The Heartbeat of America

us-soccerThere are few American brands as iconic as Chevrolet.  The GM product has long been associated with baseball, football and the US heartland.  Given that background, soccer seems an unlikely partner for the vehicle that promoted itself by the lyrical stylings of John Cougar Mellancamp.  Yet over the last couple of years, Chevy has aligned itself with some of the biggest soccer properties in the world.

Last year, Chevy aligned (for a measly $500 million plus) with Manchester United, one of the most iconic sporting brands in the world.  The deal put Chevy on the front of the  Man U jersey and  put the brand before millions of Red Devil fans worldwide.  Although the move was controversial (and cost Joel Ewanick his job), there is no question that Chevy grabbed a significant spot on the soccer landscape. “The brand hoped to parlay Manchester United’s fame in China (and its almost 400 million fans over there) into  Automakers sold 19.2 million vehicles in China last year, almost 5 million more than were sold in the U.S. That is expected to reach 30 million annually by the end of the decade. A large portion of those sales were in the largest cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Now comes news that Chevy has joined forces with US Soccer making it the official soccer partner of US Soccer.  Per the Detroit News,  Chevy is hoping its sponsorship with U.S. Soccer will help boost the brand in the country as soccer’s popularity here increases. GM said a soccer player lives in 30 percent of households in the U.S. Chevy already has a Youth Soccer sponsorship program that includes nearly 1,000 dealers and 850,000 youngsters across the U.S.” Per the official press release, “Through the Founding Sponsorship of One World Futbol Project, Chevrolet is donating 1.5 million virtually indestructible One World Futbols to youth in war-stricken zones, refugee camps, disaster areas, and underprivileged communities around the world.  The One World Futbol never goes flat and never needs a pump, even when punctured, providing endless play to children who need it most.”

This is big news for soccer in the United States.  Chevy is a bedrock brand in the United States and a recognized part of American sporting life.  An association with Chevy is an association with Americana and an important relationship for soccer in the USA.

Monday After

revs jerseyA limited weekend of matches in MLS with World Cup Qualifying matches across the globe.  Before we get to attendance, here are a couple of stories from the last couple of days.   USA Today has become the official photo partner of MLS and Soccer United Marketing.  According to SBJ, the mult-year deal “calls for USA Today Sports Images (a branch of the USA Today Sports Media Group) to be the preferred photo provider for all MLS clubs as well as the league’s sponsors and licensees. It will service all MLS editorial properties, including the league’s official website and Kick TV, MLS’s YouTube channel focused on international soccer coverage. Each of those outlets features still photos in addition to its video offerings.”    This is USA Today Images’ first deal with a sports property.

One other note.  The Friday night match between USA and Jamaica was exciting and available on beIN Sport in the USA.  Suffice to say, the quality of the telecast was poor and the network made the odd decision to cut to taped highlights of other matches during the run of play.  The full screen highlights interrupted the flow of play and invoked the ire of many fans following the game on Twitter.

On to attendance, where the weekend started with just over 14k at Gillettte for a dull draw on a beautiful night between DC and the Revs.  However, both the crowds and quality of soccer picked up significantly over the course of the evening.   The Chicago crowd was just over 15k, but it certainly was a lively and energetic group at at Toyota Park on Saturday night.   RSL managed a crowd of almost 19k at Rio Tinto for an exciting game against defending champions Los Angeles Galaxy.  The night ended with more than 50k in attendance at Century Link for the Cascadia matchup between Vancouver and Seattle.

Bringing the Fans: Families

soccer_mom1Still traveling, so here is another part of our 2009 series looking at efforts to bring more fans to Major League Soccer.

They are the bane of many an MLS fan, yet they continue to represent a substantial portion of Americn soccer crowds.  Teams cater to them, by offering special four packs, pre-game soccer celebrations and mascots. Who are these fans?  They are familes.  Kids, soccer moms minivans and more.

This is part two of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, famiiles, store owners and acquaintances in an effort to determine what will bring more fans to MLS. We have asked these questions at soccer matches of all levels, dinner parties, social gatherings and board meetings.  We have been asking these questions since February with an eye towards seeking out trends about MLS fandom and what brings people to Major League Soccer League stadiums.

“Hard core” MLS fans have railed against the presence of families for years.  Complaints against these fans include: “they are too quiet”  “they don’t care about the game”  “the don’t let me have fun” “they come once a year and don’t support the team” “they get up every 20 minutes” and “the stadium doesn’t let me do x because of families.”

So we asked these families (moms and dads), what they wanted from the MLS experience.   Overwhelmingly, they want their kids to have fun.  These parents are looking for a night out, and the bounce houses, mascots and T-shirt tosses are part of that.  They are looking for affordability and fun.  Many are shocked about how “professional” the MLS experience is and that the matches are “big-time.”  They are “amused” by the supporters groups, but don’t want to sit with them. They are also very willing to purchase team gear for their kids.

But perhaps more interesting was the number of these parents who desperately wanted to both understand the game and have their children understand the game.  Like the non-soccer fans discussed earlier this week, many of these parents wanted someone to explain the nuance of a sport unfamiliar to many of them.  They wanted to know the back stories of the players and whom to cheer. For many, they wanted to comprehend the intricacies of a game their kids devote hours per week to playing and appreciate more than the distance of a goalie’s punts. They view MLS as a way to connect with their kids and enter their world, but need the information to get there.

Unlike many soccer fans, MLS is not competing with European soccer clubs for the attention of these families.  While most will not become season ticket holders right away, they will come back if they enjoy the experience and if the game means something to them.  The “quality” of the game is not that important, because the level of play is far higher than anything they have seen before. They think they can co-exist with the hard core supporters and actually appreciate the atmosphere and noise they bring.

So what do we think?  Are families an important part of the MLS fanbase?  Should the League turn away from efforts to bring familes to games in lieu of younger, more passionate fans?  Can these families become those passionate fans?  Let us know your thoughts.

Soccer Business Bits: Cosmos Sponsor, EPL TV Ratings & More

FSCWith Major League Soccer moving full speed ahead with its second New York franchise the promotion happy Cosmos were briefly pushed into the background despite their aggressive attempts to seek the spotlight.  That changed on Monday, with the highly publicized announcement that the team had signed a sponsorship agreement with Emirates Airline.  Emirates will be feature on the Cosmos jersey and the big news was released at a press conference with honorary league President Pele in attendance.  The Cosmos start play on August 3 at their temporary home at Hofstra University on Long Island.

Last week the story broke that ratings for ESPN’s EPL broadcast had dropped significantly.  The early morning weekend staple averaged just over 250,000 viewers over 51 games during the 2012/2013 season.  This represents a significant decline from the 320k the broadcasts had averaged during the previous season. Recall that NBC announced  that it will be come the new television home of the EPL beginning in August thanks to a $250 million deal for three years of exclusivity.  If this purchase represents a declining property, the EPL could represent yet another soccer property that fails to deliver significant returns. Whether the decline is due to a lack of interest in EPL, a lack of competition or a network (ESPN) with lessened motivation to televise the games, the downward trend is troubling.

Finally, it was announced on Tuesday that Fox and ESPN will have joint rights to broadcast World Cup and Euro Qualifiers for the next several years.  According to Johnathan Tannewald, “Fox and ESPN will each have rights to 129 Euro 2016 qualifiers, 129 World Cup 2018 qualifiers and 15 friendlies between 2014 and 2018.”

Selling Tickets in MLS

chivasEvery so often we like to take a look at what teams around Major League Soccer are doing to market their teams and sell tickets.  It has been a while since we have looked at these efforts.  Let’s start with the struggling second citizens of Los Angeles, Chivas USA.  The tottering franchise hosts it’s local rivals on June 23.  The team is partnering with video provider Red Box to offer discounted tickets to the SuperClassico.  Tickets under the deal  start at just $12 and are available at more than 1,800 Red Box locations around the City of Angels.  The highest price ticket in the package is only $19 per seat, a $5 discount from standard pricing.  The Classico match-up is an important for the league and the June 23 date represents the best chance for Chivas to managed a decent crowd this season.

The Revs have been a revelation on and off the field so far in 2013 and the team is promoting its brand through 4 and six game plans in 2013.  The discounted packages start at just $88 in the Fort and allow fans to choose which games the select.  The tickets can be printed from home and used in any combination to attend matches at Gillette.  The Revs have been down for so long, that the seemingly revitalized unit has drawn some interest over the last few weeks.  Success on the field never translated to great ticket sales, even during the glory years of Twellman, Dempsey, etc…, but is New England ready to now embrace their soccer team?

RSL is offering discounted seats as part of its Maverick Mayhem Corner. The tickets are only $16 and can be purchased at more than 60 Maverick locations in the Salt Lake City area.  The promotion also encourages fans to to scan their Maverick rewards cards in order to earn additional free and discounted gear and tickets.

 

Monday After

FIFABefore we get to the attendance picture, a quick note on the doings of FIFA partner McDonald’s in advance of Brazil in 2014.  The official restaurant of FIFA World Cup is running a promotion that provides entrants with a chance to win trips to the World Cup, trips to USA/Mexico in Columbus, t-shirts, video games and more.  You can enter via MCDONEGOAL.com and the promotion ends no July 7, 2013.  The promotion is offered in conjunction with EA Sports and is being advertised in conjunction with the provision of McDonald’s nutrition information.

On to attendance, wheres the weekend started in Toronto.  The struggling Reds managed more than 19k, while the Red Bulls pulled a crowd of just over 19,500 for their home loss at Red Bull Arena. Columbus barely crossed the 10k mark, as the attendance difficulties continue at the League’s original soccer specific stadium.  The attendance uptick at DSG Park continued with more than 17,500 in attendance on Saturday night, while Sporting continued its solid numbers with more than 19k.

RSL also crossed the 19k threshold as some of the League’s middle attendance teams put up solid numbers during a toasty and storm filled weekend.   Chivas actually progressed to 9k plus for their home loss to Seattle, as the nightmare in LA continues to be on display.   The Revs showed very well for their nationally televised date with the Galaxy, with more than 19k at Gillette on a warm Sunday evening.  The Revs game was preceded on NBCSN by the season debut of MLS36 focusing on Omar Gonzales.The struggles in Bridgeview continued, as the Fire manged less than 15k at Toyota Park on Sunday night.

The Sunday crowd at RFK for the USMNT match against Germany was just shy of 50k.