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.

 

The Monday After

Very busy week of games in Major League Soccer. Before we get to the attendance figures here is an article from the San Jose Mercury News with club President Dave Kaval.  The article provides some information about team season ticket sales (4,000) and preparations for a move into the team’s new stadium.  The article also notes that the team has sold more than 20k seats for its match against the Galaxy later thi year.

The Canadian teams played their mid-week Canadian Championship (now sponsored by Amway through 2013), while a number of US based squads played Wednesday matches.    The week started off in a challenging fashion, with the Revs mustering just over 6k for their home win over Colorado.  San Jose fared a bit better with a crowd in excess of 8,700k.  Seattle rescued the mid-week slate packing more than 30k into Century Link Field. Chivas posted a shockingly good number with more than 14,500 for their Friday night match at the Home Depot Center.

The Saturday numbers started strong with more than 18k to watch a woeful TFC team fall again at BMO field while an afternoon match in Seattle drew more than 38k on NBCSN.  Vancouver managed a crowd of more than 19k for their home match, while LA reportedly sold out their game at the Home Depot Center against the Red Bulls.  The crowd looked sparser than full on ESPN2.  Kansas City cracked through the 20k figure during their shocking home loss to Montreal. At Rio Tinto more than 18k saw a match marred by red cards.  Portland managed its usual 20k plus for a scoreless draw at Jeld-Wen.

 

Selling Tickets in MLS

It has been a while since we last took a look at team promotional efforts around MLS.  The amount of deep discounting and promotions have been noticeably lower this year.  Before we get to the promotions, one note on the much hyped NBC Sports match-up between Philly and Seattle on Saturday.  Given past rating patterns, the match projects as one of the best rated games of the NBC Sports slate of games.  Both teams are among the biggest ratings draws for home market viewers.

Chivas is hosting Chicago on Friday night in a game that previously was a big draw with the presence of Blanco on the Fire roster.  The match has lost much of that appeal, and the usually aggressive Chivas front office is not offering any special promotions for the game.  However, the usual Family Pack is available for the game.  The package includes 4 tickets and 4 hot dogs for $59, one of the least expensive Family Pack promotions in the league.

RSL is another team that has historically been active in the promotions department, but not much is on the table for the sole Rio Tinto visit for the Revs in 2012.  The team has its ongoing promotion with Subway Restaurants that allows fans who purchase a Subway Meal Deal the opportunity to purchase 5 tickets to Rio Tinto for a combination of games.  What makes the deal  unique is that fans can use the tickets in any combination over the available games.

Finally, we’ll head to Dallas, where team is promotion a package deal that will allow 150 fans the opportunity to travel to Houston in June for the first installment of the Texas Derby at the Dynamo’s new digs.  The offering costs $40 and includes a ticket to the game and round trip bus travel.

 

Soccer Business Bits: TV Ratings, ESPN Change & More

The viewership numbers are in for a few of mid-week clashes from across the pond and the numbers are  quite impressive.  From the AP (via Cnnsi.com, “Both Champions League semifinals and the Manchester derby for first place in the Premier League averaged more 1 million television viewers in the U.S. despite weekday afternoon starting times. The four Champions League semifinals averaged 1,033,000 viewers on Fox’s English English- and Spanish-language networks, up 29 percent from last year.”

According to the article, the Manchester Derby drew more than 1,000,000 viewers on ESPN2 on Monday afternoon.  The numbers smashed the previous EPL high of just over 600,00 from December, 2010.  The match drew an additional 275,00 viewers on ESPN Deportes.  These are remarkable numbers for a mid afternoon start time.

Elsewhere, the Worldwide Leader has rebranded its online soccer presence by naming its site ESPNFC.  According to the press release, “The new brand will extend across TV, radio, print, online, print and mobile.”  Timed for the start of Euro 2012, the re-brand will also utilize information to provide local content and 24/7 updating to all readers.   There is little question that ESPN’s coverage has taken a decidedly EURO turn over the years and this re-brand solidifies that move and focus.  That said, the network did a solid job of promoting MLS during its recent EPL telecast.

One final note.  The internet has been abuzz with news that renown broadcaster Gus Johnson is moving to the world of soccer.  Johnson has recently taken in some soccer matches in Europe and has started doing San Jose matches on the radio.  Click here for a great interview with Johnson about soccer, broadcasting and the possibility that he could become a lead voice for Fox.

Manchester v. Manchester?

The big soccer story on Monday was not an American soccer story.  Rather, it was the battle for Manchester and the Premier League lead when Manchester City hosted Manchester United as the EPL nears the end of the 2011/2012 campaign.   Although the match took place in England, the significance of the game was evident in the United States, and that makes this proper fodder for a blog covering the business of American soccer.

The game was highlighted on the front page of CNN.com (the main site not CNNSi.com) with a lengthy piece about the impact of the match and the way the event was being celebrated around the country.  Bars and pubs opened expecting sizable crowds to watch the game, despite the mid-day start time.  Employees took late lunches or arranged early departures to ensure a seat to watch the game.  ESPN pumped the match with fervor despite a very busy time in the American sports calendar. Twitter was alive with commentary about the game from soccer and non soccer media.  The game was featured on mainstream sites such as USAToday.com, New York Times and elsewhere.

So what is the business significance?  Even in the three plus years that this website has been in operation, the change in soccer prominence has been readily apparent.   While there are still plenty of soccer “haters” among mainstream sports fans (try listening to east coast sports radio when soccer is raised), the game is continuing its creep into the American consciousness.  Soccer continues its rise as a marketable property and a potential source of revenue.    Over the next couple of months, every EPL match on the last day of the season will be broadcast in the United States, each Euro 2012 game will be available on standard cable television, Olympic Soccer (despite the absence of the USA) will be telecast  and games from Spain, Germany, Mexico and the United States will be readily accessible on major American networks. The game is rising fast in the United States and American sports fans seem willing to climb aboard.