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


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.

Soccer Business Bits: MLS Cup Wrap-up

galaxyThe Major League Soccer off season got going in earnest on Monday, with player trades, reports of re-signings and the release of the names on the re-entry list.  However, before we jump with both feet into the hot stove of soccer, we wanted to offer some final business items related to MLS Cup 2012.  One of the first stories worth mentioning involves the somewhat disappointing television ratings that emerged from the Cup Final.  Multiple reports indicate that the game drew only a .7 rating, likely a small decline from last year.  While its true that the game was up against the SEC Championship game, given the Beckham storyline, the Donovan storyline and other factors, the game should have done much better. Rather than matching up against an array of NFL games, college football was the big television opponent, but the MLS Cup Final got beat by golf.
In other Cup Final news, the game drew a record Home Depot Center crowd in excess of 30k.  The big crowd, which was loud throughout most of the game and looked great on television provide some support for the league’s decision to move the game to the home of the highest remaining seed.  While I continue to oppose that change for a number of business reasons, there is no question that the atmosphere was improved because of the change.
Finally, the MLS Cup Final was covered in person by over 400 media from all over the world.  Whatever the lack of attention the game received from a number of mainstream sports outlets, there is no question that the game has become a big deal.  One need only read the coverage in the Guardian to really enjoy how the game has grown.

Monday After: Business Blogging the MLS Cup Final

The broadcast started with a Max Bretos voice-over after a solid lead-in from the College Football lead-in studio.  The musical background and voice over followed, with some great highlights of the teams.  The match was officially presented by adidas.  The studio was manned by Keller, Lalas, Moreno and Bretos.  After some initially comments from the crew, the telecast rehashed the 2011 final and reprised each team’s path to the final.

Not surprisingly, it took only six minutes for the telecast to focus on Beckham, including an interview between Becks and Julie Foudy.  Beckham has always been a good interview and he continues to say the right things about the league, the city and his experience in Major League Soccer.  The network put up a great graphic that showed that average player salaries have almost doubled since he arrived and the number of stadiums went from 4 to 13.   Also announced that Commissioner Garber would be the halftime studio guest.

First round of commercials included the new Daniel Craig Heineken spot.  The RGIII Gatorade commercial followed with the Allstate soccer specific mayhem spot.  A Castrol spot followed with a set of local commercials up next.  ESPN ran a great spot promoting the Brazilian Confederations Cup.  Cobi Jones and Mauricio Cienfuegos brought the Cup in to the stadium.  Thereafter, it was a challenge for the studio to avoid discussing Beckham at every turn.

The telecast stepped away for the anthem and started with a the soccer Pepsi commercial.  League sponsor Continental Tire followed with an ad from newly extended DC (and league) sponsor VW.  That was followed by a series of local ads.  After some unfortunate focus on the Lalas mustache, Continental tire had a second ad, followed by an Allstate ad and a Toyota spot.

The second half telecast was fairly routine, but Healey and Twellman should be commended for

Right after the game, Monica Gonzalez spoke with Landon Donovan on the field who gives a noble shout-out to the Make a Wish Foundation.  ESPN showed some great images of emotion from both sides.  VW got some air time as the MVP award sponsor .  The network did a great job staying away from commercial for an extended period following the game.

Apple was the first post-game commercial with a second Pepsi ad immediately following.  A spate of local commercials followed.  Out of the break, ESPN cut to an on field interview with Beckham which was mic’d to the entire stadium.

On the return, Adrian Healey and Taylor Twellman picked up the call.  Continental Tire sponsored the Analysts Corner and the game kicked up a tick before 5:00 p.m.  Adidas was the first on screen sponsor at the 4 minute mark. Took me a while to find the jimmv.org logo in top right corner of the screen.  Goodyear blimp got its first mention and provided its first images in the 15th minute.  VW showed the second on screen advertisement and Continental Tire had the third.  As the game hit a lull near the end of the first half, Healey made a mention of the joint ownership of Houston and Los Angeles via AEG.  Gatorade nabbed the final on screen ad.  Castrol GTX will be the sponsor of the halftime show.

The halftime started with some thoughts from Kinnear via Monica Gonzalez.  Interesting that the studio show spoke before the first round of commercials.  The set of ads started with another Allstate Mayhem commercial, followed by AT&T and a spot for the Big 12 Title Game. Chase and BMW then had ads.

Commissioner Garber joined after the break and naturally started with a Beckham question followed by a question about the nationalities of players in the league.  Lalas followed up with a question about the league paying American players and Bretos followed with requisite relegation/promotion question.  Garber did speak about the possibility of relegation in the future of MLS.

Castrol was the first ad following the Garber interview with Heineken following.  Apple was the next advertiser with the RGIII Gatorade ad making a second appearance.  VW followed with a second Sign then Drive commercial.