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 Philly.com’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.


All Dynamo All the Time

This weekend, the Houston Dynamo will open the 12th soccer specific facility in the league, BBVA Compass Stadium. In honor of the event, today’s post will focus on the Dynamo.  Before we get to the stadium, the team has just announced a new partner.  The team’s new official energy partner is Direct Energy.  The long-term deal matches the Dynamo with a large retail energy supplier that is moving its headquarters from Toronto to Houston.

The first game from the new stadium will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network.  The network has actively promoted the game during its Stanley Cup broadcasts.  However, as one of our Twitter followers aptly noted, the promotion has focused on Tally Hall and DeRo rather than the new stadium.  This fits with the network’s stated goal to promote individual player story lines but probably forfeits an opportunity to show a large non-soccer audience some of progress made by the league.

The stadium includes 33 suites in close proximity to the field and 2 party suites.  Construction is moving along nicely.  Those standing on the grass field will have the opportunity to look at 75 foot canopies hanging over the stands.  The downtown stadium is part of a stadium district that includes facilities for a number of Houston’s sports teams.  Total cost of the projected stadium was expected to come in at $95 million with the Dynamo ownership (primarily AEG and Golden Boy Promotions) funding about $60 million.

Business Musings

Thinking about what to write for tonight it occurred to me that 2012 has lacked some of the big business stories that have been an MLS trademark over the last few seasons.  Obviously, the entry of Montreal into the league was a big business story as was the start of the NBC/MLS relationship.  Over the next few weeks, two new soccer venues will open, one in Montreal and the other in Houston.  Yet, there have been fewer big stories occupying the business headlines.

Since the season started in March, there have been no new jersey sponsors to discuss and no new league sponsors to highlight.  There have been no high profile designated player signings and no new expansion announcements. There have no new local television deals and  attendance and ratings have been solid but not spectacular.

What does it all mean?  There is one argument that league has reached a certain level of maturity and stability and that big changes are now less frequent and subtle shifts will become the norm.  After years of scrambling for relevance, the league has grabbed a solid foothold on the American sports pyramid and fears of crashing and fading seem like distant memories.   Publications like the Sports Business Journal have sung the praises of league management for years and sports business executives remain impressed with the league’s steady growth.  This consistent process suggests that league, while still on the upswing, is entering a period that will be marked by occasional significant events and fewer peaks and valleys.

Another argument is that league has peaked as a corporate property.  Those companies that wanted to get involved in the league have done so, and those local networks that want to televise their MLS team have already inked deals.  Teams like Dallas and Colorado continue to struggle to find jersey sponsors despite their successful runs in 2010 and the league has peaked as the nation’s 5th professional sport.

I’m inclined to the first view.  MLS has grown dramatically over the last few years and has earned a few moments to breathe.  New deals will come, new partners will be found and the league will continue to grow.


Do you agree?

Soccer Business Bits: Revs Partner, All-Star Tickets & More

The Revs have announced a relationship with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) Massachusetts Chapter for a year-long campaign through the end of 2012. Per the team’s press release, the Revs will fundraise on the organization’s behalf and will showcase and support three of LLS’ campaigns throughout the season: Pennies for Patients, Team In Training and Light The Night. “We’re pleased to work with LLS this year,” Revolution President Brian Bilello said. “We have incredibly compassionate fans, many of whom have been touched by blood cancer in their lives. We hope to be able to raise awareness about LLS’ work and blood cancers while utilizing the collective power of our fan base to help fundraise on LLS’ behalf.” On June 16, the Revs host LLS Night against the Columbus Crew.

Per Major League Soccer’s press release, “after presale opportunities for Philadelphia Union Full Season Ticket Holders and VISA cardholders, the remaining seats for the 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at PPL Park will go on sale to the general public on Wednesday, May 9 at 10:00 a.m. ET.” The game will pit the MLS All-Stars against Chelsea and will take place on July 25, 2012.  Unfortunately, the link provided by the league within the press release doesn’t work, so tickets cannot be purchased directly through the e-mail.

One final note.  Fox has released its broadcast schedule for the final weekend of EPL matches.  The network will have nine matches starting at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday and will be preceded by a 9:30 a.m. pre-game show.  The games will be spread out over the array of Fox affiliated networks.  Manchester City’s match against QPR will be the only game on another network  (ESPN2), while the premier Fox game will feature Manchester United on FX.

Footiebusiness Vault: Creating the MLS Schedule

On the road tonight, so I thought I would re-run an interview from February looking at the MLS schedule. Back live tomorrow.

Ever Winter, Major League Soccer releases its schedule for the upcoming season.  In addition to setting out the slate of games, the initial release sets out the national television schedule, establishes breaks for FIFA dates and gives fans an opportunity to plan their Summer of soccer.  We thought it would be worthwhile to talk to Brad Pursel, Major League Soccer’s Vice President of Club Services about the process of putting together the league schedule.  Mr. Pursel has overseen the league’s calendar since 2002 and has been with the league since 1998.

Footiebusiness.com: When does the process of creating the MLS season schedule begin?  What are the first steps?

Brad Pursel: It’s a yearlong process, and the first steps are determining what the competition format is — how many games each team will play, the conference breakdown, when the season starts and ends, how do we play around FIFA dates and other competitions. That’s the starting point, and there are various committee meetings at the league-level and club level throughout the year to discuss the schedule.

The actual schedule development begins in earnest in September and October, and then it all comes together in December.

FB: When do the league’s national television partners become involved in the process? How much input do they have in formatting the schedule?  Has working with NBC been a significant change?

BP: Our broadcast partners are involved in the process from the start. We work very closely with them throughout the year in the planning process to determine their broadcast windows — the number of windows, times, days of the week, etc.

Working with NBC has not been significantly different because essentially they replaced FOX and the process for scheduling games has not changed. NBC has been great to work with and they are going to be a great partner.

FB: Last year the league included at least 5 nationally televised matches as part of the July 4th holiday.  This year, no nationally televised games are scheduled for Independence Day.  What is the cause of this significant change?  Were ratings over July 4th disappointing?

BP: We generally have very strong crowds on or around the 4th of July and the atmosphere was there; however, looking at the ratings from last year, we decided not to do as many games around the 4th this year. Last year the 4th of July was part of a long weekend and this year it’s midweek, so that also factored into the thought process.

FB: How do potential attendance concerns factor into the scheduling process? 

BP: Attendance is always a factor, especially for our big national TV games.  We want games that are going to be well attended but also are compelling rivalries and present great atmosphere for TV. We try to maximize attendance by scheduling games on weekends, especially on Saturdays. We are always looking at data to help drive our decisions.

FB: How has the increase in soccer specific stadiums impacted the scheduling process?  Is venue availability a significant concern?

BP: Having our own soccer specific stadiums where we control the dates has been tremendously helpful in the scheduling process over the years. We still have some challenges in buildings where we’re not the primary tenant or where we’re not controlling the dates, and that has a domino effect to everybody else. But the growth of soccer-specific stadiums has had a very positive impact on the scheduling process.