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. MLSSoccer.com 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.

Monday After

breakersBusy week in Major League Soccer with a host of mid-week games and a packed weekend, so we will jump right into attendance.  The early games started in with DC United, with less than 11k at RFK to watch DC fall 4-0 in another disappointing outing for the Black and Red. The Red Bulls fell just short of 12k in their mid-week effort, while KC managed its usual 18,500 plus.   The typical poorly attended Revs’ mid-week game streak continued, with barely 8k at Gillette for the team’s late loss to RSL.  The night finished with Dallas barely crossing the 10k mark for their mid-week match and just over 10k in San Jose .  None of these numbers did wonders for the league’s average attendance in 2013.

Not surprisingly, the numbers were better on Saturday night, but still not oustanding.  Chicago crossed over the 12k mark, yet attendance remains poor in Bridgeview this season.  Later on Saturday, the crowd for the Montreal Impact was similarly disappointing, with less than 15k in attendance at Stade Saputo.  As usual, the crowd in Seattle raised the attendance figures with more than 38k at Century Link for the Sounders’ second consecutive win.   The Northwest continued its strong attendance push with 21k at BC Place. With the Canucks season finished, the Whitecaps are now the only game in town.

The big attendance surprise came courtesy of the Revs, who managed 16+ for their Saturday night tie with the Red Bulls.  Whatever the reason, this is the second consecutive solid weekend crowd at Gillette.  The Crew managed less than 12k for their weekend tilt at Crew Stadium.  FC Dallas managed more than 14k for their second match of the week at home.  The Pacific NW raised the average on Sunday, with more than 20k at Jeld-Wen for the home team’s 3-0 drubbing of Chivas USA.

In NWSL action, the Western New York Flash, played before 2700 at Sahlen Stadium.  In New Jersey, Sky Blue drew less than 1500 for their home match, while more than 4k were in Maryland for a DC/Boston match.

Soccer Business Bits: Continental Tire Goes Further & Galaxy Promotions

galaxySince 2010, fans of Major League Soccer have become very accustomed to advertisements for Continental Tire during telecasts of MLS matches on national networks.  There have been multiple reports that the North Carolina based company has re-signed a multi-year deal with MLS to remain as the league’s official sponsor in the tire category.  As part of the deal, Continental has also inked a multi-year deal with US Soccer.  Per SBJ, “Germany-based Continental Tire becomes one of seven companies with deals to sponsor both the USSF and the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The others are Anheuser-Busch, Visa, McDonald’s, Castrol, Yingli Solar, and Johnson & Johnson. Continental Tire has been a FIFA sponsor for the last two decades.”  SBJ also provides a quote from Travis Roffler of Continental Tire “We wanted to lock up soccer in the U.S. for an extended period of time.  It’s the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., and our expectations for the World Cup in Brazil next year are very high.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Galaxy are cross promoting, with the Dodgers hosting a Galaxy night at Dodger Stadium and a Dodger night at the Home Depot Center.  LA Galaxy Night at Dodger Stadium is tomorrow. “The Dodgers are offering LA Galaxy fans a ticket package starting at $27 that includes a ticket in the All-You-Can-Eat-Pavilion and access to a pre-game autograph session from 5:40 p.m. to 6:20 p.m. in the right field pavilion with LA Galaxy players scheduled to attend: Colin Clark, Greg Cochrane, Todd Dunivant, Sean Franklin, Rafael Garcia, Bryan Gaul, Chandler Hoffman, Hector Jimenez, Kofi Opare, Brian Rowe, Charlie Rugg, Oscar Sorto, Kenny Walker and Gyasi Zardes as well as Associate Head Coach Dave Sarachan.Fans that purchase tickets by visiting www.dodgers.com/galaxy will be able to get autographs from these players and pose for photos with the 2011 and 2012 MLS Cup Trophies. LA Galaxy players will participate in pregame jersey exchange and the ceremonial first pitch. Galaxy fans can enjoy Dodger favorite concession items including unlimited Dodger dogs, nachos, popcorn, peanuts and Coca-Cola products all included in the price of their ticket.”  These types of cross promotions are immensely valuable, as they put the Galaxy name before a new sports audience.

Marketing in Dallas: Interview with Kelly Weller

advocareKelly Weller is the Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Strategic Planning for FC Dallas.  Ms. Weller has been with the team since December, 2008.  Prior to joining FC Dallas, Ms. Weller had worked for the Dallas Morning News, where she was the Director of Marketing and Sales for Quick.  Ms. Weller was kind enough to answer some questions about FC Dallas’ marketing efforts and sponsorship relationships.  Back in 2011, we did a chat with FC Dallas’ Justin McCord touching on many of the same issues.  You can find that chat here. Thanks to Ms. Weller.

Footiebusiness.com: What type of marketing efforts does the team make to attract soccer fans in the Dallas who follow the sport (in Europe, Latin America, etc…) but not the team? 

Kelly Weller:  This has been our target audience for the past three years. We are actively pursuing  the soccer-connected fans in Dallas, who have not yet converted to MLS/FCD . It’s something we’ve been very strategic about, approaching them where they live, play, work and consume their soccer. In media, that has meant targeting soccer fans during televised soccer matches, through digital and social media, soccer websites, fan blogger sites, etc… Where we can’t go specifically to soccer, we at least target large sports audiences through things such as ESPN Radio and DallasNews.com/SportsDay coverage. The second aspect has been a large grass roots effort through pubs, adult soccer leagues, indoor/outdoor venues; adult soccer tournaments, college campuses and apartment complexes.

FB: Do you use billboards and newspapers or a more targeted approach? How has this approach changed over time?

KW: When we first started focusing on soccer-connected fans, we were able to gain a significant number of new fans because we hadn’t targeted that group or put any dedicated resources towards them yet. Now three years later, we’ve converted thousands, and feel we have our most engaged soccer fan base in the history of our club. We still want and need more of these fans, and we’re switching to more grass roots with less media focus, so we can penetrate that group at a deeper level.


FB: What are the biggest challenges to selling tickets in such a crowded sports landscape? Is FC Dallas in competition with other sports franchises for paying customers? What can the team do to distinguish themselves from other franchises in the Dallas area?

KW: We know from research that soccer fans are a unique audience with less overlap of attending other professional sports than most of the other major leagues in this country.  There are enough soccer fans in Dallas for us to be successful regardless of the competitive sports landscape.

fc dallas
FB: With the season just underway, are there any other marketing/branding efforts (either inside or outside the stadium) that Dallas fans should be on the lookout for in 2013?

 KW: We’re continuing to build on what we’ve done in 2011 and 2012, and that is to go out and promote to soccer fans, get them into the building for a game, and provide them the most authentic soccer experience possible while in the stadium. We’ve seen huge improvements in atmosphere and fan experience with things like our scarfing ceremony and the Budweiser Beer Garden on the north end zone field behind the goal.  We’re continuing to help our supporters with additional resources like flags, drumline, banners, etc., and help where they would like it, recruiting more to come out, because they are the heart of the fan experience at our games.

FB: When I chatted with former FC Dallas Director of Marketing, Justin McCord back in 2011, season ticket sales were up 300% and the team had tripled its house sales staff. Have those numbers continued to climb?  How many season ticket holders does the team now have?  What is the team doing to continue to increase that number?KW: Yes,  our season ticket holders are continuing to grow, we continue to renew existing ones at a very high level, our average attendance also continues to rise every season.   It is the number one focus of our sales team.   

FB: Last Summer the team hit a significant milestone with the signing of AdvoCare as team’s first longterm jersey sponsor?  How did that deal come together?  What are the team and AdvoCare doing to activate around their relationship in 2013?

KW: It was a great group effort.  AdvoCare was an existing partner with FC Dallas so they were already familiar with the club and already saw the value in our relationship.  The jersey deal was all about timing. It had to be right for their business and ours.  We launched the jersey deal at our game versus the Galaxy last year in front of a sold out crowd on National TV and haven’t stopped since.  We participate in their success school, and they participate in several initiatives of ours.  Their distributor base has grown to 300,000 since the beginning of our partnership.   Being that this is our first full season and that the jerseys are now on sale to the public, we’ll be doing quite a bit more. 


FB: Finally, the naming rights deal with Pizza Hut ended last year.  Do you anticipate new facility naming rights partner in the near term? 

 KW: Yes, it’s one of the top priorities for our enterprise to find a new partner for our stadium and complex.  With more than 1.8 million visitors each year and more than 350 days of usage on the complex, the naming rights are a tremendous value for any partner.

Monday After

alex morganThe USWNT will play two home games in the Spring/Summer on the East Coast.  Red Bull Arena and Gillette were announced as the venues.  There was a some dispute about the selection of a turf venue for the matches, but for the first time in a while, Foxboro will play host a US International.

On to attendance, where the week started with a Wednesday night match featuring New England and Portland.  The match was yet another sellout for the Timbers who continue to pack Jeld-Wen Field with fans and atmosphere.  On Saturday, Star Wars night drew more than 18k at PPL Park in Philadelphia for a match that was entertaining and full of goals.   Columbus drew a national television audience on NBCSN, a marquee opponent in the New York Red Bulls, but only 12k fans came to Crew Stadium on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in May.

San Jose came up just short of a sellout with just over 10k in attendance.  While the crowd was just short of capacity, the team doesn’t have many seats to sell and any crowd short of a full house a disappointment.  The   low numbers continued with less than 13k at DSG for the Rapids’ victory over visiting Toronto.  Even RSL continues to struggle at the gate with less than 18k at Rio Tinto on Saturday night.  On Sunday, just short of 19k were at Sporting Park to see the home team beat Chivas USA 4-0.

In the NWSL, more than 2,500 fans came to Starfire to watch the Seattle Reign fall to Kansas City.  Portland won for the third straight time, with more than 5,000 fans in Maryland to see the Alex Morgan led Thorns continue their hot start.  In Sommerville, MA, the Breakers defeated Chicago before more than 3,000 fans who got to see the league’s first hat trick during the 4-1 win.  Finally, Sahlen Stadium in Western New York saw just under 3k for the Flash’s victory of Sky Blue.