Soccer in New York

The big news story of the day was the announcement that the Cosmos will begin play in the second division NASL beginning in 2013.  The team will play at Hofstra University on Long Island.   The business implications of the news are an open question.   The Cosmos name certainly carries a certain amount of cache, yet previous efforts in the last couple of years to monetize that cache have failed miserably.   The quoted article suggests that Pele and Giovanni Savarese will retain roles in the club.  The current ownership structure is a bit murky, but the team certainly has higher ambitions than the NASL.

That is what makes this story so interesting.  The formation of a new second division team isn’t necessarily big news in American soccer news.  Yet Major League Soccer has made no secret of its wish to add a second New York team.   Commissioner Garber felt compelled, via e-mail and tweet, to weigh in on the news. From the New York Times,

“We welcome the Cosmos’ entrance to the N.A.S.L.,” the M.L.S. Commissioner Don Garber said in an email. “Having a vibrant second division is important to the overall growth and popularity of soccer in North America, and we are pleased to see the N.A.S.L. add a new franchise.” “Major League Soccer remains committed to securing an expansion team in New York City. The current focus is on exploring a stadium site, but we will continue discussions with several potential ownership groups, including the Cosmos, about the possibility of joining the efforts to bring a second M.L.S. team to New York.”

Some time ago we reported that Major League Soccer’s efforts to place a team in New York had pivoted to focus on stadium location rather than owner.  The league had made a concerted decision to seal a stadium location before finding a willing owner.  Recently the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the league has settled on a location in Queens near the US Tennis Center and Citi Field.  MLS is reportedly in talks with various municipal officials about the prospect of the privately financed stadium.   The league is determined to place a team in New York, and the subway accessible Queens location is probably a good location.  There are many hurdles before a deal can be finalized, but the league has its sights set on Queens and this story bears following.

Is a move from Long Island in the future for the Cosmos?

Soccer Business Bits: The MLS Valuation, UEFA Sponsorships & More

Mike Ozanian of Forbes.com provides some interesting thoughts on the impact of the recent DC United sale on the valuation of MLS franchises.  According to Ozanian, the purchase of a 60% share in the team by the Philadelphia 76ers minority owner puts the value of an MLS franchise at $50 million.  Given that MLS teams sold their initial share for $5 million about 15 years ago, this is remarkable growth.  This is especially true given the stadium issues facing the team.  However, given the expansion team buy-in, this number is not that surprising.  With investors willing to spend around $40 million for an expansion team, a $50 million valuation for one of the league’s most prominent franchises makes sense.

Russian energy giant Gazprom has signed on as the sixth and final UEFA Champions League partner.  Gazprom joins Heineken, UniCredit, Ford, MasterCard and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe as the 3 year partners of the high level soccer tournament.  These are large international corporations that stand to reap strong global benefits from their association with the prestigious event.

Finally, hereis the list of Herbalife World Football Challenge games for 2012.  Chelsea FC, Real Madrid, Paris St. Germain , AC Milan, Liverpool FC, Juventus, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC and D.C. United are confirmed participants. The series kicks off on July 18 in Seattle.  All matches will be broadcast in the U.S. on ESPN the family of networks or FOX Soccer while TSN, Sportsnet and RDS will be the event’s broadcast partners in Canada.  The series concludes on August 11 with Real Madrid and Celtic in Philly.

Business in Philly: Interview with Cara Joftis

Cara Joftis has been the  VP of Marketing for the Union since September, 2009.  Prior to joining the club, she was Vice President of Sponsorships and Brand Promotions at Citizens Bank for more than six years.  She managed brand presence and messaging  for Citizens Bank properties in 13 states, including Citizens Bank Park. In 2010, on the eve of of the Union’s inaugural season, we interviewed Ms. Joftis about the upcoming Union season.  You can find that interview here.   Ms. Joftis was kind enough to answer a few more questions as Philly is preparing to host the MLS All-Star Game.  Thanks to Ms. Joftis.

Footiebusiness.com:  Two years ago, we discussed the Union’s ability to penetrate a crowded Philadelphia sports market.  As the team enters its third season, do you feel that the team has become fully integrated into the City sports scene?  What efforts are you making to to capture soccer fans who haven’t embraced MLS?  What about non-soccer sports fans?

Cara Joftis: It is a continuing evolution and, the Union is definitely becoming more integrated into the City sports scene.  You see more and more people wearing Union gear around the city and aware of what is going on with the team.  We are part of the discussion in the general media and are automatically included in new sports venues, such as Xfinity Live (jersey and scarves on display with Flyer, Sixer, Eagles and Sixers memorabilia).  Additionally, we’ve been embraced by the previously established teams with numerous co-promotional efforts.

Our strategy has remained the same in that we are an authentic soccer brand and focus all our efforts towards who we are and the core values of the Union brand.  The more people experience that brand and our way of soccer, we find that we gain fans, but we aren’t out to convince people who aren’t and never will be soccer fans.

FB:  Who is the Union’s target market?  Has that target changed since the team started playing? 

CJ: Our core fan and target market remains the same.  We look to deepen and broaden the relationships.

FB: PPL Park will host the MLS All-Star Game in July.  What can that event do to further raise the profile of the Union within the region?   Will the team make a concerted effort to engage mainstream media (e.g. sports radio, local television, etc…) and encourage coverage of the event?

CJ: Philadelphia is commonly host to international events (NBA All Star game, Winter Classic, X Games) and those events naturally raise awareness of all teams in the market.  We continually engage with mainstream media and this is just another discussion point.

FB: Last year, the Union entered into a long term relationship with Bimbo.  How has that partnership helped the Union promote its brand?  What are the next steps for the partnership? 

CJ: As we knew they would be, Bimbo is a terrific partner, with a long history in soccer and values that match our own, making the partnership authentic and a natural extension.  Bimbo’s reach into mass market through retail operations, helps to put the Union name and brand in front of increased numbers of people.  Our continuous plan is to expand those opportunities.

FB: With respect to ticket promotions, some teams heavily utilize game day promotions to drive traffic while others have moved away from that model.    Should fans expect game day promotions in 2012?    Is there anything new fans should look forward to as part of the stadium experience this year?

CJ: We have a schedule of promotions throughout the season – awareness nights (Autism, Breast, Ovarian Cancer), Tickets for Troops, Hispanic Heritage.  http://www.philadelphiaunion.com/theme-nights

We are always looking for ways to enhance the fan experience, but the truth is that our fans create the atmosphere at PPL Park and make it the electric place that it is, giving the team the best home field advantage anywhere.

Monday After

Before we get the attendance numbers from the July 4th holiday, the big business story that burst onto the scene at the end of last week was the announcement that Philadelphia 76ers minority owners Erick Thohir and Jason Levien will join current owner Will Chang in ownership of DC United.   According to ESPN.com, “sources say Thohir, an Indonesian media magnate who ranks as the first Asian owner in NBA history, and Levien, who worked as an NBA player agent before a stint in the Sacramento Kings‘ front office that preceded his involvement with the Sixers, will make the construction of a new soccer-specific stadium for DC United their top priority.”  For more on Thohir, click here.

For a team that has been working for years to escape RFK Stadium this is obviously big news.  We have been covering United’s efforts to find a stadium since this site started in 2009.  There have been flirtations with the District, Virginia and Baltimore.  Money, political and market conditions have all contributed to the struggles to find a stadium.  Perhaps the infusion of new blood and and cash will jumpstart the process.

On to attendance, where the league started its week with an array of games around the July 4th holiday.  The matches started on the 3rd, with more than 22k in attendance in Houston and more than 20k in Portland.  On the 4th,  the odd attendance story in Montreal continued with only 12k at Stade Saputo for their mid-week game. Colorado fell just shy of 19k for their annual Independence day extravaganza.  RSL pulled a crowd of just over 20k while the Galaxy managed a 27k sellout.    Dallas put up a remarkable crowd in excess of 21k.

Matches continued won Saturday, with more than 19k at LiveStrong, while Dallas receded to just over 10k after its huge weekend number.  Salt Lake City pushed past 16k for their Saturday night home date.  Chivas squeezed past 11k while Seattle managed more than 39k for their first win in quite some time.

On Sunday, the Union performed before a crowd in excess of 18k as their effort to resurrect their season continues.  Chicago managed a sellout of 20k at Toyota Park against the Galaxy.

Holiday Finale: Bringing the Fans

Our final post of the holiday week brings Part III of our 2009 Bringing the Fans Series.  It was three years ago that we first raised the issue of bringing soccer fans into the hold.  The presence of those fans has recently been confirmed by the great ratings for Euro 2012.  Can MLS capture that audience? Drop us a line and let us know your thoughts.

To many, they are the “holy grail” for MLS.  They are fans of the beautiful game, yet not devoted followers of MLS.  They follow the National Team regularly and will make time for a big clash between Man U and Chelsea or Barca and Real Madrid. They might spend some time following soccer stories on the web and do know the names of players on their local MLS side,  Yet, they typically only make it to the stadium for “big” doubleheaders.  They are not “eurosnobs” but cannot quite get into MLS.  Many of them played soccer at a high school or college level, and love the game.  They are soccer fans, but not fans of Major League Soccer.

This is part three of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here and part II here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, families, store owners and acquaintances in an effort to determine what will bring more fans to MLS. We have asked these questions at soccer matches of all levels, dinner parties, social gatherings and board meetings.  We have been asking these questions since February with an eye towards seeking out trends about MLS fandom and what brings people to Major League Soccer League stadiums.

Today we are looking at the every day soccer fan.  These are the fans that MLS knows are out there.  They are not “anti-MLS”, but they are not sold on the League? Why not?  During our interviews, two reasons repeatedly emerged.  Atmosphere and quality of play. Many of these fans had attended games at Gillette or Giants Stadium, they had watched games televised from a sparsely populated Pizza Hut Park or at an empty Cotton Bowl.  And they had found these experiences wanting.  These same fans are unimpressed with the quality of play in MLS.  They know enough to recognize the distinction between a USMNT game and Red Bulls/Seattle.  They are not offended by the quality of play, but they have suffered thorough some hackfests and some snoozers and want more from their local soccer league.

What does not bother these fans?  They don’t care about turf fields, football lines or playoffs. They aren’t worried about promotion/relegation, advertisements on jerseys or unbalanced schedule.  They are willing to embrace the league, but haven’t been drawn in yet.  The will go to games, but won’t set the DVR for the local team.

These are the fans that MLS should relentlessly target.  They are not wed to a specific European side and are willing to give MLS a look.  These are the fans that would come out to see a big name player and would come back if they enjoyed the experience.  They don’t thumb their noses at Major League Soccer, but recognize the superior play in the EPL and would rather devote 2 hours to watching higher level soccer.

So the big question is, how does MLS grab these fans?  What should the League do to keep them?

Happy Independence Day

I hope everyone enjoyed their 4th of July celebrations.  There was plenty of MLS action for those with access to TSN, MLS Live or DirectKick.  We are still celebrating, so here is post from the Footiebuisiness vault dating back from 2009.

Back in 2009, we took a look at how teams were looking to increase the amount of fans coming out to the stadiums.  Part 2 of that series focused on families and their importance to the league’s efforts to grow attendance.  Here is what we said then.

They are the bane of many an MLS fan, yet they continue to represent a substantial portion of American soccer crowds.  Teams cater to them, by offering special four packs, pre-game soccer celebrations and mascots. Who are these fans?  They are families.  Kids, soccer moms minivans and more.

This is part two of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, families, store owners and acquaintances in an effort to determine what will bring more fans to MLS. We have asked these questions at soccer matches of all levels, dinner parties, social gatherings and board meetings.  We have been asking these questions with an eye towards seeking out trends about MLS fandom and what brings people to Major League Soccer League stadiums.

“Hard core” MLS fans have railed against the presence of families for years.  Complaints against these fans include: “they are too quiet”  “they don’t care about the game”  “the don’t let me have fun” “they come once a year and don’t support the team” “they get up every 20 minutes” and “the stadium doesn’t let me do x because of families.”

So we asked these families (moms and dads), what they wanted from the MLS experience.   Overwhelmingly, they want their kids to have fun.  These parents are looking for a night out, and the bounce houses, mascots and T-shirt tosses are part of that.  They are looking for affordability and fun.  Many are shocked about how “professional” the MLS experience is and that the matches are “big-time.”  They are “amused” by the supporters groups, but don’t want to sit with them. They are also very willing to purchase team gear for their kids.

But perhaps more interesting was the number of these parents who desperately wanted to both understand the game and have their children understand the game.  Like the non-soccer fans discussed earlier this week, many of these parents wanted someone to explain the nuance of a sport unfamiliar to many of them.  They wanted to know the back stories of the players and whom to cheer. For many, they wanted to comprehend the intricacies of a game their kids devote hours per week to playing and appreciate more than the distance of a goalie’s punts. They view MLS as a way to connect with their kids and enter their world, but need the information to get there.

Unlike many soccer fans, MLS is not competing with European soccer clubs for the attention of these families.  While most will not become season ticket holders right away, they will come back if they enjoy the experience and if the game means something to them.  The “quality” of the game is not that important, because the level of play is far higher than anything they have seen before. They think they can co-exist with the hard core supporters and actually appreciate the atmosphere and noise they bring.

So what do we think?  Are families an important part of the MLS fanbase?  Should the League turn away from efforts to bring families to games in lieu of younger, more passionate fans?  Can these families become those passionate fans?  Let us know your thoughts.

We are celebrating this holiday weekend.  I hope you did too.

 

July 4th Downturn

Traditionally, Independence Day is a big event for Major League Soccer, with fireworks extravaganzas, big crowds and big publicity.  Last year, the league’s broadcast partners joined the fun, with a crammed schedule of nationally telecast games.  Fox Soccer started things off at 7:00 on Saturday with a live broadcast from RFK.  Galavision joined at 10:00 from the Home Depot Center for Chivas v. Chicago.  At 10:30, ESPN2 offered San Jose/New York from Stanford Stadium.  The national telecasts continued on Sunday night, as the Rapids hosted their annual pyrotechnic show and soccer game combination.  ESPN2 was be at ESG Park.  On July 4th, ESPN2 hosted an MLS doubleheader, starting at Rio Tinto.  The Worldwide Leader’s 4 games in three nights finished back in Los Angeles with a strong Galaxy/Sounders matchup.

Yet in 2012, the league is taking a much more restrained approach.  Before the season began, we spoke with 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 we asked him about the decline in July 4th featured matches.  “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.”

This year there will be four July 4th matches including the annual Colorado extravaganza.  However, there will be no nationally televised games in the United States.  Interestingly, there will be a July 4th doubleheader on TSN in Canada.  Both Montreal and TFC will have nationally televised games on their home network.

Monday After

Another full weekend of MLS matches on the heels of last week’s outstanding attendance league-wide.  There was also the Euro 2012 Final and USWNT match at Rio Tinto against Canada. The US Women, playing in an Olympic tune-up match, drew more than 16k to Sandy.   Not surprisingly, EURO2012 and Golden Boot were among the trending terms on Twitter tonight.  Please drop a line with your thoughts on the ESPN coverage of the event.

MLS Attendance got off to a rough start, with less than 15k at Stade Saputo for match against the Impact’s main rival, TFC.  Matches at the rebuilt Stade Saputo have not drawn well, a concerning red flag for the fledgling franchise.  On Friday night, more than 19k jammed into Livestrong Sporting Park for Sporting’s home loss to Chicago.  Toronto’s recent improved run of form led to a draw against New York before a crowd of more than 20k.  Surging DC managed a crowd of more than 18k at RFK, more than 5k above their season average.

On a hot night in Foxboro, the Revs drew just over 15k for their draw with slumping Seattle.  Columbus posted an outstanding number of more than 19k at Crew Stadium with a similar number attending the Saturday night match in Houston.  Colorado crested over the 15k mark at DSG.   San Jose left the friendly confines for their match against Los Angeles and drew a crowd in excess of 50k for a wild match against the defending champions.  For the second consecutive week, MLS bested the 20k mark in average attendance.