Monday (Tuesday) After

Thanks for your feedback on the poll.  Based on our sample, Twitter and beIN Sport were the most popular avenues for following the match, with a fair number of you catching the game at a bar or other public venue.  Keeping with the beIN Sport theme, the network announced that it will carry every match of South American World Cup qualifying live.  The official press release offers the following quote. “Because of our commitment to bringing the best in international sports to our viewers, these games are now available to millions of passionate fans who otherwise would not have been able to see them,” said Yousef Al Obaidly, managing director of beIN SPORT.  “Our extensive coverage of these exciting World Cup qualifying matches demonstrates our unique approach that has led to one of the most successful network launches in recent cable TV history.”

In other business news, new MLS partner NBC announced the start of its foray into widespread sports coverage.  The syndicated effort includes well known talent including Bob Costas, Rodney Harrison and Amani Toomer.  Once again the official press release offers the following,:  “Chris Corcoran, Executive Vice President, General Manager, Dial Global adds, “This is a great day in sports radio and we’re proud to have 178 affiliates share it with us. Our main goal from day one has been to deliver great content for radio stations and we are excited to finally hit the field and play. ”

We’ll finish with a look at attendance.  In mid-week, the Revs got in the win column before just over 10k, while the Rapids played at DSG Park before just over 13k.   Seattle beat Chivas USA before more than 38k, while the Dynamo fell just short of 18,500.

Where Did You Watch?

Quiet weekend in American soccer, so I thought it makes sense to start the week off with a new poll.  With beIN Sport the sole television outlet for Americans looking for the USA/Jamaica match, I want to know how you followed the game.  Vote in the poll and then drop a line on your thoughts about the new soccer heavy network.

Soccer Business Bits: USA Television, NBC TV & More

The US National Team plays a pair of important qualifiers over the next few days facing Jamaica in the rare international home and home.  What makes the games an interesting business story is the television availability of the games in the United States.  Recall that the last away US qualifier was only available via on demand.  As we discussed at the time, the home team has the power to sell the broadcast rights for the away team’s broadcast.  For a variety of business reasons, networks such as Fox, ESPN and NBCSN did not bid on the rights to the away match.  However, for the upcoming away Jamaica match, newcomer beIN Sport has locked up the rights.  The Al Jazeera owned network offers the recognizable voices of Phil Schoen and Ray Hudson.  Unfortunately, many fans won’t have access to the game because the new network is just starting gain a foothold on American television carriers, including satellite and cable.  That will not be a problem for the second game, when ESPN2 carries the match live from Columbus.

Elsewhere, the first Major League Soccer telecast on over-the-air NBC is set for September 15. With NBC’s regular season broadcasts of the NFL starting up, it will be interesting to see whether the Peacock will use the games to promote their new soccer property.  The network has been aggressive in its promotions through other platforms, but will it use its biggest entity to promote soccer?

One final note before the weekend.  For some great weekend reading, I recommend this excellent piece from the Sporting News.  Brian Straus does an excellent job looking at the history of the Kansas City franchise.

Selling Houston

Perhaps the biggest business story of the week is the pending sale of the Houston Dynamo to Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander.  The sale includes both the team and the lease for BBVA Compass Stadium.  According to reports, the sale will include the entire ownership interest in the team including the portions owned by AEG,  Oscar De Le Hoya and a third partner.   The Houston Chronicle reports that “The Dynamo organization is divided into two arms, and the Rockets will purchase both. One controls the team. The other is Dynamo Stadium Corporation, which paid to build the $95 million facility and has a lease and development agreement with Harris County-Houston Sports Authority to manage the stadium for 30 years.”

Rumors of the proposed sale started to emerge within the last month.   The sale will divest AEG of its final interest in a team other than the Los Angeles Galaxy.  The Hunts are now the only MLS Investor with an interest in two clubs.  AEG and the Hunts were instrumental in floating multiple teams during some of the lean years in MLS and the slow divestment of their interests is a positive sign for the league.

Alexander will join a number of multi-sport owners in MLS including the Krafts, Kroenke and the Hunts.  With the recent completion of their downtown stadium, solid attendance and consistent on the field success, the Dynamo were well positioned for a sale.  After the first tier of high profile league franchises in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, Houston sits comfortably in the second tier with a solid coaching staff, a great fan base and a core of recognizable players known in the Houston sports community.


Back in 2009 we had a brief chat with Soccernomics author Simon Kuper.  The book was first published in October, 2009 and continues to cited in soccer circles.    Soccernomics combines economics and soccer to provide an interesting look into the use of data in sports and takes direct aim at some of the longest held beliefs of fans and soccer managers about the evaluation of players.  The book also looks at a number of financial “myths” that surround the game, including the financial benefits of hosting big soccer events and the profitability of sports franchises.   Mr. Kuper is a sports columnist for the Financial Times and his book, “Football Against the Enemy” won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award in 1994.  Here are some excerpts from that interview. You make a compelling case that big sporting events (e.g. the World Cup), do not provide the financial benefits that are so often touted when efforts are made to secure financing for such events.  Does that analysis change when the U.S. is the prospective host country?  Given the size of U.S. stadiums (and thus larger crowds), and the existence of sufficient infrastructure, do American communities have a better chance of deriving a financial benefit from hosting such a big event?

Simon Kuper: I think the financial benefit would not be very big in any case. I mean, with tourists, conferences and business travelers, the main American cities get a lot of custom most of the time. A world cup probably wouldn’t boost their numbers hugely. Also, during a world cup “normal” travel usually falls off, as business people and tourists don’t go to the country for fear of higher hotel prices and of soccer hooligans (there’s always lots of publicity about soccer hooligans, even though they tend not to appear much in reality at big tournaments). So I think the boost would be limited.

But it is true that because the US already has the infrastructure and the stadiums, its cost would be minimal too. It wouldn’t have to build loads of new stadiums with expensive hotels and access roads etc, like Japan did in 2002 or Germany and South Africa since. That’s a big advantage. I suspect the world cup 1994 cost very little and boosted the US economy by very little. It wouldn’t be a bonanza for any American town, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. In South Africa, by contrast, taxpayers are paying billions desperately needed for other things to build world cup stadiums that after 2010 will be empty almost forever.

FB: The book discusses the increased use of statistical data among managers/scouts in the game of soccer and in addition to figures such as Arsene Wenger, you reference familiar baseball names such as Bill James and Billy Beane.  Statistics and numbers are integral to the enjoyment of many baseball fans.  Does soccer lend itself to a similar “numbers culture”?  Are there statistics that casual soccer fans can embrace as a way to further understand and enjoy the game?

SK: There are fewer stats in soccer than in baseball or cricket, but the number of stats is growing. In the past we only really had goals. Now companies like Opta and Prozone produce measures for each game of how many kilometers each player ran, how many tackles and passes he made, etc. This info is proprietary and they sell it for lots of money, but sometimes newspapers buy it so fans get to see it. There’s interesting stuff there, even though those stats don’t tell you much about a player’s worth. Clubs have been trying to mine these stats for knowledge, and as far as I can see, they have discovered that running more kms than the opposition does not correlate with winning matches, possession doesn’t correlate with winning matches, tackles are not a good indicator of a good defender as e.g. Paolo Maldini rarely made any tackles, and so on. Some data are useful: e.g. how many of a striker’s shots are on target is very telling (I think Eto’o does best on this measure) and if your team sprints greater distances than an opponent during a match, that does correlate with winning.

But definitely soccer stats are at an early stage. There’s nothing like in baseball or cricket. What we found very interesting in our book was the off-the-field stats: e.g. correlating players’ wages with league position, and finding that wages explained almost entirely where a club finishes in the league. In other words: high wages win matches; the rest is just noise. By contrast, a club’s transfer spending doesn’t predict where it will finish in the league, because so many transfers go wrong. That was fascinating to me. This was data that Stefan, my co-writer, had assembled. I loved it because as you know, in soccer people generally just talk and spout opinions, but nobody has data. Stefan does.

FB: You effectively argue that owning a professional sports franchise is not a profit making enterprise.  Do team owners make money through appreciation value?  If they hold their teams for a number of years, can they make money?

SK: I think the best analogy is with the art market. Buying a soccer club is like buying a painting. It gives you status among your rich peers, and though it won’t give you an annual return, there’s a fair chance that after a few years you’ll be able to sell it at a profit to another rich man in search of status. That’s the best business model in soccer, because the model of annual profits hasn’t worked for anyone except Man United. Of course you’re betting on the price of soccer clubs rising like the price of art, but in both cases that has largely happened as both markets go global: just as there are more Indian and Russian billionaires buying art now, there are more Arab and Russian billionaires buying soccer clubs. (OK, the art market took a massive hit last year, but leaving that aside for the moment.)

FB: Finally, given the amount of money brought in through television rights, has match attendance stopped being a primary revenue source for teams?

SK: You’d have to look at the numbers, and it differs per club and per league, but I think that for many clubs that is now true. I think Barcelona and Real Madrid each get somewhere over $200 million a year from selling TV rights. I very much doubt that they get that from match attendance, despite their giant stadiums. And it’s easier to grow the TV market than the live attendance market, because in TV your potential audience is the world – people in LA or Shanghai watching on the sofa or in bars – whereas there’s a limit to the amount of people you can pack into a stadium. More than about 100,000, and the people in the top tiers can’t really see anything. So the future of profit growth in soccer is most probably TV. But our book isn’t so much about profits, because the vast majority of clubs don’t make any. What interests us is what data can tell you about the game itself, and the silly decisions that clubs make.

Thanks to Simon Kuper for some great insight and responses.  While we don’t agree with everything in the book, we do believe it makes for a great read and great gift for soccer fans and fans of all sports.  For more about the book, click here for an interview that Mr. Kuper did with the New York Times.

The Monday (Tuesday) After

I hope everyone had wonderful holiday weekend and enjoyable end of Summer.  For fans of Major League Soccer, the post-labor day period means its time for the final push to the playoffs.  Fall is a great time for soccer in the United States and the playoffs are now just weeks away.

In truth the biggest business news over the last few days came from across the sea, with the transfer window closing across Europe.  Americans were among those involved in making moves, with Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and Maurice Edu among the USMNT veterans making last minute moves.

On to attendance, where a flurry of mid-week games started the attendance party.  DC barely passed the 10k threshold, while the Revs managed little better in their exciting draw with Chivas. However, that number was buttressed by the reported distribution of 4,000 free tickets to charity.  That same evening, Philly managed just over 16k in their home date at PPL Park.   The DC number is especially poor given the appearance of star laden New York Red Bulls.

On Friday, the Timbers managed its usual sellout in a nationally televised contest against the Rapids.  On Saturday, KC managed almost 18,500 while Columbus had a crowd of 12,500.  The Revs second home game of the week netted a crowd of just under 12k.   The Fire cruised past the 17k mark, while FC Dallas fell just shy of 13k.  Both the Galaxy and RSL managed outstanding crowds in excess of 20,000 while San Jose managed its usual 10k plus.