Soccer Business Bits: Chivas USA Lawsuit, ASG & More

chivasIt is no secret that Chivas USA has been something of a mess this year both on and off the field.  Attendance is lousy, the coach has been fired and the team has divested itself of a number of talented players in an apparent attempt to return the team to its Mexican roots.  It is this last issue that is now causing the team some problems in the courts.  Former Chivas USA coaches Dan Calichman and Ted Chronopoulos have brought suit against Chivas USA and its affiliated  entities alleging that their firing was discriminatory and founded in the franchise’s intention to latin-ize the team.  We will examine the complaint in detail on another night, but you can read it in its entirety here.  It is interesting that the plaintiffs elected to sue Chivas and not MLS as prior plaintiffs have elected to do in cases involving MLS franchises.

In other news, the league’s All-Star Game opponent has been announced.  The 2013 version will feature the MLS All-Stars and Italian Club Roma.  Roma features former MLS stalwart Michael Bradley and recently faltered in the Italian version of the US Open Cup.  The game will be live from Sporting Kansas City’s new home as the league continues to reward franchises that build new stadiums with premier events.

One final note tonight.  This little blurb from Legal Week discusses some of the law firms involvement in the creation of the joint venture between Manchester City and the New York Yankees.  Lawyers will be heavily involved in this process and this article provides some insight into what is required.

Bringing the Fans: The Non-Soccer Fans

mlsOn the road tonight, so here is a piece (part of a 5 part series) from 2009 looking  at ways to increase interest in MLS.  Part I looked at efforts to convert sports fans into soccer fans.

We’ve seen it all summer;  90k in the Rose Bowl, 80k in Seattle, 80k in Dallas and more.  Huge numbers tuned into the American run through the Confederations Cup and the  Gold Cup drew well nationwide.  Yet, MLS numbers remain fairly stagnant both on television and at the gate.  How can Major League Soccer tap into this multitude of soccer fans?  Should they?  Should the League be happy with crowds of 15k in smaller stadiums with limited TV ratings?

As announced, we are jumping into the business of MLS attendance.  Over the next couple of weeks we will be taking a look at different groups of people:  MLS fans, fans of the US National team, fans of European club teams, etc…  We’ve been talking to people in all of these groups about MLS and what MLS needs to do to get them to games.  Here are their thoughts.

Somewhat paradoxically, we are starting with the non-soccer fans.  These are people that are not soccer haters, but also not soccer fans.  Perhaps most interestingly, among this group, we found baseball fans most willing to give MLS a try. Those who had been to games found that they had “surprisingly” enjoyed the experience.  Perhaps second among the “willing” were hockey fans.  Far and away, the least interested were NFL fans.

Perhaps it’s the low scoring of these sports, but none of these people see put off by the relative low number of goals in soccer.  When asked what would keep them interested in MLS, a couple of consistent themes emerged.  First, they wanted atmosphere.  Those who had attended games in smaller MLS stadiums or had soccer experiences with loud and noisy crowds were far more likely to go back.  This was a different environment than what they had seen at other sporting events, and they liked it.  At the same time, these non-soccer fans wanted someone to explain what was going on in front of them.  This was true for the soccer, but more important for the “story lines” that many soccer fans hate.  They wanted to know about the players, the rivalries and the back stories.

When asked about whether MLS should be shooting for 80k at all of their games, the universal answer from these non-soccer fans  was “no”.  They all believed that 15-20k in small stadiums was a worthy target and that bigger doesn’t equal better.  Not surprisingly, these fans were not worried about the quality of play, the presence of turf or the nicknames of teams.  They wanted to have fun at the games and have a plot line to remember and cheer for (or boo).  In other words, they see no reason for the product to change.  The status quo is sufficient for them to come back…but they won’t go on their own.  They need someone to bring them to the game.

Monday (Tuesday) After

galaxyFollowing the long weekend,  back to our originally scheduled programming.  Before we get to attendance, there were a couple of newsworthy stories from the soccer weekend. The first was the nationally televised Champions League Final.  The match-up featured two German clubs vying for the European Championship.  The match was carried on Fox’s main channel and was the fourth straight year that the main network has broadcasted the game.  The game last year drew a 1.1 national rating.

It is not very often that a mid-season MLS match becomes one of the top stories on SportsCenter, yet the Galaxy/Sounders game was featured across the sports spectrum.  Soccer and non-soccer media alike featured the debut of Robbie Rogers during the 4-0 Galaxy victory.  The event provided  remarkable publicity for the league and (at least for the weekend), MLS was treated as one of the major sports in the country by media from all manner of outlets.  The league also did a great job ensuring that the debut game was a nationally televised affair.

On to attendance, and the weekend started with a soft crowd of just over 14k at RFK for the struggling United. Later in the day, just over 17k were treated to a fantastic game at Stade Saputo as well as the league’s first hat trick of 2013.  FC Dallas managed a solid 15k plus for their home game, while a rainy night in Foxboro saw a small crowd of just over 10k.  RSL and Colorado managed nearly identical crowds in excess of 18k.  This is an especially big number for the Rapids and the fans were treated to a solid 2-0 win for the home side.

The big numbers continued in KC, with a standing room only crowd well over 20k for the team’s draw with the Dynamo.  The announcement of a new team coming to New York City did nothing for the Red Bulls’ Sunday attendance, with less than 15k at Red Bull Arena. The Sunday night ESPN2 game featured the Galaxy and Sounders (and of course Robbie Rogers).  The match also drew a very solid crowd of more than 24k.

Whatever Ever Happened To?

concaveIt has been quite some time since we did this interview with Concave Sports about their new soccer cleat.  Was the product a success?

From the 2009 Footiebusiness Vault:

Dave Frederick of Concave Sports was kind enough to chat with us about his product and what is involved in marketing a new soccer shoe in the United States.  Mr. Frederick is an attorney who has been involved in sales and corporate development for a number of years. He is a lifetime soccer player and has been involved with Concave for three years.  At the bottom of this post, check our our review of the new Concave shoe. What is unique about the Concave product?

David Frederick:
The technology that we have built into the upper of the boot is unlike any other soccer shoe on the market. We have increased the sweet spot of the primary striking area of the boot by 400%, increasing power by 15% and accuracy by 30%. The easiest analogy is that we are doing for soccer what Calloway did for golf by introducing the Big Bertha driver and what Prince did for tennis by introducing the oversize racquets.

FB: What was the impetus for bringing it to market in the United States?  The soccer playing population in the US is huge at all age levels. Who is your target market?

DF: We have shoes for almost every age level and player type. Our target audience is players that want to improve their game.

FB: What is your plan for marketing Concave in the U.S.?

DF: We are taking a grass roots approach in our marketing. We are focusing PR on local channels as we open new soccer specialty retail stores. We are running promotional events with our Kicker Tube which allows players to try the boots first hand and have the speed of their shots recorded. We are also active in various social media channels such as Twitter and Face Book. We are going to be very active at soccer trade shows and promotions through soccer clubs and academies.

FB: Do you intend to enter the mainstream retail sporting goods market or soccer specialty stores?

DF: Our primary focus is on soccer specialty stores.

FB: Does Concave have any agreements with MLS teams or MLS players to wear Concave products?  Do you anticipate any such arrangements?

Brandon Barklage of DC United and Scott Palguta of the Colorado Rapids both wore Concaves during this past MLS season. We are actively engaged with additional players in the MLS and USL for sponsorships for the coming season. We have several players in England and Scotland wearing the boots, including John O’Shea and Danny Webber, as well as several players in the Championship and First Division.

FB: What does Concave charge for its boots? How did you determine the price point?

DF: Our PT+ model (kangaroo leather uppers) retail $175; PT 1 (calf leather uppers) $120; PT Midi (synthetic uppers) $70; PT Dome (calf leather indoor shoe) $80; PT Mini (synthetic children’s shoe) $50. Each model is targeted to be priced competitively in its category.

Thanks to Dave Fredereick.  Now for our thoughts on the boots. They are definitely the best looking soccer cleat we have ever seen; the unique design is certainly quite different than the tyipcal cleat design.  The shoes fit well and were very comfortable to wear.  Out on the field, they performed quite well, as ball striking was effiicent and powerful.  The larger sweet spot certainly adds a confidence factor when shooting from long range while at odd angles.  Our only criticism was that the molded shoe seemed to get clogged with dirt a bit quicker than usual, but traction never slipped and performance never suffered.

More on NYCFC

mlsThe introduction of Major League Soccer to the Big Apple isn’t a one day story.  The press conference parade continued on day 2, with the introduction of Claudio Reyna as the first member of the team’s front office.  Once again, the partners trotted out Randy Levine, Michael Bloomberg and representatives of Manchester City to promote the partnership.  YES mainstay Michael Kay hosted the press conference and the event was telecast live on the network. Manchester City and the Yankees have had a prior relationship through the Legends Hospitality arm.  From quoting Yankees President Randy Levine, “”They’re the soccer experts, but we can add a lot through our brand and knowing how to do business here in New York City and making this successful,” Levine said. “Everything we do has to be world-championship caliber, and this will be as well.”

Some other items that were revealed during the last two days have shed some additional light on the deal between City and the Yankees.  According to the New York Times, the Yankee component of the deal only came together in the last couple of weeks.  In addition, the Yankees’ contribution may be as much as $25 million towards the expansion fee.  From a soccer perspective, the Reyna hire seems fairly astute, and the former USA Captain will have two years to start preparing for play in 2015.

Some other final items.  All of the major New York area papers covered the story fairly thoroughly, although the clear leader was the New York Times.  Perhaps more interesting than the coverage, were the more than 200 comments the articles generated.  Other than some criticism of the possible construction of a stadium on local park land, the responses were generally favorable.

Start Spreading the News

cityMajor League Soccer made a huge announcement on Tuesday with the unveiling of the much awaited MLS franchise.  That the league was determined to locate a franchise within the 5 Boroughs is no surprise, but the partnership of Manchester City and the New York Yankees was unforeseen.

The wealth of City’s owners is well known to soccer fans, but the wildcard in this relationship is the New York savvy and television power of the New York Yankees.  Among Regional Sports Networks, the Yankee owned Yes network is a  powerhouse.  With large national penetration and lock down carriage agreements in the all important New York Metro area (this includes New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut), the Yes Network offers MLS a huge opportunity to become a tv presence.  Even though most of the national agreements do not allow for the broadcast of live games (and that could change for soccer), it seems likely that any relationship will include non match programming.  While a relationship with Yes has not been confirmed, it seems almost a certainty given the Yankees involvement.  Moreover, with all of the league’s national television deals set to expire in 2014, the presence of a new New York franchise that will likely spend on players will be a big negotiation carrot for the league.

Moreover, the Yankees have the ear of the New York sports media, and despite resistance to the sport among many in the fourth estate, the Yankees can leverage their brand to gain media attention.  The Yankees know how to get attention on the back pages of the Gotham tabloids and the announcement drew a fair amount of local coverage.  Right now the team has the support of the Big Apple’s outgoing Mayor, a powerful political force in the last year of his term.

Overall, this was as big of a splash as the league could have made with its New York 2 franchise.  Both names have enormous cache both inside and outside the sports world and there are enormous available dollars to select premium players.  This is an exciting moment for MLS and an important steppingstone.  If this relationship fails, it will be a significant blow to the league, but the possibility of success could serve to raise the league to new heights.

Monday After

impactThe big business story a the end of last week involved the final retirement of David Beckham.  Beckham had been playing for PSG in the French league, but it was only last year that he retired from the Los Angeles Galaxy and Major League Soccer.  From a business standpoint, it’s hard to argue that Beckham’s tenure in the United States was anything other than an unqualified success.  Despite the initial puffery involved with claims of $250 million contracts, early struggles on the field and missteps by Beckham himself, the league saw a period of great growth over the his six years.

On to attendance, where the week started with a solid 18k plus for struggling Toronto as the Reds fell to Columbus at home.  San Jose managed a sellout for their Saturday night game with just over 10,500 at Buck Shaw.  The sellout run continued with more than 18k at PPL Park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Chester.  Vancouver fell just shy of 20k for their Saturday night match and the good run of solid numbers continued with another sellout in Houston as the formerly unbeatable at home Dynamo lost for the second straight time in the friendly confines of BBV Compass.

Seattle drew its usual big number with almost 39k at Century Link as the Sounders continue to play winning soccer in the month of May.   On Sunday, the Red Bull reported a sellout for their mid afternoon tilt with the Galaxy.  The 25k plus crowd looked solid at RBA and the match was nationally televised by ESPN2 following their Sunday coverage of the last day of the EPL season.  On Sunday, United managed a crowd of more than 13k for its strea breaking game.

IN NWSL action, Jeld-Wen Field hosted a crowd of more than 12k as the Thorns played host to the Washington Freedom.  A crowd of 4300 watched Kansas City shut out Boston.

Is Soccer on Television on Boring?

E42040_Adidas_Official_World_Cup_Match_Ball_2010_tnTelevision ratings for Major League Soccer are stagnant and have been for years.  Despite improved numbers since the switch from Fox to NBC, (which can largely be explained by the number of additional households in which the NBCSN is available), soccer remains well below the other major sports in television success.  While the spectacle of the World Cup draws attention every four years, the sport has failed to gain traction with many Americans.  Success at the gate notwithstanding, why has soccer failed to hold eyeballs on television?

One hypothesis, muttered under the breath of soccer fans, yet voiced loudly by mainstream sports commentators, “soccer haters” and others, is that soccer on tv is boring.  Fans captured by the breathless excitement of the NHL, captivated by the violence and speed of football or engaged by the cerebral captivation of baseball find little appealing about soccer on tv.  Anecdotal evidence supports the contention that soccer on television is boring.  In hockey (the team sport closest to soccer in many ways, including in the amount of goals per game), a team is never more than a few seconds from a scoring chance or shot on goal.  In basketball, successful plays abound and to most Americans, little compares to the Autumn spectacle that is the NFL.

Soccer is low scoring.  To the casual fan, soccer is moments of brilliance surrounded by long periods of tedium. For every match that is a beautiful spectacle, there are five that ponderous affairs with little attacking play, long balls booted back and forth punctuated by back passes, square passes and passes to the keeper.  Soccer’s running clock begets mind numbing delay tactics and the play acting is offensive to even the most passionate fans.

So is soccer boring? As a lifelong fan, I say no, but I will leave the last word to my son.  He is a huge sports fan, has been to lots of soccer games, an NHL match, baseball games and more.  We used to watch soccer together regularly and he could name players on lots of MLS teams.  Now, five minutes of soccer is too much, while two hours of hockey, 6 innings of baseball or four quarters of football are fine.  The other day, we were watching a Crew match after an afternoon of him playing soccer and baseball.  We turned a Crew match on NBCSN when after a couple of minutes he turned to me: “Dad, soccer is boring.”

ESPN Aims Higher

espnThe American soccer television market is crowded, perhaps overcrowded.   ESPN, Fox, NBC, BeIn Sport and Gol all offer live soccer broadcasts to English language markets.  There are also a variety of Spanish language providers.  This spread of stations provides matches from around the world, year round, on weekends, prime time and more.

Today ESPN announced its plans to go higher by providing fans a daily, hourly highlight and soccer discussion show comparable to Baseball Tonight and other similar sports focused shows.  Starting on August 11, “ESPNFC will launch a daily studio show on ESPN2 beginning Aug. 11 that will feature soccer highlights from major soccer leagues in Europe as well as Major League Soccer and the U.S. and Mexico men’s national teams.”  During the week the show will be 30 minutes long and will feature many of the ESPN personalities with whom fans are familiar.

Per the official press release, “Soccer’s popularity is at an all-time high in the United States as fans are now more familiar with the world’s top players, marquee clubs and national teams. ESPNFC on TV continues our leadership role in coverage of the sport across all media,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN senior vice president for programming. “ESPNFC will inform, entertain and provide hard-hitting insight on the global sport of soccer,” added Guglielmino. “It will become ESPN’s signature program for soccer, bringing tremendous value to the company, our affiliates and the ad sales community looking to reach core and casual soccer fans in the United States.”

This is a great moment for soccer in the United States.  The afternoon show will put soccer front and center on a daily basis.  The later afternoon has been kind to a number of popular ESPN shows and the new studio show has the opportunity to positively promote the game for a very broad audience.

Soccer Business Bits: Player Cards, Free Week

advocareMajor League Soccer and Topps have announced a six year deal between the entities to make Topps the official trading card partner of MLS.  Per the Sports Business Journal,  “the company plans to produce special cards of MLS stars such as Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls and Robbie Keane of the Los Angeles Galaxy. Autographed cards — featuring Andrew Farrell, the first overall pick in the 2013 draft by the New England Revolution, among others — will be part of this year’s collection, as well. The card company will activate at league events, including the All-Star Game in July and the season-ending MLS Cup championship match.”  The first Topps collection will be released in July and the company has exclusivity for cards, stickers and more.  New York based Topps was founded in 1938 and has long been a prominent player in the trading card industry.

MLS aggressively promoted a free week of its MLS Live service during the last round of games.  The league has been working hard to put its online package in front of fans, with a weekly free game of the week feature, active promotion via Twitter an increasingly attractive options.  The package is reasonably price, provides high quality video and provides access to out of market games not available on the league’s national television providers.   MLS recognizes that the league fan base is extremely high-tech and that many of its supporters favor the online option to the traditional out of market package.

One final note. is reporting that FC Dallas is close to naming a stadium naming rights sponsor for the rest of this season and thereafter.  Fans in the Dallas area have heard these reports before, but it seems that a deal is finally close.  There has been no naming rights sponsor since Pizza Hut walked away from its deal two seasons ago.