Soccer Business Bits: MLS Digital Success, Playoffs onTV & More

propaneSports Business Journal is reporting that the average monthly users to MLSSoccer.com is up 86% year over year.  According to the article, “in September alone, there were more than 2 million users on the league’s website, along with a total of more than 5 million users across the league and club sites, according to MLS data.”  The website employs 100 people including full and part time workers.  When MLS emerged out from under the MLB Advanced Media umbrella back in 2010, the league’s stated goal was to make its website a go to destination for soccer fans (not just MLS fans) and the numbers suggest that MLSSoccer.com has achieved that goal in its first three years.

The television schedule for the MLS Playoffs are finally set and the second season has a decidedly NBC flavor.  The league’s junior English language partner is televising both play-in games and carrying additional telecasts throughout the first round of playoffs either on NBCSN or NBC.  Only one of the scheduled playoff games (New England/SKC), will not be on national television.  NBCSN made the outstanding decision to link with the Regional Sports Networks and provide the local telecasts over the NBCSN airwaves.  This decision shows both the commitment of NBC to MLS and the value of having a national television partner eager for live content.

In other business news, David Beckham’s entry into MLS remains a hot topic of discussion around the sport. It has been repeatedly reported that Beckham is set to pay a discounted fee of $25 million to bring an MLS franchise to Miami.

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Front Office Award

chicago-fireIt is award season in MLS, and it is time to start looking at the candidates for the Footiebusiness Front Office Award. In past years, the Award was defined this way:  “Department recognized for consistent, accurate and proactive efforts in providing media members with information and generating coverage for its team.”  However, because this is now a Footiebusiness Award, we think recognition for marketing and promotional efforts should also be included. For purposes of this award, the “2013 year” started when voting closed last October.

Last year the winner was the Chicago Fire.  The team had a great year in the stands with attendance increasing by 15% to well over 16,000 fans per game.     Perhaps the biggest business news for Chicago came during the Winter, when the team announced a $1.3-1.5 million dollar per year jersey sponsorship agreement with Quaker Oats. If the report is accurate, the new deal is a great score for a Fire franchise that went without a jersey sponsor in 2011 after Best Buy ended its relationship before the season started last year.  The team also has done a great job on social media and prepared some great visuals to celebrate its 15th anniversary.

In 2011, the winner was Sporting Kansas City.  The team effectively managed its social media presence, ensuring that fans and media were kept apprised of important developments all season long.   The team’s leadership is active on Twitter, providing access to fans unmatched by most teams.  The team shattered its own attendance mark, averaging more than 19,400 for 2011;  Sporting settled into its new digs and has become a fixture in the Kansas City sports scene.  The team also had to manage the bad publicity from its affiliation with Lance Armstrong and LiveStrong, a known risk when they executed their stadium naming rights deal with the charity.  On the downside, the team has failed to secure a jersey sponsor despite its increased popularity.

There will be four nominees in 2013 for the award.  Check back to see write-ups of all of the nominees over the coming days.  In the interim, drop us a line with your nominee.

Jersey News

rslThe big business story of the day was the report that RSL has signed a 10 year, $30 million deal with LifeVantage that starts next year.  This is yet another multi-level marketing sponsor for the league, as LifeVantage is a fast growing company that competes with Herbalife, the Galaxy Sponsor.  The deal compares favorably with other MLS jersey deals.  According to SBD, the deal came together in just one month despite two other deals sitting on RSL’s doorstep.  We are traveling tonight, but here is a two year old post looking at jersey sponsors around the league and the world.

In January 12, 2011, the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer announced a four year, $12 million dollar deal with Mexican food conglomerate Bimbo.   While the notion of prominent uniform advertisements is foreign in most American sports, MLS has embraced such sponsorships as an important source of revenue.  After the expiration of deals in Columbus and Chicago, six MLS franchises are searching for a primary jersey sponsor,while  the rest of the teams have inked deals worth millions of dollars with world renown companies such as Microsoft, BMO and VW.  Although still in its infancy, MLS’s recent foray into the world of jersey sponsorships provides an interesting comparison to the value placed on such ads in other prominent leagues.

In December, FC Barcelona signed a five year, $200 million dollar jersey sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation.  The deal was especially notable because of the storied club’s prior refusal to carry a commercial sponsorship on their chest.  The team had paid UNICEF for the past five years for the privilege of wearing the charity’s name on its kit.  In England, EPL leaders Manchester United wear the name of Chicago based Aon Corp. on their jerseys.  According to USA today, the deal to replace fallen AIG was valued at $131 million dollars over four years.  According to the same report, the deal was worth more than 17% over the T-Home sponsorship of Bundesliga club Bayern Munich.

Yet for purposes of comparison, these world renown clubs are probably not the best marker for the nascent teams in MLS.  Many of the mid-table and drop zone candidates in European leagues carry deals that compare favorably to their MLS cousins.    Last season, the BBC reported that seven EPL clubs carry sponsorship deals valued at less than $1.6 million dollars. According to a recent analysis conducted by SPORT + MARKT, the 18 remaining teams in La Liga (after Barcelona and Real Madrid are removed), average less than $2.5 million per jersey deal.  Similarly, with all 20 teams accounted for in France’s Ligue 1, the average jersey sponsorship is valued at less than $4 million dollars per team.

With a significant number number of MLS deals worth in excess of 2 million dollars annually (and some valued over $4 million per year), the data shows that once extreme outliers such as Barcelona and Manchester United are exluded, companies are willing to invest similar dollars for a slice of the uniform in MLS and Europe.  While many fans will find these numbers surprising, these figures show the value of the American marketplace and the tremendous growth MLS has made among corporate marketers in the last 15 years.

Monday After

henryThe Supporters Shield has been awarded, the playoff field is set and regular season is over.  It was another banner year for Major League Soccer and the playoffs promise to be another fantastic second season.  Before we get to attendance from the long weekend, one quick business note.  The Columbus Crew were named International Organization of the Year by the Columbus World Affairs Council.  Per the presser: “the Black & Gold were honored for the club’s efforts in the community by helping build soccer fields as well as cultivating growth of the game of soccer by becoming an international hub for a global adoration of the sport during the U.S. Men’s National Team “Dos a Cero” victory over Mexico in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifier at Crew Stadium in September. CCWA recognized that this led new Americans and a diverse group of community members to stand together with the Crew and Crew Stadium throughout 2013.”

The attendance picture started to form with a mid-week tilt at Rio Tinto between RSL and Chivas USA.  RSL sold out the stadium for their regular season finale.   The week continued on Saturday with more than 18k at PPL Park for a match that saw the end of the disappointing season for Philadelphia.  TFC also missed the playoffs (again) and their terrible season at the gate continued with less than 14k at BMO Field.  The Reds are at a team crossroads after so many years of failure and the on field problems finally manifested in small crowds.

Another team that came up short both on the field and at the gate is Chivas USA.  The team fell in their season opener before less than 12k at the Stub Hub.  The nationally televised game featured on NBC was DC and Houston.  Less than 14k were at RFK for the match, which looked terrible on television and was an unfortunate conclusion to the network season.  The game that deserved the showcase was the sold out affair between New York and Chicago at Red Bull Arena.  The celebration of the team’s first trophy made for great theater, as did the 5-2 result.  While there were more than 25k at Red Bull Arena, there was a solid 17k plus at Crew Stadium as the team fell short in their bid for the playoffs in 2013.

Triva & More

mlsIt all comes down to this.  MLS teams are fighting for playoff positioning and playoff spots. NBCSN will have two games this weekend while NBC will have one.  Many have commented that the league and its partners have missed a great opportunity to present another whip around show with live look ins throughout a multi-hour window.  Instead, NBCSN will one meaningless game and one game with playoff implications, while the network mothership will show a match with significant ramifications for Houston while they battle with cellar dweller Houston.   Probably the most significant game of the weekend will be on UniMas, which will have Chicago and New York fighting for a playoff spot and the Supporters Shield respectively.  ESPN rounds out the week with Seattle and Los Angeles in a match that may have some playoff positioning implications, but both teams are slated for the postseason.

On to trivia, where we offer a Florida themed question given the big Orlando news of the week.

What Florida city was the final home of the Tea Men, a member of the North American Soccer League?

Answer at the bottom of the page in italics.

Before we get there, one quick note.  The group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League finished up this week.  There were great hopes for the tournament, but it seems to have again faded into obscurity.  The regional championship deserves better than half empty stadiums, poor telecasts and limited coverage.

The name made more sense when the team was located in Boston and owned by Lipton Tea. The name made less sense when the team moved from Boston to Jacksonville, Florida, for the 1981 season.

Excerpt from The First American Soccer Trivia Book by Jamie Clary; Copyright 2007 FreeFalling Graffiti. www.soccerprofessor.com

Soccer Business Bits: Timbers Promo

Portland-Timbers-logoIt is awards season in MLS and the Portland Timbers (like many teams) are making a full push for its players and staff to be recognized.  However, the Timbers ratcheted up the promotional efforts with a poster sized, glass covered picture frame that features Caleb Porter as a coach of the year candidate.  The poster reads “Big Hearts, Brass Balls” and references a special Widmer Brothers Caleb Porter Brew (Widmer is a Portland brewery).  The back of the frame includes a primer on some of the other Portland Timbers who are up for awards this season.

However, the big business news is that Orange County Commissioners voted in favor of pushing  $20 million in tax revenue towards the construction of a new stadium in Orlando.  Combined with the announcement from Tuesday that MLS is planning to award the next MLS expansion franchise to Orlando if the vote passed (for a cool $70 million) and the vote has passed.   The team is aggressively aiming to have its stadium constructed in time for the 2015 season and to enter the league at the same time as NYCFC, which despite the head start, will not have a stadium ready by 2015. The league is now adding the 19th largest DMA to the league in advance of negotiations of a new tv deal.

One final note.  It was reported that a future episode of the Simpsons will feature the family heading to Brazil for the World Cup.  The most famous episode of the venerable show featuring Homer and the gang mocked the sport of soccer a bit “Holds It” but it will be interesting how the sport fares this time around.

Big Day for Orlando

orlandoFor fans excited about the possibility of Major League Soccer in Orlando, Tuesday is an enormous day.  Officials in Orange County will vote whether to direct $20 million in taxes towards the construction of a soccer specific stadium in Orlando for a new MLS franchise.  The deal has already been approved by City Commissioners, but County approval is also required.  MLS has announced that if the deal is approved, the franchise will be awarded to Orlando as the 21st franchise.    According to an interview conducted by the Orlando Sentinel with MLS President Mark Abbott, “What fans want is to be able to come to a first-class facility,” Abbott said. “They want it to be intimate so it allows great sight-lines for the sport, but they also want the same amenities that they’ll find at other professional venues.”Orlando City president Phil Rawlins previously told the Sentinel he expected it would take 30 days to work out a franchise agreement if the stadium funding was approved.”

Orlando has been moving aggressively towards an MLS franchise for quite some time.  The City (through Disney) has been successfully hosting the Pro Soccer Challenge for a number of years.  Per the Orlando Sentinel, The $94.5 million agreement approved by a 7-0 vote of the Orlando City Council also includes another $25 million in tourist tax funding for the Dr. Phllips Performing Arts Center, $12 million for the Citrus Bowl; $27.5 million for tourism ads; and $10 million for improvements to the Orange County Convention Center.

As we have previously stated, this seems like a perfect market for MLS.  Big population underserved by the sports world, with a young population.  One possible sticking point is the proximity to Miami.  With an expansion team possible destined for Southbeach, there could be 2 MLS sides within 3 hours of each other.