Soccer Business Bits: Soccer in Primetime, NBC Promotion & TV Ratings

The United States National Team squared off against Brazil on Wednesday night and the match was televised on ESPN2.  The game broadcast featured Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman, ESPN’s primary international team.  The pairing of Darke and Twellman makes for an interesting contrast with NBC’s primary broadcast team of Arlo White and Kyle Martino.  Both teams feature a British lead voice paired with an American color commentator retired from MLS.  Twellman has become the rising star of American soccer broadcasts, anchoring ESPN’s MLS and International coverage.  Darke’s presence is more occasional, but he is the consummate professional and a welcome voice to American soccer fans.  White and Martino have become fixtures for fans of the American domestic league and both provide steady work and solid insights.  It was interesting to see the Bob Ley/Kasey Keller/Alexi Lalas combination in the ESPN studio.  Keller did an effective job in his new roll as analyst.

Keeping with the television team, it was interesting to note that NBC coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the broadcast network for the finals between New Jersey and Los Angeles.  NBC has done an effective job of promoting it soccer properties during the hockey playoffs and the ability to MLS showcased on NBC is one of the biggest benefits of the league’s relationship with the Peacock.  Although ratings in the first year of the deal have been fairly stagnant, the league has achieved great visibility due to NBC’s aggressive promotion of the beautiful game.

Finally, according to SBJ’s John Ouerand, NBCSN’s ratings for the weekend were particularly dismal, with the league failing to crack 75k in either of its games.  The Saturday night USMNT broadcast fared much better with more than 220k viewers.

MLS Expansion: A Deeper Look at Minnesota

A couple of weeks back, the Minnesota legislature voted in a stadium bill to keep the Vikings in Minnesota.  The stadium project is expected to cost almost a billion dollars.  Although it didn’t receive much attention outside soccer circles, the possibility of a soccer tenant at the new facility was the subject of much debate during negotiations for the bill.  Multiple versions of a clause that provided for free rent or other opportunities were part of the discussion.  For more on that provision, click here. The commitment of Vikings ownership to an MLS franchise is an open question, but if the Footiebusiness poll from last September is an indicator, there is plenty of fan interest!

Today we received a press release from a group called MLS4MN which describes itself as a “grass-roots coalition of supporters and businesses has formed seeking the advancement of professional soccer in Minnesota.”  Minnesota has had a successful run in the lower leagues of professional soccer but will that translate to to MLS?

Here is MLS4N’s take on the new Vikings stadium legislation.  ” The Vikings made soccer features key components of the recent stadium
legislation signed by the Governor, with the organization publicly considering a Major League Soccer (MLS) team… With the dynamic environment for soccer in Minnesota, the prospect of a top-tier MLS team is tempered by the possibility that the exclusive rights for bringing an MLS team to the state has created a lame duck situation for the Minnesota Stars. With the Stars currently searching for a new owner, the stadium bill will have driven away all other potential owners. As a result, the Vikings stadium bill may end up
killing professional soccer in Minnesota for at least the next decade.”

The situation in Minnesota bears watching.  New York has long had the inside track on the 20th position in MLS.  However, the formation of an active grassroots organization is a positive development.  If this group can keep soccer on the radar and convince Vikings ownership that there is interest in the Twin Cities.

The Monday (Tuesday) After

Hope everyone enjoyed the long weekend.  Other than my propane tank catching fire Monday afternoon, it was a relaxing weekend of family, nice weather and some soccer.  Before we get to attendance, here are a couple of business items.  First, for those of you who are Sports Illustrated readers, I recommend Grant Wahl’s excellent piece looking at Didier Drogba. Drogba is a fascinating figure and coverage of soccer in a mainstream sports publication is always worth a read.

One other non-attendance note. the Montreal Impact have become the latest team to add a DP to their roster.  On Monday the team announced Italian International Marco Di Vaio as their new attacking option.  The 35 year old forward most recently played for Bologna and last played for the Azurri 8 years ago.

On the attendance front, the mid0week matches started with just under 14k at Red Bull Arena and just under 12k at Toyota Park.  In Los Angeles, the Galaxy manged just 16,500 for their mid-week tilt, while Seattle managed more than 38k.

On Saturday, the Dynamo managed a home sellout in excess of 22k on Saturday, while struggling TFC managed a win and crowd in excess of 18k for their first win of the 2012 league season.   Colorado managed a great crowd of almost 18k while RSL hosted more than 19k at Rio Tinto.  Columbus also saw a great crowd in excess of 16k while DC United kept their winning ways going at home before just under 15k.  Chivas got more than 12k at the HDC while Portland saw its usual 2ok plus.

On Sunday, Kansas city came up just shy of 20k.  One side note, the USA National Team game in Jacksonville drew a crowd in excess of 44k.  That is a big crowd for city often criticized for its poor support of the Jaguars.


Looking at the Long Weekend

The Memorial Day holiday is upon us and that includes a full slate of games on national television.  In addition to Major League Soccer, the USMNT will play a friendly versus Scotland at Everbank Filed in Jacksonville.  The Scotland match will be televised by NBC Sports Network and will feature the network’s lead soccer tandem of Arlo White and Kyle Martino.  As a result, NBCSN, which will also televise two MLS matches during the weekend, will need to bring some veteran soccer talent to the booth.  According to the always excellent Jonathan Tannenwald, J.P. DellaCamera and Brian Dunseth will man the booth for Houston vs. Los Angeles and Kansas City vs. San Jose.  Those games will bookend the Saturday night match.

The national television schedule concludes mid-week with an ESPN2 broadcast of the United States versus Brazil.  The game will be telecast live from FedEx Field in Maryland.

Enjoy the long weekend.  On Tuesday we will back with a long weekend version of the Monday After.

Most of the league is set to take an extended break following this weekend’s matches.

Soccer Business Bits: PPV USA, New TV & More

Soccer America is reporting here that the first World Cup Qualifier of 2012 featuring the United States (versus Guatemala in Guatemala City on June 12) will not be broadcast on American broadcast or cable television.  Instead, the home federation has sold the rights to a third party vendor who is looking to use Pay Per View to recoup its fee.  According to Soccer America, the anticipated price will be $29.95 to watch the 10:00 p.m. match.  The rights are held by Traffic Sports, which holds the rights to a number of United States World Cup qualifying match-up.  Traffic is free to sell the rights to a traditional network, but the company is betting that it will have more success on a PPV basis.

Elsewhere, Al Jazeera is looking to enter the crowded United States soccer television market with two new channels set to debut in August.  According to this article, the stations have landed rights to Italian, French and Spanish league matches for the 2012/2013 seasons.  bein Sport will offer the matches in English and Spanish and will also include Copa America and South American World Cup Qualifiers.  The addition of bein sport, strips Fox Soccer, Gol TV and Univision of some of their most valuable sports properties.

Finally, Fox is touting the success of its Survival Sunday broadcasts.  Here direct from the press release, are some of the numbers.
“According to audience figures compiled by Nielsen Media Research, the English language (FX, SPEED, FOX Soccer, FSN, FUEL TV & ESPN2) and Spanish language (FOX Deportes & ESPN Deportes) viewership in the United States for Survival Sunday came in at 1,348,000, up +72% over the combined viewing on FOX Soccer, FOX Deportes, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes on Survival Sunday 2011 (728,000).   The English language audience on the FOX-outlets (392,000) and ESPN2 (600,000) combined for 992,000 viewers, up +80% over the combined viewing on ESPN2 and FOX Soccer a year ago (550,000).”


The End of the WPS

On March 29, 2009 the WPS kicked off its inaugural season with a nationally televised match-up at the Home Depot Center.  Pitting the Los Angeles Sol against the Washington Freedom, the opening match featured Brazilian star Marta and U.S. National Team scorer Abby Wambach.  At the time, this site was just over one month old and covering the birth of the league was a natural fit.  At the time, I wrote that as part of the league’s efforts to gain a foothold in the American sports scene, “a  national TV deal, a partnership with MLS and a reduction in team costs are all part of the “new model.”

In advance of the league’s first match, I was fortunate to speak with WPS’ Director of Communications Robert Penner.  Mr. Penner’s role was a natural outgrowth of the league’s close relationship with PUMA, WPS’ founding sponsor.  Mr. Penner emphasized that the league’s attendance goals of 4-6k per match were reasonable and the league was going to move slowly and steadily toward growth.  The league’s relationship with Fox Soccer was key as was the presence of top players and even a jersey sponsor (Amway).  With respect to demographics, here is what Mr. Penner said.

our core demographic is of course the young female soccer player age 8-18 who plays at the club and recreational level, but we also want to reach their parents, fitness-minded women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, as well as soccer fans in general. With our world class product and athletes on the field, we think we can accomplish that. The sponsors that we have met with and those that have signed on with WPS, know that we can help deliver this hard-to-reach demographic to them through many different activation platform.

Over the years, the league built a stadium in Atlanta, added a team in upstate New York and added league sponsors.  Yet the attendance and television numbers never impressed, disputes among owners drained resources and energy and teams began to fold. Despite a successful World Cup last Summer, especially on television, WPS couldn’t gain a foothold.  The WPS was the second attempt in less than 20 years to add a women’s soccer league.

It is sad for American soccer and female sports that the WPS, which started with such promise has now folded.  Hopefully a new effort will materialize, perhaps in partnership with MLS, which will make a third effort a charm.

Monday After

Another busy weekend in Major League Soccer, but before looking at attendance from the last round of matches, a couple of quick business notes.  First, Saturday afternoon saw the telecast of the Champions League Final to a worldwide audience that included the United States.  The match was broadcast on over-the-air television via the FOX network and featured Bayern Munich and Chelsea.  The Chelsea victory comes with a hidden benefit for MLS.  The European champions will be guests of both the Seattle Sounders and the Major League Soccer All-Star Game.  The presence of the FA Cup and Kings of the Champions League adds to the profile of Chelsea’s American Summer Tour.

The MLS week started with a Tuesday night tilt at BBVA Compass Stadium.  The game again drew a crowd in excess of 22k.  A mid-week crowd of just over 11,500 scattered throughout RFK for DC United’s weeknight match.  The weekend started in Vancouver with a packed crowd of 21k in attendance for Cascadia Cup match.  Later that day, DC managed to eclipse 14k in their second home game of the week.

The Revs managed almost 16,500 for their draw with the Dynamo.  That number was seemingly bolstered by an armed forces ticket give-away in excess of 3,000 seats.  Montreal drew more than 20k at Olympic Stadium as the days count down to the re-opening of Stade Saputo.  Dallas cracked the 13k mark will the Rapids managed to shoot past 15k at DSG Park late Saturday night.  Chivas hosted the LA Galaxy on Saturday night but failed to get a crowd in excess of 19k for the Classico.  San Jose got its usual 10k plus for their home match against the Crew.

Expansion Update

All is quiet on the expansion front with no new team set to join the league in 2013.  Nevertheless, there are a number of potential expansion candidates waiting in the wings.  Last week, the Minnesota legislature voted in a stadium bill to keep the Vikings in Minnesota.  The stadium project is expected to cost almost a billion dollars.  Although it didn’t receive much attention outside soccer circles, the possibility of a soccer tenant at the new facility was the subject of much debate during negotiations for the bill.  Multiple versions of a clause that provided for free rent or other opportunities were part of the discussion.  For more on that provision, click here. The commitment of Vikings ownership to an MLS franchise is an open question, but if the Footiebusiness poll from last September is an indicator, there is plenty of fan interest!

The leading candidate has long been New York.  The Commissioner has made no secret that New York2 is the target and the league is actively searching for an appropriate stadium site. An urban stadium in New York would seem to be an automatic draw in its own right, although it is tough to  fully agree that the presence of a second franchise in the Big Apple region will invigorate the Red Bulls.  The league also still needs an ownership group before the possibility of a franchise could be taken seriously.

One other option has always been a return to South Florida.   The Miami area should be a strong supporter of soccer despite the league’s prior failure in that market.  Count me among the unconvinced.  The “beloved” Miami Dolphins struggle to sell out their games, the Panthers are barely a blip on the Miami scene and Marlins are an annual embarrassment (although the new stadium might change that).  Why would MLS be any different? The idea of 9,000 fans snoozing through Sunday afternoon game in 110 degree Miami August heat, is a nightmare scenario for supporters of the League.


Soccer Business Bits: Whitehouse Visit, Behind the Scenes

Tuesday was the date for the annual meeting between Major League Soccer’s defending champions and the President of the United States.  The meeting always generates publicity for the league, but the 2012 version was even more high profile than usual.  This visit included such big names as David Beckham and Landon Donovan.  Beckham might be the only soccer player in the world with a higher Q Score than the President. For a link to a story about the event, videos and photos, click here. A copy of the President’s remarks are also accessible via the link.

For those interested in what goes on during an MLS telecast (as we are), we recommend this outstanding read from’s Goalkeeper blog.  This lengthy piece, authored by Jonathan Tannewald, provides a detailed and illuminating look into all elements of televising soccer.  The article includes some interesting tidbits, including some discussion on ESPN’s reliance on local crews to assist with broadcasts, the costs involved in televising matches in Canada (not to mention the ratings hit).  There is also some detailed discussion about camera angles, interaction between the booth and truck and other great insights that are definitely worth a read.
Finally, the Sports Business Journal is reporting that the Sounders will be the latest team to utilize the Smart Card for purposes of season ticket holders.  According to SBJ, “the bar code on the front is scanned at the stadium gate for admission. The magnetic stripe on the back is used to pay for food and merchandise at 625 points of sale throughout the stadium and CenturyLink Field Event Center next door. Early in the season, the Sounders are testing the magnetic stripe by providing groups of 15 card holders with $10 in complimentary credits to spend on food, drink and retail at four home games in May.”

Monday After

Another busy weekend in Major League Soccer, highlighted by the opening of beautiful BBV Compass Stadium in Houston.  Before we get to MLS, “Survival Sunday” deserves a mention. If anecdotal evidence is any guide, the dramatic Manchester City victory over QPR and the remarkable finish to the EPL season certainly drew interest from mainstream sports fans.  The results were major lead stories on sports websites and non-soccer fans who stumbled into the events of Sunday remained transfixed by the remarkable conclusion. Fox’s decision to televise all of the matches (save the most dramatic which was on ESPN2) was a great sign for soccer in this country.

On to the MLS slate, which started with a series of mid-week games.  The week started at Red Bull Arena which saw record low numbers for their 1-0 victory over Houston.  Less than 11,500 were in attendance for the game. Chicago was able to draw just over 13k for their mid-week tilt, while FC Dallas scraped past the 10k mark at what is now the smallest MLS facility in Texas. \

David Beckham’s only visit to Montreal drew a remarkable crowd of over 60k and all were treated to a classic Beckham free kick goal.  The sellout in Houston was officially reported as 22,039.  The Revs crept past 12k for their impressive victory over Vancouver, while Columbus was able to move past 11k at Crew Stadium.  Chicago managed to slide past the 14k mark while Seattle managed a remarkable 39k plus for their home loss to RSL.

In a Sunday afternoon tilt, the Philadelphia Union managed more than 18k at PPL Park. The match was televised after the Manchester City match on ESPN2.

Overall it was a great attendance weekend for the league at the gate.