Critical Mention Update

It has been far too long since we have looked at the Critical Mention website for references to MLS.  Over the last year or so, we have discussed MLS’ efforts to measure the value of its television exposure through various local and national broadcasts.  Through the website criticalmention.com, MLS tries to alert media  to the “value” of its presence on various television programs.

The most valuable broadcast came courtesy of 9 News in Denver, where a lengthy piece discussed a Battle of the Badges charity soccer match between the local fire and police departments.  The Rapids were a sponsor of the event which was held on behalf of certain fire and policy charities.  The Rapids got some great publicity from the news story and a possible attendance bump as well.  The match will be played immediately following a Rapids home match and $25 charity tickets were offered through the story.  According to Critical Mention, the value of the broadcast was just over $17k for airtime, with an estimated 27,000 viewers. The broadcast was part of the local NBC affiliate’s morning news.

ESPN drew the second highest value broadcast with a brief clip of Landon Donovan’s assist during the Galaxy romp over Chivas USA. The highlight was played as part of the ESPN Top Plays segment and featured a brief mention of Donovan’s four assists.  The highlights came out on Sportscenter on August 13 at the end of the looped telecast.  The brief segment reached almost 700,000 estimated viewers for approximately $16k worth of value.

Fox Soccer Makes a Move

Just a few quick hits from around the world of Fox Soccer.  First, the television network has inked a deal with CONCACAF to serve as the television home of the Gold Cup and the Champions League for the next four years.  At Fox’s discretion, it can also stream the matches over its website.  According to Soccer By Ives, the rights last thorough the 2015/16 event.  This is big news for a network that has struggled for live content.  With NBCSN moving into a prominent position in the soccer broadcast market, the appearance of beIN Sport and the continued presence of GOL TV and ESPN, the soccer television landscape is crowded.

Sticking with Fox, it was revealed that two big names in the world of soccer journalism have been signed by the Fox website to cover the sport.  Longtime  Revs beat man and Goal.com reporter Kyle McCarthy has added yet another gig while Leander Schaerlaeckens, also of Goal.com and a myriad of other outlets will also join the Fox beat.  With Fox increasing its talent base, the increasing relevance of Pro Soccer Talk and the ongoing coverage at MLSSoccer.com, CNNSI.com and ESPN.com, fans have an increasing breadth of sources to get their soccer fix.

Recall that last year, FOX made a big play with its EPL broadcasts.  As we have reported, the network saw great ratings from its re-broadcasts of the EPL and the live telecasts promises to generate an even larger audience.  FOX’s broadcast of Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat of Chelsea on Nov. 20  delivered a 1.1 household rating, with 1.67 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Remember also that FOX outbid NBC and ESPN to claim the World Cup rights for approximately $450 million dollars.

Fox is determined to become a major player in the world of soccer and it is well positioned to become the primary resource for fans of the sport in the United States, potentially to the detriment of MLS.

Soccer Stadium Update

The big stadium news today came courtesy of the New York Postwhich indicated that Major League Soccer is closing on a deal to construct a $300 million facility in Queens at Corona Park.   According to the article, the 25,000 seat stadium could start rising from the ground as early as next year.  As we have previously discussed on this site, MLS has made it clear that the stadium is the primary goal for a New York 2 project.  The league believes that ownership groups will line up to invest in MLS if a stadium deal is in place.  The Post quotes a number of unnamed sources in their report and suggests that the State is extremely excited about the opportunity to place the team within New York City.  Per the article, “under an arrangement now being discussed, the city, which owns Flushing Meadows Park, would give up about nine acres for the project, but would receive an equivalent amount of land from the state for parkland use.”

The other recent big stadium news came out of DC United where the new team owners have re-committed to finding a permanent home for DC United.  Over the years, DC has had flirtations with Northern Virgina, Baltimore and the District over the years yet the remained chained to RFK.  According to the Sporting The prime target for the stadium is Buzzard Point, a small peninsula on the Anacostia River close to Nationals Park. Levien said there is no need to “overcomplicate” the proposed soccer stadium. Amenities are great and he cares deeply about rewarding United fans for their patience and constructing a technologically and environmentally modern facility that won’t be obsolete in 20 years. But he won’t sacrifice location for bells and whistles. “D.C.” remains the most important part of the club’s name.”

Monday After

The Olympics are over, but NBC managed to milk one more prime time match for MLS during the Olympic coverage.  Ratings have been stellar for the Peacock during the Olympics and MLS has enjoyed a bump during the same window.  The USA Women also drew huge numbers of viewers during their mid-week/mid-day medal matches.   The gold medal game eclipsed 4 million viewers, cruising past the 2009 and 2010 versions of the Staley Cup Finals.  According to the New York Times, the final was the most streamed event of the Games, while the semi-final almost managed a total of 3 million television viewers.

One other business note.  We neglected to mention that the Red Bulls had terminated recently hired Business Director Chris Heck.  The former NBA executive lasted just over a year with Red Bulls.  Heck was despised by many Red Bulls season ticket holders and was blamed for recent price hikes and mid-day matches.  In fairness, I thought the idea of a mid-day camp day game was an idea worth trying. It works in baseball, and had the temps been in the low 80s instead of 100, it may have worked out.

The attendance week started a sold-out crowd in excess of 20,000 to see Sporting claim the US Open Cup from defending champions Seattle.  The nationally televised Red Bulls/Dynamo match pulled almost 16k at Red Bull Arena.  The crowd actually sounded great on the NBCSN telecast.   In Vancouver, the Whitecaps drew an outstanding crowd in excess of 20k for their surprising victory over RSL.   Kansas City doubled down on their big number and pulled another 20k crowd for their home win over DC on Saturday.  Dallas won an exciting match over Colorado on Saturday night before a crowd just over 10k.   San Jose also pulled a crowd just over 10k as they won another match and continued their remarkable drive in the Western Conference.

In the Sunday games, the Union managed a solid 18k + crowd, while the boxing didn’t do much for the Revs’ at the gate, with less than 13k in attendance for the team’s game against Montreal.

Soccer Business Bits: Soccer Box, Olympics Drive Ratings & More

This weekend the Revs will host the Montreal Impact in a match-up of lower table teams in the Eastern Conference.  The match will take place at Gillette Stadium, but unlike other Revs games, the match will be followed by a three fight card of boxing.  The main event will feature local fighter Danny O’Connor, who has been quoted as saying that he is a big Revs fan.  I don’t remember any other MLS matches that paired boxing with the beautiful game and the events seem to be a strange combination.  The fighters are largely unknowns, but the curiosity factor may keep some soccer fans around for the bout.  Whether the inverse will be true, remains to be seen.

The Olympics continue to do wonders for Major League Soccer’s television ratings on the NBC Sports Network.  Straight from the official press release, MLS game on Sunday, August 5 featuring FC Dallas against the Portland Timbers,was the network’s most-watched MLS game to date, with 405,000 average viewers.”  Immediately thereafter, the ESPN telecast of Seattle versus the Galaxy pulled 270k viewers.  Recall that the ESPN match was up against the premiere of MLS 36, a problematic conflict I noted on Twitter at the time of the telecast.

Finally, GOLTV’s first Open Cup broadcast since 2004 was broadcast on Wednesday night with a live telecast from LiveStrong Sporting Park.  The broadcast quality was as expected the station struggling to put out a top notch product.  As is common with the station, commercials were in Spanish and the on air talent struggled.

Selling Tickets in MLS

It has been far too long since we last took a look at efforts to promote tickets sales in Major League Soccer.  During a year in which attendance figures continue to impress, it is worth taking a moment to look at what teams are doing to sell seats in 2012.   Recall that last year Major League Soccer announced the formation of the MLS National Sales Center to assist MLS teams with ticket sales and staffing.  The Center was slated to offer a 45 day program that included placing graduate ticket sales professionals in employment with individual MLS teams.

On to the promotions, which continue to dip around the league.  There was a time where almost every team had multiple promotions pending for each game, but those campaigns have largely come to an end.  Many teams now offer chances to win tickets in conjunction with their sponsors.  These types of promotions are doubly effective because they showcase a sponsor while driving traffic to team websites.

That said, DC United has always been one of the teams to consistently offer packages to entice fans.  The current offering is a Family Pack that includes 4 tickets, 4 sodas and 4 hot dogs for less than $60.  The package is available for the August 19 match and is time to coincide with a Play with the Pros Day that will provide 150 youth fans with an opportunity to interact with the players on the field.

RSL’s always aggressive front office is now offering a “Pride Pack” that allows fans to formulate their own mini plans for the duration of the season.  Fans can select any four games with seats costing as little as $20.  Somewhat atypically, Champions League matches are part of the offering.

 

 

 

Footiebusiness Vault: Marketing in Portland

On the road tonight…so here is a post from the vault featuring Timbers’ VP of Marketing Cory Dolich.  We completed this chat just weeks before thei Timbers kicked off their inaugural campaign in MLS.

Over the last couple of years, we have conducted interviews with a number of marketing professionals throughout MLS.  These Q&As have provided great insight into the marketing strategies and goals of various franchises.  Within the league, the Portland Timbers are one of the most exciting marketing stories of 2011.  The expansion team has made waves with its billboard campaign, downtown store and robust season ticket sales.  Cory Dolich is the Timbers’ Vice President of Marketing and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Timber’s 2011 marketing efforts.  Thanks to Mr. Dolich.

Footiebusiness.com: The Timbers have launched a memorable billboard campaign featuring real Timbers’ fans and plastered them all over the City.  What was the inspiration for the ads?   Who is the team trying to attract with the campaign?  How effective have the ads been in generating buzz?

Cory Dolich: We’ve been very pleased with the feedback that we’ve received thus far on the campaign. There’s obviously been a lot of exciting events and announcements surrounding the team this offseason, from player signings to our kit launch, and the campaign has certainly helped complement the existing buzz and further galvanized our overall message.

As it relates to the inspiration or genesis of the campaign, we were fortunate enough to partner with Jelly Helm Studio on the campaign. In conjunction with them, we wanted to expand upon some of the previous Portland and Timbers fan-centric messaging we’d used during the previous six-month period, but be a little less explicit about it. We wanted to embrace more of a “be it, don’t say it” approach. We have an amazing fan base that creates such a tremendous in-game experience – it was about showcasing that…at its core, showcasing the authenticity of Timbers fans and the faces of that make up our community. Plus, the icons, the chainsaws, axes, etc. are embedded in the heritage of our team, and using them was critical to further cement the authenticity of the campaign – they’re such strong visual pieces with great significance to our fans and organization.  Ultimately, it was about highlighting what makes us the Timbers – strong and striking icons, great fans, an authentic in-match experience, being Portland’s soccer team.

From a demographic standpoint, we took what might be perceived as a counter intuitive approach – it wasn’t so much about a targeting a specific age range, gender, etc. but more about sharing the message with all of Portland. We wanted to live the mantra of “being by, for and about Portland” and as such, make it inclusive of all Portlanders, rather than excluding specific targets. We recognize that in a lot of cases you can’t create an “all-inclusive” campaign, but felt the messaging did well to speak to both young and old, families and singles and existing fans, and those that might not be as familiar with our product.

FB: How do the Timbers plan to utilize online avenues such as social networking sites, SUM’s online ad network, etc… to market the team?  What is the goal of such online marketing efforts?  How do you measure the success of these efforts?

CD: We put a great deal of value on digital media, specifically social networking tools; it’s certainly going to be a significant part of our marketing strategy moving forward. We try and diversify our digital approach and be more targeted (as opposed to the billboard campaign) using this media – whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, national ad servers, local websites or search-optimization tools, we’ll layer messaging throughout these different mediums when activating on a campaign.

Our goal is simple – create engaging and unique content to develop and grow fan interest. And hopefully…if all goes well, that interest turns into ticket sales. At the foundation though is content, and providing it is key. Telling the team’s stories, by sharing the access we have to all facets of the organization is pivotal.

From a measurement standpoint, it’s a combination of a lot of elements. There’s certainly a lot of statistical evidence that we can use, be it click-thrus, number of impressions, Facebook “likes,” resulting ticket sales, etc., but there’s also a level of anecdotal measures to mix in as well. Are people talking about it? Have they seen it? The current billboard campaign is a great example of that; we’ve received a ton of unsolicited feedback which shows people are taking notice. There’s also some web reporting tools, like Radian 6, that we use at times. They can track the degree in which the club is being “talked about” on the web, from articles to blogs to social media posts, and if all goes as planned, those measures spike during a campaign.

FB:  What lessons can the Timbers take from the marketing success of Seattle and Toronto?  Similarly, what lessons can the Timbers take from some of the marketing mis-steps of the early years in the League?

CD: Seattle, Toronto and Philly (last season) have been great case studies of how to launch a team. Each club has been very generous in sharing their experiences, and we’ve learned from their respective launches. Where they’ve succeeded, and where others might have struggled, can be traced, in my opinion, to how each club has approached how they view the sport. They’ve embraced the authenticity of the game. They hold true to the game’s traditions, culture and heritage. Each of those clubs has built a strong level of trust between the organization and the fan base. You don’t need to change the dynamics of the sport or the in-match experience just because it’s played in North America, as opposed to Europe or South America. The fans are savvy – don’t try and fake it – be authentic.

Plus, I think they’ve done a tremendous job of customizing their launches to the culture and attitude of those cities, while, simultaneously, not over-complicating the message. Seattle and Toronto’s use of the scarf was really strong – it helped galvanize those cities around a soccer specific icon that really resonated for the fan base.

That said, you have to be true to your own brand and your own fans. We are a different and unique culture that has a lot of history behind it and is quite distinct from Seattle, rivalry aside. We categorically need to keep things “Portland.”

FB: Is it inconsistent/challenging for teams to target “hard core” supporters, non-soccer sports fans and families?  How do you resolve those inconsistencies/challenges?  Will the Timbers target a particular group?

CD: Depends on the tactics you use to target those different entities. Some mediums, like the billboards, might have a more universal appeal and the medium is image-centric. Tailoring a specific message to a smaller demographic group isn’t as necessary with outdoor marketing. When using other mediums, be it digital or print for example, we are much more demographically and geographically targeted. Ultimately, the core message or spirit of the campaign, regardless of who you’re speaking to is fundamentally the same. For us, like I mentioned in question No. 1, we’re still talking about passionate fans, great in-match experience, being Portland’s soccer team…that doesn’t change whether you’re talking to our most ardent supporters or non-soccer fans alike. The difference lies in the nuances of how you tweak the tactics and imagery to reach the different demographic groups.

For us, we can’t be everything to everyone, but we definitely need to be smart in reaching out to multiple types of fan groups, including ardent soccer fans, non-soccer fans, families and the corporate community. We certainly have a significant, primarily young male (18-32) demo that makes up much of our core. For us to be truly a success and long-term fixture in the community though, we need to have an even larger appeal that reaches outside of this group.

FB: Will the team run day of game promotional events (e.g. giveaways, discounts, etc…) or will the Timbers rely on its season ticket base and face value seats to fill the stadium?

 

CD: We’ve been very fortunate to have close to 11,000 full-season tickets and are on pace to eclipse 12,000 by the start of the season. While I wouldn’t rule out offering some value-added ticket programs on a case-by-case basis, our emphasis has to remain on selling, servicing and building our season ticket base in both the short and long term. It’s all about retention for us. We feel we’ve affordably priced our tickets and cost isn’t a barrier for fans to attend games. Providing great fan service, a strong and exciting on-field product and a wonderful in-game experience is paramount to maintaining a full stadium.

We do have some giveaway nights planned in an effort to enhance the day-of-match experience for our fans. While still being finalized, we’re looking at doing about four premium giveaways throughout the course of the year.

Thanks again to Mr. Dolich.