Monday After

barbasolAnother fascinating week of soccer in MLS, but before we get to attendance, here are a couple of other business items. Let’s start with the kick-off of the inaugural season of the National Women’s Soccer League.  After a one year hiatus from the WPSL, the NWSL got started over the weekend. In front of a sold-out crowd of more than 6k in Kansas City, the home team played to a draw with the Portland Thorns.  The league also played three matches on Sunday as the third iteration of professional Women’s soccer gets underway.  To review the league’s website, click here.

The big story from Dallas this weekend involved the idiotic actions of a fan who managed to hit FC Dallas defender George John in the head with a beer bottle during a goal celebration.  The local police were able to work with league television partner NBC to isolate a photo of the perpetrator.

On to attendance, where the league week started with a solid 17k crowd at PPL Park despite cold conditions in the Northeast.  Seattle’s on the field challenges continue, but they managed a 38k plus crowd at Century Link Field for the Sounders’ scoreless draw with the Revs.  DC rebounded with a great 18k plus crowd for United’s home loss to rivals New York Red Bulls.   The big numbers kept rolling with an 18k plus crowd in Vancouver.  The big number of the night came from Dallas, where the home side played host to the Galaxy before a standing room only crowd in excess of 20k.  This is a huge number for the Western Conference leaders.  Chivas USA continued its dismal season at the gate with a crowd of just over 8k.

On Sunday, following a weather postponement, more than 16k came to Stade Saputo for Montreal’s match against Columbus. The Dynamo managed almost 19k for their home victory at BBVA Compass

Soccer Business Bits: Dan Flynn, NBC Goes Streaming & More

us-soccerThe Sports Business Journal offers this interview with Dan Flynn, the CEO and Secretary General of US Soccer.  Mr. Flynn is a sports business veteran who has previously worked on the sponsor side before coming to US Soccer 13 years ago.   He was also part of a NCAA title winning team back in 1973. With respect to partnership, Flynn notes the following: “We have five major partners activating at our World Cup qualifiers: Budweiser, Castrol, McDonald’s, Allstate and, of course, Nike, with our centennial kits. Sponsorship continues to grow as the game in this country has grown.”

The NBC Sports Network made a big announcement today regarding the streaming availability of their sports broadcasts.  From the official press release: “– NBC Sports Live Extra, the NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for digital, mobile and tablets, will begin live streaming NBC Sports Network live-event content to Cablevision, Comcast Xfinity TV, Suddenlink and Verizon FiOS customers via TV Everywhere beginning tonight. Additional cable, satellite and telco providers are expected to be added soon. The 2013 NBC Sports Network live-event programming roster includes the remainder of the NHL regular season, the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Final; Premier League and Major League Soccer matche; Formula One™ and IndyCar races; horse racing that surrounds the Triple Crown; and more.”

For MLS fans who already have access to the league’s “stream of the week” this provides another great outlet to catch soccer on the go.  Both of the MLS matches that the NBCSN will broadcast this weekend will also be available via NBC Sports Live Extra.   ESPN does not have a game this weekend.

One final note.  The Premier League will debut goal line technology next season .  How far behind is MLS.

Marketing in Chicago: Interview with Fire VP Emigdio Gamboa

chicago-fireOn the road tonight, so we thought we would revisit an interview we did from the start of the 2011 MLS season.  Back then, Emigidio Gamboa of the Chicago Fire was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Fire’s promotional efforts for 2011, the team’s use of social media and more.  Now as we start the 2013 campaign, it makes sense to take a look back to see how some of these efforts succeeded.

Today we are lucky to have an interview with Emigdio Gamboa, the Fire’s VP in charge of Marketing and Communications.  Mr. Gamboa was kind enough to provide some thoughts on Chicago’s 2011 marketing efforts and use of social media. How is Chicago utilizing social media?  Some teams are aggressively relying on Twitter, posting frequent training camp updates, linking to blog posts about the team and providing teasers about signings and ticket promotions, while others have been slower to adopt the technology.   How do you anticipate the team using Twitter and Facebook going forward?  Does the team have a policy on players using Twitter?

Emigdio Gamboa: For the past couple of seasons we have made social media a focal point of fan interaction. Over the past two seasons we have developed and implemented a progressive Facebook and Twitter strategy that has seen our Facebook numbers go from 8,700 in Feb. 2010 to over 50,000 fans at present. We see Twitter and Facebook serving different purposes & objectives moving forward.  Our Twitter is a complimentary tool to Facebook in our overall social media strategy.  As it relates to Facebook, we are continuously focused on improving the quality of engagement with our followers paying particular attention to the type & frequency of our postings.  We want to make certain that the content that we are posting is relevant and entertaining so that it is creating a two way dialogue with our followers.

Currently, we do not have a written policy on players using Twitter. We encourage our players to use Twitter & do so in an appropriate fashion.

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 2011?  Similarly, some teams have started using Groupon to sell individual game tickets.  The Fire used Groupon to sell season tickets.  Was that a successful relationship? Will you use Groupon to sell individual game tickets in 2011?

EG: Yes, fans should expect to see game day/ticket promotions in 2011.  Currently, we have been promoting a “family pack” offering that includes 4 match tickets, 4 hot dogs & 4 refreshments.  However, we have made a stronger emphasis on improving the overall game day experience.  We understand that we have a diverse and passionate fan base that expect and appreciate different aspects of a game day experience so we try our best to cater to our entire fan base. From the different activities in our fan fest area, to the food, the bi-lingual public-address announcements, etc., this is an area that will continue to evolve.

Our relationship with Groupon has been successful in the sense that it gave individuals who might have not otherwise experienced a match live the opportunity to do so.  Once you experience a match, the likelihood of returning is obviously much higher.

FB: What do the Fire offer as season ticket incentives?  Do fans get special values from being part of the team’s season ticket base?  How many season tickets has Chicago sold this year? How does that compare to previous years?

EG: Following the 2010 MLS campaign the Fire evaluated their ticket sales philosophy and integrated fan input to propose the most progressive season ticket campaign in the club’s 14-year history. Gaining feedback from its supporters about the kind of offers and incentives they want in a Fire season ticket package the Fire developed  a season ticket campaign built by-and-for a supporter. Starting with an unprecedented  move in Chicago sports, the club offered free and reduced parking to a majority of season ticket holders and a 12-month payment plan that allows Fire Season Ticket Holders to pay as low as $15 a month. In addition, the Fire created a referral program, allowing current Fire Season Ticket Holders to receive a 20 percent credit on referral purchases. Those referred receive a five percent savings on the purchase of their 2011 season tickets. The result has seen the club sell over 2,800 new season tickets in the offseason, breaking the previous club best of 1936 season tickets sold set in 1998, the Fire inaugural year.

Our season ticket holders are given a wide range of incentives from access to exclusive team events, gifts and other special offers including free parking (depending on the ticket package), discount on merchandise & concession items.  We strive to provide our supporters with an authentic soccer experience while providing them with extensive access to the club at a cost effective price point.

FB: What type of marketing efforts does the team make to attract soccer fans in the Chicago area who follow the sport (in Europe, Latin America, etc…) but not the team?  Do you use billboards and newspapers or a more targeted approach? Do the friendlies you play against club sides from around the world have a measurable effect on your regular MLS ticket sales?

EG: We have a heavy emphasis on grassroots marketing activities focused on areas in our community where the sport is being played from soccer fields on the south-west of Chicago to fields in places like Palatine, Naperville and beyond. We’ve developed a number of strong relationships with youth and adult soccer leagues to engage individuals who are playing soccer to help drive them to Fire matches.

We do have a targeted approach in placing billboards and other forms of advertising keeping different audiences in mind.  Friendlies have a minimal effect on our regular MLS ticket sales.   However, they serve multiple purposes from branding to different communities, building international relationships to simply improving our level of competition.
FB: The Fire had a long relationship with Best Buy as their jersey sponsor.  That relationship recently ended.  What efforts have you made to secure a new sponsor?  Do you expect to announce a new relationship soon?

EG: Our effort to secure a new sponsor is an on-going process, the jersey sponsorship is a unique opportunity & we continue to meet and discuss the opportunity with potential sponsors.

Looking at Major League Soccer TV Ratings

tv cameraIt’s  no secret that MLS has struggled to generate big national television ratings.  Despite impressive live attendance, the league’s television partners have tolerated viewership numbers hovering in the low six figures or below.  This season the ESPN2 games have averaged less than 200k per match while the NBSCN telecasts have averaged approximately 100k.  While these numbers represent a marked improvement over the average on Fox Soccer, these are not great ratings for a major sports broadcast.  This is especially so, given the limited commercial inventory available in soccer.

Yet one area of television ratings that often goes unnoticed centers on local television ratings.  We have documented the 10 year, $55 million deal the Galaxy signed with Time Warner for local broadcast rights and we have also discussed the low level deal signed by DC United this week for the coming three years.  The range of local television deals is extremely wide, with some including pre-game shows or post game shows, while others fail to send crews to away matches.

What are these local partners getting for their investment?  A recent article in Grantland provided some idea on local viewership.  The New York analysis was especially instructive.  According to Grantland, Red Bulls broadcasts averaged a .3 on MSG, far below the Knicks, but comparable to the Devils and Islanders.  Outside of New York, Grantland quotes Sporting Executive Chris Wyche, “”Our season average for 2012 was 1.1, but we had a late game that pulled a 3.7 and we were as high as 5.1 for a 15-minute day-part.”  One final reference comes from Seattle, where the Sounders have averaged a local 1.8-2.5 depending on the channel.

It is tough to draw any significant conclusion from this data, but it makes for an interesting read. We definitely recommend that you read the Grantland article and we will continue to track ratings during the season.

Monday After

sporting kansas citSporting Kansas City’s re-brand success will be a case study in sports business classes for decades.  On Friday, the team announced another potential significant building block in the promotion of soccer in the Kansas City market, with the news that the United States Soccer Federation is working with the team to locate a national training center in the region to supplement the facility at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles.  According to the AP, “the proposed $50 million National Training and Coaching Development Center would consist of a state-of-the-art campus that could play host to U.S. national team training camps along with coaching education and referee development programming.”

One other quick non-attendance note.  Lower tier San Antonio Scorpions have announced an over-the-air television deal for thirteen matches this season.   Three of the games will be broadcast on KSAT in prime time while the rest will be on derivative channels.  This is a great accomplishment for a team set to unveil an 8k stadium for the start of the 2013 NASL season.

On the attendance front, where Sporing started the week with a 19k crowd as part of a Friday night affair.  On Saturday, a smallish crowd of 16k saw an exciting TFC comeback at BMO Field.  Later in the day, barely 10k attended Crew Stadium for another early season attendance disappointment among East Coast teams.   However, the Rapids more than 15k for their Saturday evening matchup at DSG.  Portland managed a big win and a big crowd with more than 20k on Saturday night.  San Jose sold it is Saturday match-up with more than 10k in Santa Clara.  The weekend finished with a very small crowd of just over 12k at Toyota Park.

Soccer Business Bits: TV Weekend, Caps Tickets & More

unitedThe Major League Soccer weekend starts with one match Friday night with the rest of games set for the weekend.  The national television games include Columbus v. Philly on UniMas, Colorado v. Salt Lake on NBCSN and a Sunday match between New York and Chicago on ESPN2.  The league will also feature another “stream of the week” sponsored by el Jimador with the Timbers/Dynamo match.  NBCSN has continued to do a great job promoting their MLS broadcasts during their live hockey coverage.

The Vancouver Sun is reporting on the Whitecaps’ efforts to attract more fans to BC Place during their third season.  According to the article, the team is offering discounts up to 40% off face value in order to lure more fans into games.  Per the article, “the club launched a promotion this week offering discounts of up to 40 per cent for single-game tickets for the team’s next five home games, but Whitecaps’ chief operating officer Rachel Lewis said that doesn’t indicate growing concern over attendance at BC Place.” To read the entire article, which includes the nugget that more than half of league revenue comes from the gate, click here.

United’s struggles to land a real television deal has been well documented, but the team has finally announced a three year deal with the local Comcast affiliate. Unfortunately, the arrangement is not entirely favorable to United.  According to Steve Goff, the new arrangement doesn’t even start until mid-May and there are no live broadcasts after September 15.  The deal includes 16 matches for the three years of the arrangement.  Moreover, away games will be called from a studio, as there will be no travel for Dave Johnson and company.  There is also no plan for original, non-game programming.

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 first clip comes courtesy of KOMO in Seattle, the local ABC affiliate.  Seattle is the nation’s 12 largest demographic area and the clip comes from the sports portion of the 11:00 p.m. news. The clip focuses on Seattle’s involvement in the CONCACAF Champions League.  The telecast reached just over 44k viewers for a local publicity value of just over $3,000.00.  To see the clip, click here.

The next clip also comes courtesy of Portland’s NBC affiliate.  As part of KGW’s 11:00 news, there was a discussion of Will Johnson’s nomination as MLS Player of the Week.  Portland is the nation’s 22nd largest DMA.  The clip included an interview with Johnson as well as Caleb Porter.  There were also highlights of Johnson’s two goals against Colorado.  The package reached 24k viewers for less than $2,500 in local value.  To see the clip, check here.

Finally, here is an interview with San Jose Earthquakes’ owner Lew Wolff.  The chat touches on the status of the stadium opening (“sometime in 2014) and the reasons for building the stadium (need another 7k seats to reach profitability.  The interview was telecast by the local Comcast SportsNet affiliate in the Bay Area.  You can find the clip hereTimbers Billboard.

Soccer Business Bits: Dynamo TV, Jersey Sponsors & More

fox soccerThe Sports Business Journal is reporting on Houston’s substantial foray into Dynamo TV and digital content creation for 2013.  According to the article, “a staff of 10, made up of existing members of the Dynamo’s multimedia, marketing and communications department, was appointed after last season to produce Dynamo TV. While the club seeks to add more resources over the next year — including a studio, additional cameras, green screens and lighting kits — it now gets by on creativity and access.”  The channel includes looks at Houston’s youth teams, interviews with players and coaches and more. To see the Dynamo channel click here.

In a somewhat bizarre business story, MLS is featuring a piece on its website where an artist has taken the uniforms of all of the Major League Baseball teams and create soccer style jerseys for each.  As part of that process, Boston-based web developer Mark Willis customized each shirt with local flair and matched them with local jersey sponsors.  To be honest, I don’t know why Mr. Willis elected to devote his energies to this project, but some of his efforts are certainly very interesting.  Whether jersey sponsors are on the near horizon for some of the other sports leagues remains to be seen, but given the possible revenue generated by such advertising, it is difficult to imagine that the other leagues wont look in that direction eventually.

Finally, the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals start this coming week with the first league.  All matches will be on the soon to close its doors Fox Soccer.  As is true every year, a win by an MLS team would represent a significant milestone for the league.  In addition to a spot in the Club World Cup, the respect and recognition that such a victory could garner among some of the Mexican/American soccer community would substantially aid the growth of the league.

Monday After

barbasolBusy weekend in Major League Soccer, but before we jump to attendance, here are a couple of quick business items from the weekend.  First, kudos to MLS for introducing its “Stream of the Week” presented by el Jimador.  the Stream of the Week allows all fans with an account to access (for free)  the MLS Live stream for a designated game without purchasing the full subscription.  This is a great fan outreach device while also a great promotion for MLS Live.  This seems like a good business move from the league and landing a presenting sponsor is also a positive development.

One final business issue before looking at attendance,   We haven’t addressed the Robbie Rogers story on this site because it hasn’t really seemed like much of a business issue.  However, with the Robbie Rogers feature in the New York Times on Friday,  some business implications are now clear.  First, under the theory that any publicity is good publicity, the feature certainly generated some press on a prominent publication.  Two other items of note.  First, it was interesting to read comments debating about whether soccer is a major professional sport and second it will be interesting to see how this news plays with national soccer stereotypes.  Given, that MLS is targeting customers who are already soccer, fans, this issue probably won’t impact the league’s effort to grow its audience.

On to attendance, where the Galaxy/TFC match started the weekend with just over 18k at BMO Field.  Later that afternoon, just over 15,500k visited Red Bull Arena to see Theirry Henry lead New York to victory over Philly.  The Revs put just over 10k in the seats in Gillette for their second home match of the year, while Colorado continued the run of disappointing numbers with less than 12k at DSG.

The numbers picked up in the evening with more than 20k selling out Rio Tinto where RSL held off slow starting Seattle (will Sounders’ numbers suffer?).   More than 18,600 held down the forth in KC for a Sporting victory over Montreal, while Houston kept its home unbeaten streak alive before less than 17,500 fans at BSV Compass.  Finally, Chivas USA finished the busy Saturday with a crowd below 9k.