social networking sites, SUM’s new online ad network, etc… to market the team?  Do you find that these efforts increase interest in Chivas or impact attendance?

AG: We have had or launched myspace, facebook, txt message, viral video and online ad programs. We are analyzing twitter and launched mychivasusa.com all to give our fans a better place to congregate, tell more fans and spread our word for us. It is helping little by little.

FB: What unique challenges does Chivas face as one of two teams in Los Angeles?  Most teams just compete against teams in other sports, while Chivas must compete against the Galaxy in their own stadium.  How do you deal with the further segmenting of the potential MLS fan base?

AG: We simply identify what makes us Chivas and let the consumer make the choice, we’re not trying to make anyone chose a side,  we’re open to anyone that likes soccer, that likes entertainment or that wants a fun environment and experience for their family.  We touch on things like our game atmosphere, price affordability, access to our players, community programs, customer service etc…

FB: Is it inconsistent/challenging for teams to target “hard core” supporters, non-soccer sports fans and families?  How do you resolve those inconsistencies/challenges?

AG: We make a lot of invites, we have a lot of guests that we invite to our games on us.  We do this so that they can experience our games and make the decision to come back on their own, more often then not they love our games and really are receptive to coming back and telling their friends. Were building fans through multiple programs, one fan at a time.