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.”

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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.

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.