Monday After

Strong slate of games in Major League Soccer on a weekend with soccer coming from all angles.  The US Women played against South Korea at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.  The Confederations Cup was front and center on the ESPN networks, with matches featuring prominent teams from Brazil, Spain and Mexico.  The NWSL was also on display as the new league continues its steady showing around the country.  Before we get to the MLS attendance, one note about the NWSL.  The league has finally announced its national tv schedule for the relationship with Fox. FOX Soccer is set to televise one game per week over the final six weeks of the season with each club appearing at least once on national television, leading up to the NWSL Playoff.  The broadcasts will begin on July 14 at 8:30 p.m. ET.

On to MLS, where Jeld-Wen saw its usual 20k plus sell out as part of the national tv game on ESPN2.  The match was fairly exciting and the Timbers Army was in full throat making for a grand spectacle on the WorldWide Leader.  The Crew pulled a huge 18k plus crowd at home.  DC United managed a crowd of just under 14k for their battle of cellar dwellers.  Given the fate of DC this season, big crowds will be a challenge as the season moves forward.  Colorado managed a crowd of just over 15k at DSG. There have been some big numbers at DSG, but given the weather and the teams, this number falls slightly short of expectations. No small crowd at BC Place for the Whitecaps barn burner with the Revs. More than 20k were in attendance for an exciting matchup between the resurgent Revs and high flying Whitecaps.

Looking at TV Numbers

floodJust a quick note looking at television numbers from the last week.  SBJ reported that the USA/Panama qualifier drew 1.4 million viewers on ESPN and 1.2 million in Spanish on UniMas.   The English language numbers translate into a .8 rating, which is the second highest number for a USA Cup Qualifier.  Of course, the best overall numbers came earlier this year when the USA traveled to Azteca to draw with Mexico.  According to tvbythenumbers.com, “San Diego was the top market for the match telecast, delivering a 2.5 rating.  Rounding out the top five were: Seattle-Takoma, Wash. (2.5), Baltimore (2.1), Hartford-New Haven, Conn., (1.9), and Nashville (1.9).”  These are very solid numbers on a week night with the NBA Finals on at the same time.

 

Soccer Business Bits: MLS Good Works & Namoff Suit

unitedMajor League Soccer issued a press release on Wednesday stating that the league and the MLS Players Union have partnered with You Can Play, a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.  According to the official statement, “The diversity found in our League has always been a point of pride for us,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “Our MLS WORKS ‘Don’t Cross the Line’ initiative is a strong statement that we are a league that stands against discrimination. We are proud to partner with You Can Play to ensure that all of our fans and players know that MLS is committed to providing a safe environment where everyone is treated equally, and with dignity and respect.”

Last Fall we wrote about a lawsuit initiated by former DC United Defender Bryan Namoff.  In a case filed in the District of Columbia, Namoff and his wife have sued DC Soccer LLC d/b/a DC United and former United coach Tom Soehn.  The Complaint alleges that Namoff suffered a hit to his head in 2009 during  a match against Kansas City.   After completing the game, Namoff was allegedly diagnosed with a concussion.The Complaint alleges that appropriate tests were not conducted to evaluate Namoff’s post concussion condition.  Three days later, Namoff played in match against Seattle.  The Complaint sounds in counts of medical malpractice, negligent training and others. The Complaint, a copy of which is attached here, courtesy of Courthouse News, is seeking in excess of $10 million.   There is also a claim for loss of consortium brought by Namoff’s wife seeking an additional $2 million. A Judge has denied a motion to dismiss filed by United in that case (a standard tactic for defendants).  The decision addressed the interesting issue of whether DC United needs to carry Comp insurance.  Now the case will proceed into the discovery phase, where the parties will have the right to exchange documents, take depositions and investigate the facts.

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.”