Tuesday After

sporting kansas citBack with our regular look at the weekend that was in the world of soccer business.  One of the big stories at the end of last week involved hot rumors that Manchester City ownership was aggressively looking to pay $100 million for the New York City franchise in Major League Soccer.  The story was reported by an array of credible outlets and the reporting suggested that the deal was near completion.  The story was denied by Manchester City the next day, with multiple sources noting that the team has been losing massive amounts of money in the EPL.  Not surprisingly, David Beckham’s name was also part of the story, with reports suggesting that he was involved in the ownership effort.

At halftime of the US Womens National Team;s final game of 2012, the name of the new Women’s soccer league was announced.   The game (and announcement) were carried live on NBC Sports Network.  The National Women’s Soccer League will begin play next year.  The eight teams in the new league will be: Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit, Western New York Flash and Seattle.  The markets and teams are the product of months of maneuvering and negotiations by their ownership groups, U.S. Soccer and other women’s soccer stakeholders. The latter group includes the national team players themselves, whose contracts are being structured to include both international and league duty – a unique arrangement which has apparently contributed to the delays in the new league’s rollout.

One final note, Sporting Kansas City sent around a video Christmas card.  It really is fantastic.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is.  http://www.myskcfamily.com/happyholidays/

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A Night Off in Tribute to a Tragedy

As many of my regular readers are aware, I am based in Connecticut, in the Hartford area.  As all of you know, a great tragedy befell a small community in my small state on Friday.  In light of those horrific events, I thought it appropriate to skip a night of posting about soccer as a very small tribute to those who needlessly lost their lives in Newtown on Friday.

I grew up in Trumbull, CT, two towns over from Newtown and have many connections to that community.  Like all of you, I watched the news rush in on Twitter, television and elsewhere with a mix of horror, anger and shock.  Like many of you I went home and hugged my kids tight, wondering about the parents and siblings of those poor 6 and 7 year olds and what torture they must be enduring.

So, I want to use this space to offer my prayers and thoughts to those in Newtown.

Ben

More About that Loyalty Question

bimboYesterday we wrote about the Turnkey Sports study (as reported by SBJ) that demonstrated the incredible brand awareness and loyalty of Major League Soccer fans. We’ve been reporting on that survey for a number of years and the remarkable willingness of MLS fans to actively promote companies that invest in the league is a common thread.  According to data from the 2010 version of the survey, 80% of avid MLS fans are more likely to recommend a product or service if it has a relationship with the league.  How many of you have considered Continental Tires, Allstate Insurance or a room at a Sheraton Four Points because of the MLS ties?

The demonstrated loyalty of MLS fans provides a unique business opportunity for potential and existing league sponsors.  One of the key points to emerge from the study was that the level of visibility achieved by MLS sponsors far outstrips their market penetration.  The VW data is a telling on this point.  We noted yesterday that VW has a 28.5%  recognition level among avid MLS fans.  Per SBJ, “that VW recognition comes as only 3 percent of all cars sold in the United States through October were VWs, according to Autodata research.” Thus, even though the league as a comparatively small fan base, sponsors get incredible bang for the buck.

We received some interesting e-mails and Tweets discussing the vested interest soccer fans have long had in the success of the league.  So we now pose the question here.  How many of you are more willing to consider products  because of their investment in the league.  Will you buy Continental Tires, an AT&T plan or Allstate insurance?  Do you distinguish between team sponsors (Quaker) and league sponsors (Four Points)?  Drop a line and let us know.

Turnkey Sports: MLS Fans on Top

at&TThe Sports Business Journal is once again reporting on the fans of Major League Soccer’s remarkable connection to the corporate partners that support the league.  In reporting the results of the latest Turnkey sports poll, SBJ states that, “MLS sponsors were correctly identified as such by the league’s fans at a higher rate than the companies’ rival brands across all categories, according to the results of this year’s MLS Sponsor Loyalty survey conducted for SportsBusiness Journal/Daily by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment”

MLS fans’ track record of brand loyalty is a recurring theme.  Because of MLS’ relative newness to the sports scene, MLS fans have more “ownership” in the league’s success.  Unlike fans of the NFL, MLB and other mainstream sports, fans of Major League Soccer have real concern about their league and its place on the sports landscape.  Fans work hard to bring friends to games, introduce family to the sport and cheer for MLS teams in international competitions.  This personalized relationship to the sport lends itself to these same fans taking an interest in the corporate entities that keep the league solvent.  Moreover, because the relationships are promoted through means other than commercials (jerseys, signage, etc…), the names of these companies are always prominently displayed.panasonic

Some telling numbers from the survey (as reported by SBJ).   League sponsors such as VW, Gatorade, Pepsi and Allstate generally earned recognition scores in excess of 30%.  One major partner that fell below 30% was VW, at 28.5% .  However, among all sports/leagues, that 28.5% was second to only Chevy’s affiliation to NASCAR in the auto category.  AT&T”s relationship with the league was the biggest mover among all brands in the survey with almost a 16% year over year increase in fan recognition through its MLS partnership.   One final note, Visa’s brand recognition; “more than 44 percent of avid fans recognized the relationship, the highest rate of any of the league’s sponsors among avid fans.”

We will have more on this survey over the next few days.

 

Footiebusiness Vault: Interview with Cara Joftis

On the road tonight.  This is from the Footiebusiness Vault

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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: College Cup, Hot Stove & More

propaneTime for the first “Monday After” of the post-season.  During the MLS campaign, we take a look at league attendance in this space, but in the ever shrinking MLS off-season, we just review some of the bigger business stories from the world of American soccer from the last three days.  Let’s start with the College Cup, where Indiana held off Georgetown to win the Division I College Championship.  The game was held in Hoover, Alabama.  The 13,000 seat venue was also the host last year and was expected to draw the biggest two day crowds for the College Cup in at least 8 years.  ESPN U carried all of the matches from the final four round of the tournament.

The MLS hot stove season has been moving forward with great speed in the week since the MLS Cup Final.  Player trades, player releases and the re-entry draft have all made the last week hectic.  Fans of the league have had ample online sources from which follow the madness.  The ongoing Major League Baseball off-season provides an useful comparison, with the Winter Meetings just concluded.  While mainstream media sources essentially ignore soccer’s transactions, the advent of Twitter makes it easy to keep abreast of the Winter happenings in both sports. Soccer fans now the enjoy the same instantaneous coverage, from multiple outlets trying to find scoops, as those following other sports.

Finally, the first round of the re-entry draft went forward on Friday. This was the third version of the draft.  Whether the draft has the effect desired by both sides to the Collective Bargaining Agreement will take some time to determine.  Last year,  Jeff Carlisle pulled some quotes from MLSPA head Bob Foose that suggested that he was pleased.  “I think it is working and is doing exactly what it was supposed to do, which is to give veteran players more leverage and more control over the negotiations in the offseason,” he said

Expansion Update

Expansion updates used to be a very regular feature on this site, as we followed the introduction of teams like Seattle, Montreal, Portland and more into Major League Soccer.  Yet with the Impact’s move to MLS now in rear view mirror there are no immediate plans for the league to add any new teams.  Yet the league is continuing to hunt for its great white whale, the 20th franchise, rooted and based in the boroughs of New York City.  League officials have made no secret that New York is the target, and the league took a big step in that direction on Tuesday night.

Members of the league office (including the Commissioner), fans, youth players and more joined a reportedly raucous meeting to discuss the possibility of construction a 25k seat stadium in Queens.  According to the New York Times, “Garber said the stadium would be financed privately and create at least 3,000 permanent and temporary jobs.” Further according to the Times, “the league said every inch of parkland used for the new stadium would be replaced elsewhere in the community. The stadium’s footprint would be 10 to 13 acres, Garber said, adding that six and a half of those acres would replace the Fountain of Planets, a site that is currently fenced off. Less than two acres of the proposed stadium site is grassland, he said.”

As I have said repeatedly on this site, a successful franchise in New York would be great for the league and would certainly attract top talent.  The team would likely do well at the gate and would start a great rivalry with the Red Bulls.  However, it is also likely that a New York team would still struggle to create buzz in the New York market and would likely be ignored by most of the mainstream sports media.  Other than the Times, none of the major NY papers covered the Queens hearing.