Blackout Mystery

Once again I sat on my couch on Wednesday with hopes of watching a Red Bulls match on MLS Live and once again I was denied.  In the Hartford area, the Red Bulls are blacked out despite the absence of any means to watch the games through cable television.  Yet again, fans in a neighboring state are prevented from watching one of the league’s hallmark franchises because of the league’s complex blackout rules.

The league’s biggest fans are the purchasers of MLS Live.  Why the league would deny them access to some of the biggest games is a mystery.  MLS Live is a great service with much to recommend it.  Yet the beguiling blackout rules limit the reach of the product.

Recall that I asked MLS about this issue a while back:
MLS has worked with its television partners and upgraded its online video player with the intention of allowing fans to see every one of their team’s games live. Nationally-televised games are blacked out on DirectKick and MatchDay Live as part of the rights agreements. DirectKick and MatchDay Live are essentially out-of-market pay-per-view games that are purchased in bulk at a flat rate.

Markets are determined by the zip codes to which the regional carrier is distributed.   The Red Bull games should be available live in the Hartford area online via MatchDay Live. If the game is not available online, then we need to know the zip code of those who are blacked out from the game, so that we can address the issue with the local carrier.

The World of Fantasy

Around the country millions of men and women are sitting in conference rooms, in front of computers and elsewhere shouting names of professional football players as part of the annual ritual of the NFL fantasy draft process.  Fantasy sports are immensely popular in the United States and around the world and the NFL is the most popular of the fantasy games.  I am certainly part of the crowd.  I have been in the same NFL league at work for 10 years and a league with friends for almost 20 years.

Yet despite my willingness to spend time and money on fantasy football, fantasy soccer has never grabbed my attention in the same way.  The lack of statistics is one clear hurdle.  Goals and assists are in short supply and stats like blocks, yellow cards and tackles don’t grab the attention in the same way as yards, TD’s and receptions.  Rather than the draft or auction format popular in most other fantasy sports, soccer typically relies upon a salary format which avoids the social interaction so integral to the fantasy draft.  To my mind, MLS further soured the fantasy soccer experience by tying its games to Facebook.

Yet despite these shortcomings, fantasy sports are extremely important for the sport to grow with casual fans.  Fantasy sports make players household names and create interest in games for fantasy purposes.  The league should make an effort to promote its fantasy game while working with its television partners to discuss and promote the stats that are so vital to fantasy.

Soccer Stadium Update: Snapshot San Jose

Over the years we have repeatedly written about efforts to build stadium for the Earthquakes in San Jose.  After multiple fits and starts, the team appears to cross the final hurdles and appears ready to start the construction process.  San Jose city officials  approved the  Planned Development permit for the construction of the proposed Earthquakes stadium a number of months ago. A rendering of the proposed stadium is here.As we reported yesterday, the Quakes will break ground on their $60 million stadium on October 21 with an opening slated for 2014.  The long running saga now seems close to conclusion, an exciting development for the team and its fans. For more, click here.

According to the Mercury News, “the Quakes announced that club seats for the stadium are sold out. With luxury suites and club seats sold out, general seating will go on sale on Tuesday, Oct. 23.”  The club took the strange step of putting these seats on the market before the stadium plans were even finalized.  This step seems to have paid off.  According to the article, the team already has a contingency plan in place in case they sell enough tickets to warrant expansion of the stadium to 24,000 seats.

The San Jose plan has been in the works for a long time and at times seemed destined to die.  However, the stadium planned  now seems set to proceed.  According to the official press release Kansas City-based 360 Architecture designed the Earthquakes new stadium, which will be built by Milpitas’ Devcon Construction.

Monday After

Thanks for your patience.  I am back from vacation and ready to write as Major League Soccer prepares for its playoff push, European leagues get underway, World Cup Qualifying heats up and the Fall television season is upon us.  I hope you enjoyed some of the vault posts from the past and thank you for some of the comments posted here or to the footiebusiness e-mail in my absence.  Sorry for the lack of responses during that time.

We’ll have more later in the week, but before jumping to attendance, a quick note about San Jose’s stadium announcement.   The Quakes will break ground on their $60 million stadium on October 21 with an opening slated for 2014.  The long running saga now seems close to conclusion, an exciting development for the team and its fans. For more, click here.

Now on to attendance.  In addition to Champions League games, there were a pair of mid-week MLS tilts.  Neither game drew heavily, with Columbus and DC both managing just over 10,000 fans for their Wednesday home matches.  The attendance ship was righted two nights later with approximately 18,500 at PPL Park for a nationally televised match on the NBCSN.  The crowd in Philly sounded great despite the absence of goals.

On Saturday, Montreal slid past the 20k mark with a sellout for the Impact’s impressive victory over DC.  After some early attendance troubles, Montreal has started to perform better at the gate.  On Saturday night, the Crew rebounded slightly with just over 13,600 for their thriller against the Revs.  In Houston, more than 19k squeezed into BBVA Compass Stadium for the Dynamo draw with TFC.   The Timbers sold out yet again with more than 20k at Jeld-Wen, while Chivas USA fell just short of 12k at the Home Depot Center.  San Jose managed its usual 10k plus.

 

The Soccer Hater

Still on the road…so here is the next part in our 2009 “Bringing the Fans” series.  This post looks at the “soccer hater” and asks whether they are a desirable target audience for MLS.  Did the World Cup change some minds?  We should be back posting live Monday morning.  The next part in this series should run tomorrow…internet access permitting. Here is the post in full:

“Soccer is a girl’s game”  “There are no goals, it is boring” “It will never succeed”  “Why do they roll around on the ground all the time”

All soccer fans have heard these statements.  We all know people who feel this way about the “beautiful game”.  This is part four of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here and part III 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.

Should MLS attempt to bring “soccer haters” to the game?  Are they worth converting?  During our interviews, the sentiments set forth at the top of this page were repeated over and over.  Most of the people who fit in this category would rather watch anything other than soccer.  They are annoyed that ESPN even bothers to carry the games and cannot believe that the game gets “so much attention.”  Most think it is a kids’ game or sport for girls.  They decry the lack of content, lack of scoring and lack of commercials.

Yet, among the people we spoke with, there were a couple of passionate MLS supporters that say they started as soccer haters.   All remember getting dragged to a soccer event and having a surprisingly good time.  All of these converts are more dedicated to their local MLS side than many season ticket holders.

However, these folks are the significant minority.  Most of these soccer haters detest the game and have no inclination to give it a chance.  Overwhelmingly, these folks describe the NFL as their favorite sport.  They typically like sports radio and turn it off if there is a soccer conversation.  They told me they believe just about every negative soccer stereotype, and many related that they disliked the guys that played soccer in high school or college.  They don’t want to be “won over” or sold the game.

So the question is, should MLS try?  Is it worth devoting marketing dollars and efforts to convince these potential fans to come to MLS?

MLS GSL

Last week MLS announced a new plan for its GSL program.  Because the site of the MLS Cup will not be known until two weeks before the match, GSL holders will not have the opportunity to plan their trip months in advance.  Instead, once the final eight teams are known, fans will indicate how many tickets they will purchase at each potential venue.  Once the final is set, fans will have less than two days to determine whether they will purchase seats.

For more on the GSL program, here is our earlier interview with MLS’ Brad Pursel

For the last few years, MLS has offered its fans the opportunity to purchase a “Guaranteed Seat License” for the MLS Cup and MLS All-Star game.  For a one-time fee, the GSL affords the purchaser the lifetime right to purchase tickets for those two events every year.  We were intrigued by the program, and MLS Vice President of Club Services Brad Pursel was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the GSL.  Mr. Pursel has worked with MLS since 1997 in various capacities and his answers are below.

Footiebusiness.com: What is the intent of the GSL program?  What is MLS trying to achieve by offering this opportunity?

Brad Pursel: The intent of the GSL program is to offer our fans the opportunity to always secure seats for our annual All-Star Game and MLS Cup, our two biggest events. It’s a special and unique program that does not exist in other professional leagues.

FB:   Who is the target audience for the GSL program?   What is MLS doing to promote the program to this target audience?

BP: We’ve targeted core MLS fans for this program, which is why it is primarily promoted via our websites, MLSnet.com and FutbolMLS.com, and through our e-blasts. We’ve seen many purchases by families and as gifts for children to enjoy for a lifetime.

FB: Has MLS capped the amount of GSLs it will sell? How many has it sold so far?  When will the offer end?

BP: We have not yet capped the number of GSLs that are available, but we will monitor it closely to determine when the offer should end. Although we do not disclose the number of purchased GSLs, the number has exceeded our expectation.

FB: As the popularity of MLS increases, do you envision GSL holders using the GSL as an investment opportunity?  Will holders buy tickets using the GSL and then try to sell them at a profit?

BP:  GSLs are a personal investment for enjoyment and entertainment and the price could increase in the future. GSL holders are not permitted to sell their tickets.

FB: Finally, how did MLS decide on the $500 price point?  The amount seems too low to be much of a revenue generator.  Was it intended as such?

BP: In the beginning, we wanted to offer GSLs at price point that was not too low or too high. We are considering increasing the price,  especially as the number available decreases. The program has generated a significant amount of new revenue.

Thanks to Mr. Pursel for his responses.   We think the GSLs are a great idea for fans seeking to hedge against the increasing popularity of the League.  In an ideal scenario, MLS Cup will become a hot enough ticket such that GSL holders will have a chance to purchase tickets for an otherwise sold out event.  When MLS holds these matches at soccer specific stadiums, the events typically sell out and thus GSL holders have an avenue to purchase tickets for these games.  However, when the League uses bigger venues, tickets are typically available the day of the game and thus the value of the GSL is minimized.

We were a bit surprised by Mr. Pursel’s responses about the re-sale of tickets purchased through the GSL program.   The terms and conditions of the GSL preclude the transfer of the license, however the rules do not appear to preclude the sale of individual tickets purchased via the license.  That said, even if MLS didn’t explicitly preclude the sale of tickets purchased with the GSL, the ticket holder would be subject to applicable state laws.

Overall, we think this is a worthwhile program, especially if League’s profile continues to grow. Imagine if this opportunity was offered for the Super Bowl 40 years ago.  For more on the GSLs, click here.

Bringing the Fans: Video Games

On the road, so no Monday After today.  Instead, here is a favorite post from a long time back about the power of video games.

At about the same time I was wrapping up high school in the early 1990′s, SEGA was the premier video game system.  Arguably the most popular game of that period was the EA Sports  hockey.  Whether in high school, college or elsewhere, boys around the country were gathering in basements and dorm rooms for tournaments of NHL hockey.  Although most knew little about the sport, regular game play brought names like Pavel Bure, Mike Richter and Ray Borque to the forefront of sports culture in the United States.  Soon thereafter, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup and the popularity of hockey exploded.  Video games weren’t the only factor, but the NHL had achieved an enormous amount of brand recognition through video games and created life long fans of the sport because of that first connection.  Can MLS achieve a similar success?

This is part five of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here, part III here and part IV 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.

This is the last part in our Bringing the Fans series from 2009.  We should be back on US shores tomorrow and posting live by Monday night.  When it first ran, this part of the series was the most widely read and commented on.  Since then (August 2009), FIFA soccer video games have continued to increase in popularity.  This post asks the question, can video games create MLS fans?

EA Sports recently unveiled the cover of the 2010 version of “FIFA“.  Alongside Chelsea star Frank Lampard are American  (and Chivas USA midfielder) Sacha Kljestan and Mexian (and Chicago Fire forward) Cuauhtémoc Blanco.  Soccer has long been one of the easier sports to translate into video games (along with hockey and football), and thus millions of American males will dutifully purchase the game regardless of whether they know anything about soccer.  And from our interviews, it is readily apparent; the less they know about soccer, the more likely they are to play with teams from Major League Soccer (many soccer fans migrate to the EPL). As a result, it is these fans that may embrace the teams and players from MLS.

From  our interviews and discussions, it appears that video games are having this effect. I’ve spoken with a number of folks (adults and teens) who started to become soccer fans because of their video game experiences.  They caught some of the Confederations Cup and recognized players from their game.  Many have since seen MLS matches and have kept an eye on their favorite team. Will it continue?  Can MLS keep these  fans?  Are video games a legitimate method for attracting fans?  Let us know your thoughts.