Sacremento & Seattle

soundersAfter the 2007-2008 season, the Seattle Supersonics relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder.  At the time, the move ended 40 years of Seattle basketball.  In 2009 the Seattle Sounders took the field for the first time as a Major League Soccer franchise. The City embraced the soccer team and crowds in excess of 35k soon crowded Qwest Field to cheer on their franchise.

Right away, they signed an impressive local broadcast deal, allowing a revered local voice to bring Sounders soccer over the air (that didn’t work  out). They also had an immediate a presence on cable.    At the beginning of 2009, Fox Sports Northwest sponsored a weekly Sounders show and ran game replays.  They have spent on players, including a DP, and have created an outstanding website.  If MLS Executives were to imagine the perfect off the field scenario for an expansion team, Seattle, circa March 16, 2009 would be the dream.

The NBA’s relocation committee voted unanimously Monday to recommend that owners reject the application for the Sacramento Kings to relocate to Seattle.  While the vote doesn’t guarantee that Seattle will forever be denied professional basketball, but it makes it highly unlikely that the Sacramento Kings will relocate to Seattle.  For the Sounders, this means one less professional sports competitor in town.

There are only so many disposable sports dollars in any community and as unfortunate as the loss of basketball may be for many in Seattle, the absence of basketball could serve the Sounders well.  With only baseball and football as professional sports competitors, the Sounders can retain their prominent role in the Seattle sports scene.

Monday After

nbcBefore we get to attendance, a quick look at some disappointing MLS attendance numbers.  Even looking at NBCSN numbers, the numbers reveal that the league is struggling to gain viewers.  In a week with two MLS games, neither broke the top 20 of NBCSN programming for the week, trailing a number of fishing shows and plenty of NHL hockey.   Despite the occasional match drawing more than 100k, many of the recent NBCSN games have drawn closer to 50k. More recent numbers can be found here.

On to the somewhat more rosy attendance figures from the past week.  The Canadian teams all did well with TFC starting the show with a rare 20k plus number at BMO Field.  Montreal hosted the NBCSN match with just under 20k in attendance at Stade Saputo.  Later in the day, just under 20k packed BC Place for an exciting the match featuring the Canadian side.  Buoyed by 7k free tickets to first responders at Gillette, the Revs managed more than 18k for their resounding win over over Philly, while Columbus just crept across the 14k number.  KC became the second team to cross the 20k boundary as they just made it over that hump.

Later in the evening more than 16,500 filled Rio Tinto for  Saturday evening match.  Oddly, the number was less than half the amount that recently watched an RSL reserve match. Chivas USA once again failed to cross the 10k threshold.   On Sunday Houston brought in a solid number, falling just shy of 20k at BBVA Compass.

Soccer Business Bits: Expansion Close, Chivas Sale & More

chivasMultiple news outlets are reporting statements from Commissioner Garber that the announcement of the next MLS expansion team may only be 4-6 weeks away.   Among the rampant speculation rumors is a suggestion that Manchester City’s wealthy ownership group is the possible leader to land the next franchise.  We have long discussed that a New York II franchise is the anticipated 20th team, and a prominent ownership group like Abu Dahbi United Group would likely revel in the opportunity to own a high profile franchise in the Big Apple.  Philly.com is also reporting that the likely expansion fee for a New York team would be $100 million.  While that fee would likely price new ownership groups in other expansion cities out of later expansion, the effort to secure a stadium in such a prominent locale certainly adds to the expansion fee.

There are also multiple reports circulating that famed Mexican Club Chivas is closes to being sold.  In addition to the Mexican side, MLS franchise Chivas USA would be part of the sale.  The potential buyer is Carlos Slim, reputed to be the world’s wealthiest individual.  The sale price is apparently near $700 million dollars and would also include Chivas’ stadium. Jose Vergara has owned Chivas for just over a decade and both franchises have struggled over the last years on the field.

One final note. American soccer fans will get national television games on NBCSN, Univision Deportes and UniMas this weekend.  Canadian fans will have a game on TSN.  There will be no ESPN game this weekend.

Soccer Stadium Update

unitedIt has been way too long since we last posted an update on the status of stadium construction around American soccer.  Over the years we have repeatedly written about efforts to build stadium for the Earthquakes in San Jose.  San Jose city officials  approved the  Planned Development permit for the construction of the proposed Earthquakes stadium a number of months ago. A rendering of the proposed stadium is here and the team is keeping a stadium blog here.  For a look at ticket prices, click here.

Steve Goff of Soccer Insider reported last week that United’s wandering eye is now peeking towards Maryland.  Despite ongoing efforts to secure a permanent home within the District at Buzzards Point.  Per Goff, “United has pledged to pay all costs of the new stadium, which would accommodate at least 20,000 spectators and also host college sports, non-MLS soccer events and concerts. The team has asked the city to pay for land acquisition and infrastructure costs. PEPCO, the utility company, and Akridge, a prominent developer, are the primary land owners in the area where United wants to build.”

One of the other big stadium stories of the last few months involves the league’s efforts to secure a stadium site in Queens.  Recall that in December, 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.” It is no secret that Mayor Bloomberg is a supporter of the stadium effort.  However, it is also no secret that the Mayor’s term is coming to an end. Those vying for his seat are at best non-committal to a stadium and with other opportunities percolating (perhaps Orlando), the possibility of a stadium in New York may be on the wane.

 

Charity & MLS

mls worksWith all of the focus on the community response to the events in Boston, the efforts of Major League Soccer and its franchises should not go unnoticed.  Whether its the charitable  contributions of the Revolution and Bob Kraft or the in-stadium signage and demonstrations, soccer has been a big part of the show of support.  Major League Soccer has long been an important partner in its community through individual team efforts and the league’s charitable arm, MLS Works.  Below is a three year old interview we did with JoAnne Neale regarding Works.

The charitable efforts of professional sports leagues and teams are typically overlooked by their fans, yet they are an important component of the community outreach programs in which almost all leagues are involved.  In addition to providing a way to give back to the community, local charitable efforts often provide teams with an outstanding opportunity to connect with fans and potential fans.

This week we will focus on the charitable efforts of the American Soccer Community.  We have interviewed league representatives from MLS and WPS and individual teams to find out how soccer “gives back”.  We start today with MLS Executive Vice President JoAnn Neale who overseas MLS W.O.R.K.S., the charitable arm of MLS.  Thanks to Ms. Neale for her thoughts on MLS W.O.R.K.S., and check back during the week more stories about soccer and charity.

Footiebusiness.com: What is MLS W.O.R.K.S.  What was the impetus for forming it in 2007?

JoAnn Neale: MLS W.O.R.K.S. is Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative, dedicated to addressing important social issues affecting young people, and it serves as a platform for both League and club philanthropic programs.  MLS W.O.R.K.S. seeks to establish Major League Soccer as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport. MLS W.O.R.K.S. was launched in April 2007 as way for the League to partner with charitable organizations on a national level, but to also highlight and promote the charitable efforts of its clubs and players who give back to their local communities.

FB: MLS W.O.R.K.S. is involved with many different organizations.  How is it decided where to allocate time and resources from WORKS to these organizations?

JN: MLS W.O.R.K.S. supports many organizations on various levels, but we try to partner with organizations that align with our objectives and make sense both nationally and in local markets with MLS clubs.

FB: Do MLS teams participate in W.O.R.K.S. or are there individual charities and outreach groups associated with individual teams?  How is it determined which players participate in W.O.R.K.S. events?

JN: Although most of our clubs have their own charitable foundations and support local organizations, all 16 clubs support MLS W.O.R.K.S. and our initiatives.  Because our markets vary so much, we create our programs with flexibility so they can be shaped to have relevance in each community.  We work closely with our clubs to find player ambassadors that support our initiatives, but we also work to highlight all the charitable efforts of our players in each market, even if they are not W.O.R.K.S. specific.

FB: How can fans get involved?  Are there any specific auction items fans should be on the lookout for?

JN: We recently launched the MLS W.O.R.K.S. Community Service Program, a collaborative effort to combine sport and service, promote goodwill within MLS markets and improve lives and communities at the grassroots level.  Part of the program, which we will be expanding during the 2010 season, is to highlight what our fans are doing to make a difference in their communities.  We will launch a contest during the 2010 season to recognize fans from each market that are going above and beyond.

Currently, we are conducting an online auction to help raise additional awareness and funds to support Unicef and their relief efforts for children and families in Haiti.

FB: W.O.R.K.S. advertising is present on signboards during games and on MLS broadcasts.  How is it determined when/where W.O.R.K.S. programs are advertised.

JN: We will be increasing our marketing efforts during the 2010 season to try and give our initiative and charitable partners additional exposure during various times of the season.  For instance, leading up to and surrounding Earth Day, we will promote MLS W.O.R.K.S. Greener Goals and during October, W.O.R.K.S. field boards will be pink to support Breast Cancer Awareness.

Monday After

phillyMarketing gimmicks come in all forms, from game day promotions, to fan events to ….Star Wars themed nights?  For it May 4 game, the Union have announced that they will have a series of events invoking the film.  From the official release  “The game, a 4 p.m. kickoff, will feature interactive games, contests and promotional giveaways in conjunction with the iconic film series created by George Lucas.  Union fans attending the match will have the opportunity to watch pre-game training from field level, as the first 100 participants to check in for a Star Wars costume contest will receive access. Additionally, one grand-prize winner from the contest will be named honorary captain for the match and participate in pre-game ceremonies on the field.

Let’s get to the attendance figures from another busy weekend of soccer in the United States.  Before we to MLS, a quick note about attendance in the NWSL.  The Portland Thorns kicked off their home slate before more than 16k, a remarkable number for Women’s Soccer in the United States.

On the MLS side, the week got started in New York with a disappointing mid-week crowd of just over 12k for their claim with Sporting.  The weekend started with a crowd of 16k at BMO in Toronto for another TFC draw.  The low numbers continued with just over 12k in Colorado later in the day.  the 18k plus at Red Bull Arena was raucous for their Saturday night clash with New England.  Less than 13k were in Bridgeview for Chicago’s  home match, while more than 14k were in Dallas on Saturday night.  Even RSL came in with a low number, with just under 15k Chivas USA.  Only LA managed a solid number, with almost 26k in Carson for the Galaxy’s home match.  It is remarkable that the absence of home dates for Seattle, Vancouver and Portland can make the weekend numbers look ordinary.

Looking at the Adidas & AT&T Relationships

adidasadidas has long been a strong partner of MLS.  Back in 2010 the company increased their MLS deal by $25 million per year over 8 years, and in 2011 the merchandise giant cozied up to MLS’ youth academies.  adidas is outfitting all teams under the MLS development umbrella, sponsoring the Generation U-17 tournament and investing significant resources in the highest levels of American youth soccer.  These players will grow with adidas products hopefully (from the company’s perspective), becoming stars the are wed to the brand. From the league’s perspective, the adidas relationship continues to grow and ensures that a dynamic and prominent corporate entity remains a partner with the league for the long term.

At the time adidas re-negotiated its deal, Commissioner Garberg had this to say: “One of the major reasons Major League Soccer has become one of the top soccer leagues in the world is due to the support and commitment of adidas. “They have a clear vision for the sport in North America, and they see MLS as a cornerstone of that vision. Our extension with adidas is a major statement by an internationally respected brand that MLS is increasing in value and that our commitments to stadium construction, strategic expansion, player development and improvement in the overall quality of play are playing dividends.”

AT&T has also had a long-term relationship with MLS.  Recently, reports suggest that the relationship has expanded with rights for MLS, Mexican Soccer Federation and US Soccer.   The telecommunications company has been the long time sponsor of the league’s All Star Game, the provider of mi-coach and a constant presence on stadium signage.  From the quoted article, “”We’ve recognised the growing passion for soccer in the US,” said Greg Skasko, director of sponsorships for AT&T. “The engagement from our promotions has been very strong. It’s a multicultural fan base and really hits the 18-34 demographic. We also love that MLS is tech-savvy and so are their fans.”

The deal was negotiated on behalf of AT&T by The Marketing Arm agency.”

Footiebusiness Vault: Interview with Stu Crystal

mlsOn the road tonight, so here is a vault interview with Stu Crystal of Major League Soccer.

We have repeatedly posted about the MLS shopping experience. From a shortage of gear at brick and mortar retailers, to the absence of infant sized Galaxy items to the improved online experience, we have repeatedly written about procuring MLS items.  Today we are pleased to present some thoughts from Stu Crystal, Major League Soccer’s Vice President of Consumer Products, about shopping for league merchandise.  Mr. Crystal is a graduate of SUNY Stony Brook and has been with the league for more than 10 years.  Thanks to Mr. Crystal.  Please drop a line in the comments section telling us about your MLS shopping experience.

Footiebusiness.com:  On MLSSoccer.com, the primary “shop” link brings fans to MLS Gear rather than individual team stores. Is MLS Gear the league’s preferred online shopping destination?  Does the league have relationships with third party vendors that sell official merchandise online?  Certain teams (e.g. DC and NY) appear to have individual team stores that carry a wide variety of team merchandise and apparel, while others seem to rely on MLS Gear.  Why do some teams have individual stores and others do not?  For those that have team stores, do those outlets typically carry more variety than the MLS Gear Shop?  Does the league encourage teams to operate their own shops online?

Stu Crystal: MLS Gear is the official online store for Major League Soccer. We’re testing some online team stores and exploring the option to allow all teams to have official club stores. At this time, we are not encouraging teams to operate their own shops online. We have a centralized option in MLS Gear but are open to team shops if we determine that fans prefer to shop at team branded stores. We hope to have a definitive direction by the start of the 2013 season. We do have relationships with other online retailers, including World Soccer Shop, Fan’s Edge, Amazon, etc.

FB: What types of merchandise (e.g. jerseys, youth gear, etc…) are typically the best sellers?  What items are the least popular? What individual player jerseys are the top sellers this year?  Are there items that aren’t currently available that fans should expect to see soon?

SC:  Jerseys and other core fan items, such as scarves and t-shirts, are the best sellers. We’re currently coordinating with our licensees to add higher end items, such as foosball tables and Dream Seats, for the holiday season.

FB: How has the online MLS shopping experience improved over the years?  What changes should shoppers expect in the coming months?

SC:  Last year, we shifted to working with Sports Endeavors, the dominant online soccer retailer in this country. This partnership allows us to provide fans with the highest level of customer service and an increased variety in what we can offer – footwear, international club items, etc.

FB: One commonly heard complaint from fans is that league merchandise is hard to find at brick and mortar retailers, including those operated by league partners. What efforts are made to increase the presence of league items at these locations?

SC:  We’ve hired someone to focus on retail development, and we’re working closely with Dick’s Sporting Goods to increase the selection of MLS merchandise in our markets. As the league grows and the demand for MLS merchandise grows, we will see an increase in merchandise in brick and mortar retailers.

NBC Sports Goes Big

nbcDuring a New York based press conference on Tuesday, NBC Sports announced its plans to televise the English Premier League beginning in August of 2013.  Arlo White will transition from the network’s lead MLS announcer to a new role as the primary EPL voice and will call games on-site from the U.K. Graeme Le Saux and Lee Dixon will join White, on-site in the U.K. as analysts on NBC Sports Group’s Premier League coverage.  Rebecca Lowe will anchor studio coverage from NBC Sports’ studios in Stamford alongside Robbie Musto and Robbie Earl.

More on the coverage courtesy of ProSoccer Talk:  “For the first time ever fans will have live access to all 380 games of the Barclays Premier League… All matches will be presented live on television with studio pre and post game coverage. The matches will also be streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra. Games not aired on a designated NBC Universal channel will be made available to distributors via Premier League Extra Time, a package of overflow television channels available at no extra cost for customers who receive NBC Sports Network. As NBC acquired both English and Spanish rights, the bundle will include 76 Spanish-language telecasts, 10 on Telemundo, 66 on Mun2.”

Recall that NBC won the rights to three years worth of EPL with a $250 million bid. In its thirst for live coverage, the network landed a premier property.    No the network is going all in to satiate soccer fans with wall to wall coverage.  Per the official press release, all games not aired on a designated NBCUniversal channel will be made available to distributors on Premier League Extra Time, a package of overflow television channels available at no extra cost for each of their customers who receives NBC Sports Network.

Tragedy in Boston

No new content tonight.  Just thoughts and prayers for those in Boston following the tragedy at the Marathon.  From the world of soccer, it was reported that Matt Reis’ father-in-law was severely injured in the event.

boston