Television Rating Checkpoint

The Major League Soccer season is passed the halfway point and the All-Star Game is in the rearview mirror.  However, the television ratings for the mid-summer exhibition are in.  The Chelsea/MLS game notched a .34 overnight rating and approximately 530,ooo viewers on ESPN2.  According to Sports Media Watch, the ratings were” down down 26% in ratings and 32% in viewership from last year (0.46, 781K), and down 23% and 26%, respectively, from 2010 (0.44, 714K).  The game ranks as the least-viewed MLS All-Star Game since 2009 (484K).” I had thought that the the lead-in from Liverpool/Roma would have increased the MLS ratings, but the earlier friendly only drew just above 300,000 viewers.

While its true that Chelsea isn’t the draw in the United States that Manchester United has been, the numbers are still fairly disappointing. The European Champions should have been a big draw.  It will be interesting to see how the Olympic promotions impact the ratings on NBSCN.

A couple of weeks ago USA Today reported that the Portland/Vancouver Cascadia match drew an overnight of .6 following the England/Italy  Euro match.  Although the paper suggested that the .6 was disappointing, the .6 actually represents the high water mark for MLS on ESPN this year and a rating well above the league norm.  The rating was also negatively impacted by a mid-game switch from ESPN2 to ESPN.   On NBCSN, MLS has flat-lined, averaging less than 100k per game.  While there have been games over  100k, some of the numbers have been disappointingly in FSC range over the last few games.

Monday After

The Olympics got started over the weekend and the NBC networks have certainly used the opportunity to promote both Major League Soccer and the NBC Sports Network.  Commercials for both have dotted the Olympic landscape during the ongoing coverage.  On Sunday , the NBC Sports Network televised the Union/Revolution in prime time opposite the primary Olympic coverage on the main network.  The time slot has the possibility of picking up accidental eyeballs from folks looking for coverage of the games from London.

Now on to the attendance, which started with a record crowd at PPL for the MLS All-Stars’ victory over Chelsea with a crowd of almost 20k.  On Friday night, RSL bested Vancouver before a crowd in excess of 18,700 at Rio Tinto.  Toronto continued the strong attendance showing with another crowd approaching 20k despite the team’s ongoing struggles on the field.   The Red Bulls visited Montreal on Saturday and were greeted by the rare sellout crowd at Stade Saputo.  Whether because of Henry’s appearance or the team’s general star power, the attendance was a positive sign for Montreal.

The big numbers continued in Dallas, where the annual LA Galaxy visit led to a crowd in excess of 22k.  Sporting managed a crowd just shy of 19k for their match at LiveStrong and Colorado managed a crowd just shy of 19k at DSG.  San Jose cruised back past the 10,500 mark for their home match after failing to cross 10k in their last home game.  Portland continued its strong numbers in the stands with a sellout on Saturday despite the team’s ongoing problems on the field.

ASG Wrap

The Major League Soccer version of the mid-summer classic has come and gone and today’s post will focus on some miscellaneous business items from the victory over Chelsea.  First, a quick note about the post game coverage on the day after. Kudos to and for some outstanding match coverage including commentary and analysis.  The same is true for the Philadelphia papers, which provided full press coverage of the game in Chester.

Other noteworthy business items include the challenges faced by the release of the AT&T MiCoach feature.  The website suffered from fits and starts at the outset.  In addition, not all of the players were properly tracking.  That said, the feature added some interesting data points for fans interested in looking at easy to follow statistics to increase enjoyment of the game.  The feature will be up and running in all MLS games next year.  Also, full marks to AT&T for noticing my tweets on the technology and reaching out directly via Twitter to discuss the issues that arose.

Finally, MLS deserves credit for putting on an outstanding showcase for its All-Star Game.  A packed house, a big name opponent, an exciting game and a solid television broadcast all combined to create an outstanding night for the game in the United States.  The league should hope that NBC Sports uses its Olympic platforms to promote the league and its upcoming primetime telecasts.

Business Blogging: The MLS All-Star Game

As we do for certain televised events, we thought we would offer a “business blog” of the ESPN broadcast.  The match was presented by AT&T.  Last year I was sitting on press row at Red Bull Arena for the ASG, but tonight (devotion to my beautiful wife’s birthday), I am on the couch.  Thus, the business blog will focus on the broadcast rather than the events in Philly.  The game drew a lead-in from Roma/Liverpool in Boston.  The match was exciting and ESPN did a good job promoting the ASG during the earlier match.

It was odd that ESPN telecast led their ASG coverage with a discussion of Michael Bradley.  Bretos, Lalas and Keller formed the studio trio on site at PPL.   The first run of commercials including Allstate, Dick’s, Pepsi, ESPN Radio and local spots.  The pregame was presented by VW. The second round of ads included mi-coach from AT&T, Pizza Hut, CarFax and local spots.  Interestingly, the broadcast went to commercial for the national anthem.  The final round of firsts half commercials included Taco Bell, , AT&T, Pepsi, DirectKick, Century Link, KIA & GMC.

Adrian Healey had the call from the broadcast booth along with color man Taylor Twellman.  Adidas was the first in game sponsor. Adidas, Taco Bell and Allstate got in-game mentions and graphics.  Interestingly, the official MLS Twitter account was tweeting ahead of the ESPN2 broadcast.    The network did a fairly effective job of promoting its Summer Soccer series.

The halftime was presented by Castrol GTX.  The telecast went right to the studio team before a commercial break.  Ads included Castrol, Allstate, Gatorade, ABC and local spots.  Commissioner Garber was the centerpiece of the halftime show, but other than a grilling on MLS transfer policy, there wasn’t much business news made during the interview.  AT&T and Avion also had ad buys during halftime.

I’ll be tweeting some business notes about the rest of the match.

Tony Meola: A Business Chat

Tony Meola is one of the most recognizable American soccer players of all time.  To sports fans of my generation, Mr. Meola is synonymous with the 1994 World Cup and the launch of Major League Soccer.  The former Virginia Cavalier was a multi-sport athlete who was drafted by the New York Yankees and spent a brief period with the New York Jets.  He started in MLS in 1996 and played in the league through 2006. He earned 100 caps with the USMNT.

As part of the ongoing Chelsea tour and Summer of Soccer, Mr. Meola is working with league insurance sponsor, Allstate and recently made an appearance at Century Link Field as part of the Allstate fan FanZone.

Thanks to Mr. Meola. You’ve played in multiple domestic leagues, and were involved with MLS for most of its first decade.  Has the level of professionalism, specifically with respect to the facilities and training available to players, changed from the early days of the league?  Do players now have access to better nutrition, practice equipment and other items?  How does that impact the players over the course of a season?

Tony Meola: The level of facilities from a training standpoint are actually pretty much the same since the beginning stages of MLS. From the inception of the league, we always had access to the latest medical and training resources, but the level of technology has provided additional capabilities to athletes across all sports. Lately, we’ve especially seen improvements on athletes having the ability to monitor their own bodies, allowing them to achieve the best levels of fitness and health as possible.

FB: European teams have been traveling to the US to play MLS teams for at least a decade. These games draw big crowds and significant television coverage.  Do you think there is a risk of over-saturation?  Can the league capture the fans who come out to see Chelsea and convince them to stay for MLS?

TM: Over-saturation is always a concern at the back of your mind but if stadiums are filling up then I don’t think we are at a point right now where we have to truly worry about it. So far we’ve done a great job promoting the games and the teams especially due to television coverage of the major teams (Chelsea, Roma, etc) who are coming to the US for preseason. Fans want to come out to the games to see the players that they watch on TV all year. There is a small window (about a month) where the European teams can come play here so people will definitely come out to watch those games.

 MLS has been able to convince fans to stay for their games in the past so I am confident that they will be able to do that moving forward. MLS hopes that the fans who come out to their games are true soccer fans and therefore will continue to come back week in, week out. We do a great job in the United States with events around the games which help draw people in as well.

FB: The MLS All-Stars struggled mightily against Manchester United in the last two AS Games.  Does MLS run the risk of hurting its image and losing potential fans with bad results in these high profile contests?

TM: No I don’t think so. You are bringing together a group of guys who haven’t played together and they’re up against teams like Manchester and Chelsea (some of the best in the world) who’ve been together all season. We can’t expect things to look and be perfect. That doesn’t happen. MLS clubs have a better chance at some of these games because they are playing in their club system and are familiar with how other players within that system play. MLS soccer players are looking forward to Philadelphia and I myself am looking forward to being out there at an event with Allstate prior to the MLS All-Star game and then enjoying what I think will be another great showcase of MLS soccer.

 FB: Finally, do you think these games raise the profile of Major League Soccer with fans outside the United States?  Should the league be concerned about its image overseas?  Does this image help attract players to MLS?

TM: MLS should always be concerned about their image but to that point I don’t think losing to a team like Manchester in an MLS All-Star game necessarily hurts their image in any way, shape or form. I think people look at the quality of the individual players. I’m sure people from all over the world tune in to watch these All-Star games and because of that they can see what goes on in all of the local markets (Portland, Seattle, Kansas City and now Philadelphia) and see an atmosphere that is similar to what they are used to.

 MLS will always be attractive to soccer players around the world. When I used to travel overseas (even in the early days), people would always ask me about playing in the United States. I discovered that a lot of players all over the world are intrigued by MLS and want to play here. I don’t think that is something that is ever going to change.


Monday After

Another full slate of MLS action with some club friendlies sprinkled in as part of the annual “Summer of Soccer” events.  Before we get to the weekend attendance, here is a link to an interview with Commissioner Garber and the accompanying story from the Sporting News.  The All-Star Game is always a time filled with league navel gazing and this interview is a prime example.  The interview addresses a wide range of topics including television rating (up 12% year over year on ESPN), supporters culture, transfer fees and more.  Brian Strauss does an excellent job seeking answers to some of the pressing business questions facing the league and I highly recommend giving the piece a read.

On to attendance.  The week started with a couple of mid-week/mid-day games.  The Red Bulls fell just short of 16k for their afternoon scorcher against Chicago while Chivas managed almost 14k for their camp day game.  While the stadiums looked markedly less crowded than indicated by the numbers, the reported figures are certainly higher than most expected.  TFC passed the 18k mark for their home match, while Montreal managed a win before just over 15,500.  This was followed by another big 19k plus crowd in Houston.  Despite their on field success, San Jose failed to reach 10k for their Wednesday night match.  Vancouver managed a full 21k for their match.

On Saturday, the Red Bulls managed a solid 21k plus for their home win, while Columbus cracked the 17k plus mark at Crew Stadium.  Kansas City and the Revs played to a scoreless draw before 19k plus, while Houston cruised past 20k at the end of their long homestand.  FC Dalls sank back under the 12k figure while the Galaxy managed a great 25k plus at the Home Depot Center. In Utah, almost 19,500 saw the home team reverse their slide.

Soccer Business Bits: Mid-Day Fun, Smart Soccer & More

The Red Bulls hosted the Chicago Fire before a reported crowd of 15k plus on Wednesday.  What made the game unique was the mid-day, weekday start time.  With temperatures near 100 degrees, the game was played in searing in heat at Red Bull Arena.  In baseball it is quite common for teams to play mid-week camp day or businessmen special matches, but not in soccer.  Many of the fans at the stadium were clearly affiliated with camp or youth soccer groups.  From a marketing perspective, the game makes sense as an attempt to grab the attention of younger.  The start time was inconvenient and murder on television ratings, but it was a good attempt by the team to attract a different audience.   The Chivas/Portland match also went off in the afternoon, but at 4:00.

Elsewhere, MLS announced that it will become a “smart soccer league” come 2013.  “Beginning in the 2013 season, all 19 MLS clubs will use the data-tracking technology from adidas, providing coaches, trainers and players with real-time performance metrics including heart rate, speed, acceleration, distance, field position and, for the first time, power.” According to the press release, “the technology enables a better understanding of the physical and physiological impact on the team, or any individual, during a game or training session. From analyzing trends to preventing over-training and risk of injury, the micoach Elite System will help maintain optimum levels of player performance week in, week out throughout the season.”

Finally, another possible home for an MLS franchise has emerged.  This story probably doesn’t rate much attention, but enjoy.


Friendly Season: More Thoughts

Thanks to all who voted yesterday in our poll about the upcoming “Summer of Soccer.”  The run away answer was “Great for MLS because it draws attention to the league and gives the players to compete against the best.”   I tend to agree, but my opinion has started to shift over the years.  Humiliating losses by the MLS All-Stars (like the last two years against Manchester United), only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes of the league.  The All-Star Game is one of the most watched soccer events of the MLS calendar, and despite the league’s repeated success in those matches, the last two did significant harm to the league’s image.

Last year, I asked Commissioner Garber a question during an impromptu Q&A at the All-Star Game.  I asked if the league ran a risk of over-saturation with the seemingly endless display of foreign soccer on American shores.   He believes that these teams will come anyway, so MLS should partner with them.  “Rising tide lifts all boats and we have more boats on the water than they do.”  I’m not sure I agree, but the Commissioner is correct that the money is too great for these teams to stay away, so they will come anyway.  It makes sense for the league to make money off of the experience.

This year’s version of the Herbalife World Football Challenge is part of the summer tour and it runs for four weeks with matches throughout the United States. “All 2012 Herbalife World Football Challenge matches will be broadcast in the U.S. on ESPN, FOX Soccer, Univision Deportes Network and Univision Radio, while TSN, Sportsnet and RDS will be the event’s broadcast partners in Canada, it was announced today by Major League Soccer (MLS) and CAA Sports.”

Friendly Season: Poll Time

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?  Respond to our Poll:

Monday After

Before we get started on attendance, one quick business note from the weekend.  For those of you interested in television ratings for the league, here is a link with a pretty complete list of ratings for this season.  The last few numbers have actually been quite good for the league, with the last few matches showing a significant increase on both NBSCN and on ESPN.  It will be interesting to see if the league gets any push from Olympic based promotion.

On the heels of another full slate of Major League Soccer matches, here is a look at the attendance number from the week that was.  The mid-week matches started in Toronto, with just under 20k in attendance for a battle between Canadian sides.   The weekend started on Saturday, with PPL host to its usual 18k plus.  The Revs managed just over 12k for their home game against resurgent TFC on Saturday at Gillette.  On a well advertised Buck a Brat night, the Crew were shutout at home before a sizable crowd of over 17,500.  In Chicago, the Fire fell just short of 18k for their home victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Rapids became yet another home team to fall, this time to FC Dallas before just over 13k at DSG Park. San Jose put on a show in front of just over 10k at Buck Shaw Stadium.  Portland and Los Angeles put on quite a show before the usual Jeld-Wen sellout in Portland.  On Sunday, the Red Bulls hosted the Sounders in front of a solid 19k plus crowd threatened by thunderstorms.