Monday After

Full slate of games in Major League Soccer this weekend.  Before we get to the attendance figures, one quick note.  The NFL draft was the weekend and the first overall pick, Andrew Luck, is someone with Major League Soccer ties.  Luck’s father, Oliver Luck, was the head of the Dynamo front office until recently and MLS has played up that connection by featuring an interview on their website featuring Luck and talking soccer.  Any crossover is beneficial to the league and Luck is a charismatic figure and could be a good source of positive press for the league if Luck becomes an established star.

The league week started on Wednesday with just over 10k in Dallas, a decent weekday crowd for the Metroplex.  The Montreal Impact hosted the Timbers on Friday night and exceeded 19k while counting down towards the move to their permanent Stade Saputo home.  On Saturday, the Red Bulls started with more than 18,500 for their match with New England, while the Union managed just over 18k at PPL Park.

DC United managed almost 14k at RFK for their Saturday night match, while Columbus fell just short of 12k.  Both matches were played in unusually chilly late April weather in the East.  In Chicago, the Fire hosted more than 14k at Toyota Park, while at RSL, more than 17k packed into Rio Tinto as RSL managed to squeak past TFC at home.    Both are solid crowds for an April Saturday evening.

In the late night games, Colorado fell just shy of 11k in another tough weather game.  The Galaxy managed a big crowd at the Home Depot Center, with more than 23k on hand to witness a match that was tight until the end.

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Footiebusiness Vault: Selling Soccer Through Stats

On the road, so I thought I would honor Footiebusiness Contributor Dave Laidig but putting one of his earlier posts out for consumption.  For those who enjoyed Dave’s great three part series on player valuation, here is a post from April 2011 about selling soccer through stats.

Every so often, we are fortunate to have one of our readers provide some great content for the site.  Dave Laidig is an attorney in Minnesota, currently supporting a multi-national corporation as contracts counsel.  Dave coordinates sales, marketing, finance and technical departments for an information content provider in the pursuit of business opportunities, and serves as the authorized negotiator for contracts with government entities.  He earned a Master’s degree in Psychology with an emphasis on research methods and statistics; and undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Sociology.  He has presented seminars and published articles in the field of government contracts, but prefers to discuss the inner workings of the business of sports to those who will listen.  Thanks to Dave for his great insights….we are listening!

On March 4, 2011, MLS announced its partnership with Opta, a sports data provider with experience in European leagues. In its announcement, the MLS spokesman reported “For many years we have heard a desire from our fans for more in-depth statistics …. [and] this deal will allow for deeper analysis of all MLS matches and ensure that MLS is at the cutting edge of data technologies in 2011 and beyond.” The data provided by Opta will be “available for use by MLSsoccer.com, participating broadcasters and other interested media outlets.” Further signaling a strategic, long-term presence, the announcement also reported that Opta would build a data analysis hub in New York to cover North American games. Because the data procured from Opta, if used wisely, can help sell the game to the American public, this announcement is not just another vendor deal for MLS over a bunch of stat lines.

Any salesman worth his commission has an enormous vocabulary with regards to his product. But in America, our vocabulary for soccer is missing something compared to other sports. A quick glance at recent MLS reporting reveals that only a few types of actions are mentioned. Over time, the repetition of a few items, game after game, bores its audience and does little to enhance a dynamic sport with 90 minutes of non-stop action. For example, if one misses a game, appealing to a post-game summary adds little. The box score typically reports a player’s goals, cards, and sometimes assists. Any action outside of these categories is generally treated as non-existent, and implicitly reinforces the meme that soccer yields little action. Even the post-game narratives are almost entirely a recitation of a box score.

In the wire reports from Sports Network for the 2010 playoff series between FC Dallas- Real Salt Lake consisted of three elements: (1) narratives of scoring attempts, (2) team schedule review (e.g., next opponent, score from previous games, etc.), and (3) summary of cards. Over the two game summaries, the lone exception to the three elements was the phrase “FCD came out strong in the game, making the RSL defense look out-of-sorts in the early going.” And this phrase culminated with a score report. This post-game reporting does not communicate the feel of the game, or even acknowledge the work of non-scoring players. Notably, there was no mention of tactics, defensive actions, or even a generic possession report informing which team held the ball more. And the failure to describe the game flows-down to the description of individual players. As such, objective descriptions of players are limited to demographic data (hometown, age, position), a few limited performance measures (goals, cards, saves), or participation measures (games played, minutes). One can understand why soccer has been slow to capture the imagination of the American fans not already knowledgeable about the sport.

Reaching the fans is the league’s primary responsibility for a sustainable product. Not only because fans provide a direct revenue source, but also because the intensity and number of fans induces investments from MLS partners. Ultimately, better descriptions of the game are an incredible marketing opportunity that can (1) improve the media’s coverage of soccer, (2) educate fans about soccer’s key elements, (3) draw attention to non-playoff teams, (4) and serve as the foundation for the fantasy soccer-manager league. Generating excitement around the game requires less investment than a high profile signing, which can cost of several million dollars a year, and the results may be greater. Looking at other American sports, most remember Sosa and McGuire’s pursuit of baseball’s home run record. In my hometown, the worst NBA team received nightly coverage as Kevin Love chased a record in a statistical category (the “double-double”) of dubious significance. And I admit that I have checked into an unattractive NFL game to see if my fantasy player would pad their stats in garbage time. But more than just attention, meaningful statistics can also provide revenue through:

· Additional Corporate Sponsors for Statistical Categories (Game & Season)

·Increased Ad sales with increased website views

And statistics can also support the art of selling the MLS by:

· Supporting media partners with more and better data

· Generating public conversation about the game (i.e., “buzz”)

· Educating fans about various aspects of game.

Demonstrating another use for statistics, MLS has created a fantasy league where the public can combine MLS players and have their hypothetical squad compete with their friends’ teams. A savvy move as a well-executed fantasy league can serve as a market penetration vehicle, both for American and non-U.S. markets, and can reinforce existing MLS support. Over 6.4 Million Americans participate in fantasy sports, and over 2.3 Million do so several times a week.[1] This growing pastime has been attributed a source of increased game-viewing for the NFL, with 10% annual increases in subscribers attributed, in part, to “fantasy football fanatics.”[2] And the foundation of any fantasy league is player statistics. Importantly, participants often follow multiple teams (because their fantasy players are on different teams), which can drive viewership and interest independent of the fate of the local team. Further, a fantasy option can cultivate a comprehensive understanding of the sport, and the contributions of non-scoring players, as players analyze offensive and defensive performance for a variety of positions. And because fantasy managers often check in to a website several times a week, the fantasy product can generate revenue through increased website ad sales and possible statistical add-ons.

An MLS Fantasy League can sell soccer by:

· Increased market research opportunities with a committed focus group

· Driving attention to games not otherwise on the fan’s radar

· Bringing in Casual Soccer Fans or Fantasy Sports Fans · Solidifying Existing MLS Fans through increased participation

· Supporting Fan’s conversations regarding player roles and value (i.e., a great fantasy player v. a great team player).

In an information age, the business of sports cannot afford to ignore the need for better soccer information. And the data needed to advance the league’s interests is available, according to those privileged to receive access. MLS currently provides some graphics regarding shots and fouls, but falls short of revealing key actions such as passes, tackles, interceptions. But the question becomes whether the data provided to the media, and to the public, promotes the goals of educating the public, driving interest among the teams and generating conversations among supporters. Hopefully, MLS will heed the call of its fans and the evangelism of soccer in America will soon add some new terminology.

[1] United States Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2010, Table 1203 (most recent data is for 2008). [2] Riley-Katz, Anne, “Fantasy Football Kicks Off Shows But Ratings Remain a Dream” 27 Los Angeles Business Journal 46, Nov. 14 2005.

PART 3 Money and Performance in MLS

Dave Laidig is back with the second part of his series looking at the use of statistics and numbers in soccer.  For Part I, click here. For Part II, click here.  So far, this series has focused on analyzing objective measures of
performance.  In Part 1, we covered the Castrol Index and an adjusted
index that allows meaningful comparisons on overall contribution to
wins between positions.  In Part 2, we used this information to
determine the potential impact of field players from different
positions on wins.  However, in the business of soccer, resources are
limited.  And one must get the maximum value for their investments in
players.  Here, we review some of the financial aspects of obtaining
the performance levels discussed in earlier installments of this
series.

The theme for this part is return on investment: knowing what can be
obtained for a given price.  And to get this analysis, I made some
assumptions.  For example, I used the 2011 “guaranteed salary”
reported by the MLS Players’ Union, instead of base salaries.  I
believe teams likely know which contract incentives will probably be
met.  Thus, I treat the salaries guaranteed as of Sept. 2011 as
expected by teams, and use them for my salary analyses.  Also, I treat
all guaranteed salaries above the designated player (DP) threshold as
DPs.  I understand there is room for teams to buy-down salary cap
values using allocation money.  But sticking to my dollars and cents
theme, I classify DPs based on actual expenditures, and not salary cap
rules.

With the background aside, we turn to the role of money on
performance.  First, player salaries are poor predictors of team
success.  Between 2007 and 2010, total team expenditures were not
significantly correlated to league points (.193).  Considering
individual players, guaranteed salary was not correlated with Castrol
Index scores or adjusted index ratings (.166 and .172 respectively).
And if we ran the equations in Part 2, with salary replacing the
performance indices as a predictor of team points, there is no
significant relationship to league points and the model R-squared was
a paltry .27 (compared to .78 of a maximum possible 1.0 for the
adjusted index weighted by playing time).  Further, I created an
effective average salary for each team (avg. salary weighted by
minutes), and that was not significantly related to points either.

These results inform us that more money does not lead to more wins in
MLS.  In contrast, in the 2010 EPL season, team salary costs were
highly correlated (.85) with league points.  As a rough indicator of
the value of large salaries, consider whether Designated Players (2011
salaries above $335,000) are more likely to be in the top 20% of
performers.  There were 31 non-goalie DP salaries in 2011, and 11 of
these were in the top 20% of their position group.  This is a
statistically significant result (Chi-square = 4.75, df 1), but the
size of the effect is modest in comparison to the wages.  A randomly
selected DP has about a 35% chance of being a top performer, while the
rest of MLS players have a 19% chance of being a top performer.  And
of course, one could sign several other players for the typical DP
salary.  In MLS, one can obtain high quality player performance
without spending more than opponents.  In short, there is room for
more efficient player spending.

But knowing there is room for improvement and actually improving are
two different things.  A standard is needed to measure the value of
performance, and not just for DPs.  As an initial step, the average
salary per adjusted index point is $31,228 for forwards, $23,425 for
midfielders, $17,849 for defenders, and $18,861 for goalkeepers.  The
median salary per point is about $12,000 for the field positions;
which is interesting even though the average performance index and the
wages differ for each position.  Also, the range of dollars per index
point is very wide.  Indeed, the field players with the greatest value
(typically key starters on a minimum salary) are in the $4,200 per
point range; while the egregious examples can be over 600k or 800k per
point.  And with such incredible variability, I use the median values
as the basis for calculating value.

In addition, I chose to examine a subset of the top players as well.
Some economists have suggested that performance at the top-end is
disproportionately rewarded; possibly due to the all-or-nothing nature
of sports.  Thus, considering the top 20% of performers at each
position, we find their average salary per adjusted index point for
forwards are $84,175 (median $ 13,243), midfielders $40,689 (median $
14,880), defenders $17,339 (median $17,954), and goalkeepers $10,197
(median $ 7,728).  When compared to the entire position groups, it
becomes evident that purchasing higher end talent is slightly more
expensive.

These data points are involved in creating wage standards for
performance levels.  For example, the median wages per point
multiplied by the median points creates an “efficient salary” for a
50th percentile player.  With the math, an efficient salary for a
mid-level forward would be $87,800 (7.48 * $11,738), a midfielder
would be $91,318 (7.44 * $12,274), and a defender would be $91,116
(7.71 * $11,818).  These “efficient salaries” are slightly below the
median position salaries reported in Part 1.

Similarly, we can calculate an “efficient salary” for a top player
(80th percentile) using the median wages per point for the top 20% of
players.  An efficient salary for a top-level forward would be
$107,665 (8.13 * 13,243), a midfielder would be $117,254 (7.88 *
14,880), and a defender would be $146,863 (8.18 *17,954).  Using these
salaries, one can start to analysis the value of a player contract.
These standards represent what a performance increase alone would
justify, based on the current MLS market.  Any expenditure beyond
these levels would require an additional justification.

And soccer is a business.  Any salary or wage must be justified; but
increased performance is only one justification for a DP.  Obviously,
anything else a player contributes to increased revenue would support
extra wages (beyond that supported by performance).  And because fans
will buy Donovan jerseys over Franklin jerseys, the Galaxy are
justified in paying Donovan more, even if both contribute the same to
wins.  Further, there are less tangible benefits as well.  A DP may
attract better competition for friendlies, or lead to more TV
exposure.  And other players may accept less for the chance to play
alongside a star player.  All of which may affect the bottom line.
Consequently, a DP decision process should consider the value
justified by performance (rough estimate of performance * $ per point)
and projected revenue (additional jerseys and tickets) and as well as
the more speculative benefits.

And by using a quantitative method to account for the various buckets
of player value: teams may be able to make better business decisions
by recognizing where their purchase price is going (performance,
merchandising, or improving other players’ performance) and then
evaluate the success or failure of the results.  Over time, one can
quantify the risk involved for each category and improve the market
efficiency of player acquisition.

How is NBC Doing?

One of the biggest off-season stories was the start of the NBC/MLS relationship.  To date, the broadcasts have been high quality, the announcers first rate and the ratings slightly better than expected.  Most impressive has been promotional efforts of the Peacock.  The NBC Sports Network has done an excellent job putting MLS in front of their NHL audience and during other telecasts.  Although the network’s ratings (outside the Stanley Cup Playoffs) have been low,  NBC has done a great job promoting the MLS telecasts.  How is NBC doing?  Here is what Dave Laidig reported from the preseason NBC phone conference.

NBCSports starts their coverage this Sunday with FC Dallas and
NYRB , and previewed their coverage to the press on Wednesday.
NBC made it clear that MLS is a priority, and point to their
assignment of Pierre Moosa – with his experience on NBC’s Sunday Night
Football broadcast – as an example of their commitment to having a
first class production.

Further, NBC promised there would be no gimmicks, just honest
reflection of the game.  Moosa emphasized, “the game is the most
important thing, the reason people watch, the reason people care.”
Thus, the network plans on using the standard 8-10 camera angles, to
support its philosophy of covering the basics first.

As part of the production, the network will offer a pregame, halftime,
and post-game show.  The pre-game show is intended to present game info
and present hot topics around the league with expert analysis.  The
network has worked with the league to obtain access to players for
pre-game interviews, which may be worked into the telecast.  The halftime show will
focus on the “why” of the first half.  And the post-game show will
cover analysis of the game, player interviews, and upcoming match-ups
around the league.

A key feature of the broadcast will be locating a broadcast team
member on the sideline, in this case the role goes to ex-player Kyle Martino.  NBC presented this model (one in the booth and one on the
sidelines) as an extension of the model used in the NHL.  In its
defense, the networked pointed out that, at the time the bench
reporter was introduced in the NHL, the establishment thought it was a
dumb idea.  And now, the model is the “gold standard” in hockey.  For
his part, Martino looked forward to obtaining information that is
simply not available from a booth high above the action.  On the
sideline, he will draw not only on perceptions honed from years of
playing experience, but also from the shouted instructions from
coaches, or communications between teammates.  This insight willbe
incorporated into the broadcast, providing a more complete experience
for the fan.  The network revealed it produced two rehearsal games at
the recent Orlando tournament, and felt confident about the flow of
the game and the working relationship between Arlo and Kyle.

Also, NBC indicates it will strongly emphasize social media in its
soccer production: pointing first to its ProSoccerTalk website, and to
its plans to connect via Facebook and that it will show a Twitter
hashtag on the screen.  For its rollout, NBC plans on using the first
few games getting in the groove, and then ramping up the social media
outreach.

All in all, the excitement for the venture in the room was palpable
and we have yet another reason to look forward to the start of a new
season.

Monday After

Busy weekend in Major League Soccer, but before we get to the attendance numbers, here are a couple of quick hitters from the last couple of days.  The Philly Inquirer provided this article over the weekend that looked at Philadelphia areas sports fans and teams.  Perhaps most interesting from the soccer perspective, was the statement that the Union enjoy a 2 thousand person season ticket waiting list.  Further, the team would consider expanding PPL Park if that list reaches 8-9,000.

One other business note.  Although we focus on American Soccer, it would be hard to deny the appeal of El Classico.  The La Liga match-up was a featured story on a number of mainstream sports outlets.  Messi and Ronaldo are household names in many American hardcore sports families.

The week of games started with two mid-week tilts, one on each coast.  Neither drew an impressive attendance number, with United failing to clear 11k at RFK while Vancouver earned its smallest crowd in team history with just over 15k.  The ongoing NHL playoffs may have contributed to the disappointing numbers.

Perpetually disappointing TFC started the weekend with more than 19k at BMO to witness another loss to start the 2012 season.   Columbus failed to crack 10,500 at Crew Stadium, continuing a weak attendance trend.   A big crowd descended upon Commerce City where more than 19k saw the Rapids come home.  This is in excess of a sellout and represents the sale of standing room tickets for the match.  Vancouver rebounded with more than 18k for their Saturday night game.   Portland provided its usual 20k plus, while the San Jose Earthquakes managed its typical 10k plus (that stadium cannot get build fast enough).  Chivas USA managed to sneak past 14k, a marked improvement over earlier in the season. Finally, DC managed more than 13k in a driving rain for its 4-1 victory over the visiting Red Bulls

Soccer Business Bits

Here is a look at some business stories making headlines in the soccer world. First, we recommend this read from Yahoo Sports looking at Major League Soccer television ratings early in the 2012 campaign.  The article looks at the dramatic increase in NBC ratings when compared to FOX Soccer’s ratings in 2011.  NBC Sports Network is averaging 106,000 viewers per match.  According to the article, the “magic number” is 100k viewers and the league is just scraping over that number now.

Keeping with the television theme, Fox announced that every game of the English Premier League’s final weekend will be aired on American television.  Seven different Fox networks, including Fuel, Speed, FX and others will televise matches on May 13 as part of “Survival Sunday.”  The final game will be broadcast on ESPN’2  per the network’s relationship with the EPL.  Between Fox’s mid-day broadcasts of the EPL during the NFL season, promotion across other brands and other aggressive measures, FOX has really upped its effort to sell soccer.  This may be part of its bigger plans for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Commissioner Garber spoke to a group of AP reporters on Thursday hitting on a number of typical business themes.  These included New York expansion, league television ratings and the success of new teams in the league.  One notable addition was the suggestion that the league would be a willing guinea pig as part of efforts to bring goal line technology to soccer.  The league would welcome the opportunity to sit at the forefront of these efforts.  This is a good fit for the league because American sports fans are comfortable with the use of technology to improve game accuracy.  The technology will not lead to any appreciable delays (it alerts the refs within one second if a goals is scored).

Looking at MLS MatchDay

Just got a new i-phone today and one of the first things I added was the MLS MatchDay App.  Let me say that I was blown away.  The App is a huge improvement over prior iterations and provides great functionality optimized for the small screen.  In full disclosure, I am not a “techie,” so I am sure there issues with the App that are not readily apparent to my uneducated eyes.  Nevertheless, I found the App outstanding, and that is before utilizing the link with MLS Live.

Some of the highlights include the ready availability of highlights, stats, standings and more, all optimized for the phone screen.  The News screen is easy to read, well organized and does an effective job of aggregating stories by up to three “favorite” teams.  Perhaps the most interesting component of the individual team pages is the aggregation of Tweets by team players, staff and official accounts.  Even for those who don’t have Twitter, this feature provides great one stop shopping for the 140 character thoughts of those affiliated with a team.

Perhaps best of all, the App is free (excluding the MLS Live component).  It really is a “must” for MLS fans.  While much of the content is duplicated on the league’s website, the mobile functionality is definitely worth having.