Monday After

I’ll start with a “stay safe” wish to all of you.  I know that many of my readers are along the East Cost/Mid-Atlantic corridors with Sandy taking dead aim.   Here in Hartford, we had 10 days of power outages last October and may have the same this time around, but the worst of the storm may be elsewhere.   To those of you in Sandy’s path, stay safe.

Bit of a programming note from my end.  Presuming power goes down, there will likely be some down time for Footiebusiness.  Hopefully we will back up as the playoffs get started.

One final note.  Media voting for the end of season awards ends on Tuesday and I logged my votes tonight.  I will discuss those at a later date, but once again the “business” award for best front office was no longer one of the categories.  I will conduct my own version of that award sometime in November.

On to attendance for the final week of the season, which started with a mid-week match in Kansas City before almost 19,500 at LiveStrong Sporting Park.   The Saturday games started with more than 18,500 at PPL for the Red Bulls/Union match.  The solid crowds continued with almost 20k in Montreal for the final game of the Impact’s inaugural season.  Chicago crept past the 20k mark for their final regular season home match with a play-in game looming on the horizon.

Portland finished a disappointing season on the field with another full house at Jeld-Wen. The 20k crowds continued with an uninspired 0-0 draw at Rio Tinto on Saturday.  Colorado finished its season with a win before more than 15k at DSG Park.  A similar crowd filled Crew Stadium to see the home team pull off a win over bottom dwellers TFC.


Copa Business?

One of the stranger stories to emerge over the last day was the announcement that a 2016 version of Copa America would be played in the United States.  The possibility was greeted with great enthusiasm, but before the day was out, the United States Soccer Federation was quick to douse the excitement , by stating that no deal was in place.  According to reports, a number of hurdles need to be cleared in order to permit such an event to go forward.

Whether or not the tournament gets finalized, the business implications are tantalizing.  First, the presence of 16 top teams in the United States, including the USA, Mexico and teams like Brazil and Argentina would be a fantastic spectacle for a Summer tournament.  Sold out football stadiums around the country would play host to exciting matches and raucous crowds.  Tickets would likely be extremely expensive, but it would be a showcase event that would dwarf the Summer of Soccer friendlies that usually dot the July landscape.

The television possibilities would also be extremely promising.  With ESPN set to air the 2016 version of the European Championship the preceding month, it seems likely (although not certain) that another one of the networks competing for soccer prominence in the United States would pay significant dollars to broadcast all matches of the 16 team tournament. Imagine NBC starting the Summer with Copa America as a lead-in to the Olympics in Rio.

The impact on MLS would also be interesting to follow.  The league couldn’t afford to shutter for the entirety of Euro and Copa America.  Yet the competition for soccer eyeballs would be intense.  The league would be significantly overshadowed on its own turf for almost a month.


Soccer Business Bits: Soccer in Hartford, NBC Goes Heavy & More

As regular readers of this site know, I live in the Hartford area.  On Tuesday night, the US Women returned to the area to host the German national team at Rentschler Field, the football home of the UCONN Huskies.  Despite some terrible weather for most of the day, the match drew almost 19k to East Hartford.  In addition to the US Women on multiple occasions, the venue also played host to the USMNT before the last world cup, a US/T&T qualifier and also hosted a Liverpool v. Celtic friendly.  Connecticut tends to turn out for soccer, despite almost non-existent pre-game coverage, advertising  or promotion.  Youth soccer is big in this area, and local clubs were responsible for many of the fans in attendance.  However, the lack of outreach to the clubs and the absence of advertising was extremely disappointing.   Random Hartford trivia:  What prime time drama was based in the City of Hartford?

On Wednesday night, the NBC Sports Network televised the Kansas City/Philly match from LiveStrong Sporting Park.  The game is one of four matches that will be broadcast on the NBC networks this week.  On Saturday there will be a tripleheader, including one match on NBC proper and two games on NBCSN.  Viewership on the cable sports network has averaged significantly higher than FSC in past year.  Those keeping tabs on the ratings on bigsoccer have calculated the NBCSN average viewership at over 125k per match. While there have been some disappointing games with less than 75k, the numbers have been fairly steady throughout the year.

Finally, for a worthwhile read, I highly recommend this piece from former Fire GM Peter Wilt.  There are some great business nuggets in here that are definitely worth the read.


San Jose Stadium Moves Forward

On October 21, 2012, the San Jose Earthquakes set a dubious record with more than 6,200 participants in the ground breaking at their new stadium.   While the importance of having the Guinness Book of World Records mark the event is debatable, there is no question that moving forward with this long stalled project is great news for the team and the league.  San Jose has had a great year on the field and to cap this off with the start of construction of a new 18,000 stadium shows great progress for a team that was forced to depart for Houston just a few years ago.

After multiple fits and starts, the team appeared to cross some final hurdles and appeared ready to start the construction process a few months back.  A while back, the team held a ceremonial ground breaking at the start of the demo process.   Although the event included a fair amount of pomp and circumstance, the demolition does not guarantee construction.    A rendering of the proposed stadium is here.

The Stadium will seat 18,000 and is set to open in 2014.  According to the Mercury News, the facility “sits at Coleman Avenue and Newhall Street, across from Mineta San Jose International Airport. Team officials said the large turnout Sunday bode well for season-ticket sales and the long-term success and stability of the team, something the franchise has not enjoyed since it was founded in 1974.”

The second iteration of soccer in San Jose has been a great success. The team has a marketable star, the best record in the league and solid local coverage of the team.   The stadium would be a crowning achievement for the league, the team and for the Earthquakes’ ownership group.

Monday After

Major League Soccer returned with a vengeance this weekend with a series of meaningful games, big crowds and exciting soccer.  Before we get to the attendance numbers, the big business story from the weekend was the revelation that the Hunt family is looking to sell the Crew to a local ownership group.  The Hunts are owners of both the Crew and FC Dallas, both original franchises in MLS. Interestingly, the linked article from the Columbus Dispatch suggests that the Hunt family’s motivation to sell may not mirror that of the league, which is focused on limiting investors to one franchise.

On to attendance, where the week started on Wednesday with a strong 38k crowd in Seattle for a scoreless draw between the Sounders and RSL.  On Saturday, BMO Field in Toronto played host to the Montreal/TFC match before a disappointing crowd of just over 16k despite the Canadian rivalry.

The Revs managed their best crowd of the season with just over 25k at Gillette Stadium for the Revs final home game.  Whatever the reason (cynics would say flex packages, school nights, etc….), the number is a good finish for the beleaguered franchise.  With beautiful weather on the East Coast, the big numbers continued with more than 25k at Red Bull Arena as New York qualified for the playoffs with a 0-0 draw.   DC managed its reduced capacity sellout with just under 20k at RFK in Washington as United crept into the playoffs.

The big numbers continued in Houston with more than 22k at BBVA Compass for the Dynamo’s clinching match.  A disappointing season on and off the field in Los Angeles was exemplified by the sub-11,500 crowd at the Home Depot Center for Chivas USA.

Rolling Back in Toronto

The big business story coming out yesterday was the announcement that the perennially disappointing Toronto FC soccer team would roll back its season ticket prices to 2007 levels.  2007 was the team’s inaugural season and the team has yet to pull off a winning season.  Until this season, the team’s season ticket base has been resilient, but the persistent losing finally took a toll on ticket sales in 2012.  Fans stopped showing up and the team’s on the field struggles continued.  The failures on the field weren’t reflected in the team’s ticket prices, which regularly sat atop the league’s price schedule.

Coming in the midst of another disappointing season and on the heels of Canada’s massive failure in World Cup qualifying, the TFC ticket announcement seems to be a wise move by the franchise.  Despite a willingness to spend money on talent, the team has been a front office mess and a perennial disappointment.  Per Tom Anselmi (and courtesy of The Globe and Mail), president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, “this is really trying to recognize their support, their loyalty. They’ve done their job and we haven’t done ours. And we’ve got to get it right.” “Anselmi said 90 per cent of the season ticket holders will get a 20 per cent rollback and 40 per cent will see a 45 per cent reduction. For stadium seating at BMO Field, the top season ticket price will drop to $1,007 in 2013 from $1,292 this year. The lowest price for a season ticket will be $190, compared to $361 in 2012.”

The team has just under 16k season ticket holders which also puts it near the top of the league.  For the first few years, the team was a remarkable success story off the field and the struggles on the pitch seemed secondary.  Now the perpetual losing has taking its toll off the field and this gesture is certainly a move in the right direction towards rewarding a fan base that has continued to attend games at BMO Field.

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, MLS tries to alert media  to the “value” of its presence on various television programs.

The latest version dates back to the weekend following the US victory over A&B in World Cup Qualifying.  ESPN covered the game on Sports Center, with the broadcast reaching almost 2.8 million people. The clip included highlights of all three goals, one of the big saves of the match and a second viewing of the opposing goal.   ESPN also added the indomitable Tommy Smyth with commentary about the game and the importance of the win for the United States.  According to Critical Mention, the value of the publicity was almost $180,000 and was part of the midnight SportsCenter.

The local Fox affiliate in Portland devoted a significant chunk of its early morning news broadcast to the charitable works of the Portland Timbers.  The broadcast included player interviews and more than three minutes of the team’s outreach and good community efforts.  The clip,which can be found here, reached approximately 20,000 viewers and was worth more than $6,000 in publicity.  This was a good spot for the team and the league.

Finally, in one of the lowest dollar value telecasts we have ever covered through Critical Mention, the ABC affiliate in Orlando devoted some time to discussing the possibility of building a soccer stadium in the City.  The late night spot reached less than 3,000 people for a value of approximately $180.

Soccer Business Bits: More Soccer on TV, Spanish TV & More

Hurting for live programming with because of the ongoing labor issues in the National Hockey League, the NBC Sports Network announced that it will pick up two additional MLS matches in coming days.  According to the official press release, “NBC Sports Group will add two regular season MLS games this month to its soccer schedule beginning this Wednesday with coverage of Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake at 10 p.m. ET from CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash. Additionally, NBC Sports Network will air the match between Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City live from Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City.”   The extensive coverage will continue with three games on the various NBC Networks on Saturday, including one match on the broadcast version.

On the Spanish broadcast side, Telemundo announced that the Soccer World Cup Qualifier between Guyana and Mexico (Friday, October 12 at 8:50 PM ET) delivered 2.1 million total viewers and became the #1 program on Spanish-language TV on Friday night among men 18-49 (826,000) and men 18-34 (375,000), according to Nielsen. The game delivered a cumulative audience of more than 4.4 million total viewers.

Finally, in a non-American soccer note, it has been impressive to note the significant level of coverage of the Canadian National Team in Canadian media.  Soccer has struggled to gain a foothold in Canadian sports culture, but as the Canadian men improve and the Women pulled off an exciting run in the Olympic games.  Now the Canadian team has a great opportunity to advance to the Hex by winning or tying in Honduras.  Local media has responded with extensive coverage of the team, game and qualifying.

Monday After

Major League Soccer took the week off because of the international FIFA fixture dates.  On Friday, the United States played its penultimate match of the semi-final round.  As was true with the last away match during qualifying, the game was only televised on betIN Sports, the new network from Al JAzeera.  The English language version of the channel is only available on limited cable and satellite systems.  The network did telecast the game live, while the Spanish language version of the network showed the match in tape delay because of qualification games in South America.

The final game of the round will be broadcast from LiveStrong Sporting Park on ESPN2 on Tuesday.  The match is set for 7:00 Eastern and the game is an anticipated sellout.  A win or draw by the US will ensure that the American advance to the final Hexagonal round.   On Wednesday, MLS will return with a nationally televised game on the NBSCN.  The match will feature Seattle and RSL from Lincoln Financial Field.

As part of the qualifying process, 5 more Cuban players defected, a process that has brought players like Galindo and Alonso to MLS.

While there are visa rules and procedures for athletes seeking to ply their trade in the U.S., Cuba presents an interesting exception.  The “Wet feet, dry feet” policy, established by the Clinton Administration, is unique to Cuba and permits any Cuban who makes it to U.S. shores to remain in the U.S. (See Cuban Adjustment Act).  Thus, players who walk away from international competitions in the U.S. are afforded the opportunity to immediately seek work in the United States.  In addition to an escape from Castro, these asylum seekers have an opportunity to earn huge wage increases by coming to the U.S.  In this case, the players actually escaped in Canada.

The Cuban exception has long been a point of contention for immigration activists, but from a soccer perspective Cuba is unique for other reasons.  Soccer players in Central and South America countries typically play in well-funded leagues and earn ample salaries.  Soccer is a “first choice” sport for many in these countries and provides an avenue for financial success.  Talented players in these regions are actively scouted by MLS and European leagues and often transfer to well-known teams around the world.  Thus, there is little reason for a soccer player in, say Mexico, to emigrate to the U.S. (legally or illegally), as Mexican soccer salaries are typically higher than MLS salaries.  Conversely, Cuba is a baseball country and soccer salaries compare to those of other Cuban professions.  Cuban leagues are not particularly well-scouted.  Accordingly, an escape to the U.S. may be a Cuban player’s best opportunity to to pursue a career in professional soccer.

Soccer Goes Radio

The big soccer business announcement of the day came from an unusual medium, the world of radio.  Mainstream sports talk radio has long ignored soccer in many markets, while the internet has giving rise to many quality podcasts focusing on the beautiful game.  Today SirriusXM revealed that starting on Monday, the satellite radio provider will offer a 24 hour, 365 soccer channel, with talk shows, matches and more.

I have long commented on the lack of forum for soccer fans to banter about their favorite sport. Now, for those with access to satellite radio, that forum exists.  In speaking to the New York Times, Scott Greenstein, the SiriusXM president and chief content officer said “People like talking to true experts, and the call-ins are integral to getting into the lifestyle and flavor of sports, especially soccer,” Greenstein said. “Any time you want to talk soccer, this is it. Imagine calling the FAN”  — all sports radio WFAN in New York — “and wanting to talk Red Bulls. That’s just not happening. Now those people have a channel.”

In addition to talk, the station will carry radio broadcasts of the EPL, MLS Matches and broadcasts of MLS Extra Time.  I have always been skeptical of the appeal of actual soccer matches on the radio.  Soccer is a great sport in stadium and it translates reasonably well to television.  However, soccer is extremely difficult to broadcast without the visual backdrop of the match.

Nevertheless, the advent of this new network is a great thing for fans of the game.  Having an outlet to debate, discuss and relive matches is exciting for fans of the game.