Trivia and More

bostonYesterday we offered a guest post from Jamie Clary about his travels to 17 straight MLS Cup Finals.  We posted the story on Twitter and received some interesting responses from folks believing that Jamie and his friend should be celebrated for their commitment to the league its championship.  Their story also led to some Twitter exchanges asking for other fans who have  managed the same feat to identify themselves.  To date, we haven’t found any other fans who have made it to each, but courtesy of Steve Goff of the Washington Post, we discovered that Mr. Goff, Ridge Mahoney and Michael Lewis are three journalists who have made each final.

On to trivia:

What was the hyped-up name of the championship game of the first North American Soccer League?

At first it was simply the NASL Championship Game.  In 1975, though, league executives dusted off the title that had applied to the college championship before the NCAA had created a post-season tournament.  NASL’s championship became known as the Soccer Bowl.

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

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Guest Post: I Have Attended Every MLS Cup, But That May End Soon

celebrationFootiebusiness regulars know Jamie Clary as the author of the First American Soccer Trivia Book and the provider of the weekly business trivia question.  Tonight, Mr. Clary discusses another great accomplishment; he has attended every single MLS Cup Final.  Thanks to Mr. Clary.

After three friends and I left MLS Cup ’96, we were so enthusiastic about having a legitimate top-tier league that we promised “every year”. The four of us committed to attending every future MLS championship game to support the league.

Within three years two friends failed on that commitment, but Jamey Yawn and I have made 17 of 17 finals.

That first game in Boston on October 20, 1996, was nearly canceled due to the four inches of rain that fell during the 24 hours prior to the game. Local organizers called off an annual boat race because of the rain. But needing to show stability and to fit a television schedule, the league went ahead, giving us a final that is still the most exciting one ever played.

Alexi Lalas sang the national anthem to thousands of empty seats. SportsCenter showed the game’s highlights 30 minutes into its late telecast.

Played in October, the game competed for media attention with NFL, college football and Major League Baseball playoffs. That field of competitors dwindled when MLS Cup got pushed into November and now December. Also, ESPN’s stake in the league has grown, generating more publicity for MLS Cup.

The problem with that publicity was that television viewers often saw seas of empty seats during the league’s championship game. Along with that was concern that MLS was renting entire venues but utilizing only a portion of them for the finals. The league needed to take action to cut costs and to provide a better appearance to TV viewers.

Looking at the early years, neutral venues made a poor showing when hosting MLS Cup. Foxborough Stadium hosted the final in 1996 and 1999 with more than 25,000 and 15,000 empty seats, respectively. In 1997 RFK sold out to fans watching the home team defend its title. When RFK hosted again in 2000, without the home team there were 17,000 empty seats.

In 1998 the Rose Bowl could have hosted fans of two games at once. MLS Cup was played in front of 51,000 people and 40,000 empty seats.

It did not take a team doctor to figure out that MLS Cup needed smaller venues when hosted by neutral sites. Columbus Crew Stadium was the first soccer specific stadium to host the final, presenting TV audiences with a full house in 2001 for two non-Columbus teams. It is still the smallest venue ever pressed into service for MLS Cup, offering just 20,145 seats.

Nearly three times that number attended the next year’s MLS Cup. More than 61,000 people watched the Revolution fall to LA in overtime, leaving only 7,400 empty seats in Gillette Stadium. As much as they would have liked, MLS governors could not replicate that recipe of a home team and mild October weather. The league went back to smaller venues and left MLS Cup 2002 with the record for highest attendance.

With two exceptions, smaller venues have been used since 2002. Excluding those two, the most empty seats for a final was 1,200 in 2004 at the Home Depot Center. The worst of the two outliers came in 2009 at Seattle’s Qwest Field. The stadium had 21,000 empty seats but brought in 46,000 fans to watch two out-of-town teams. We had to laugh, though, when Sounders fans sang boastfully during a game that did not involve the Sounders.

Seeing the value in using smaller stadiums, MLS governors went a step further, looking for rabid home fans and potential for higher revenues. When they chose to award the higher seed the home field for MLS Cup, they created scenes with more energy than the Super Bowl.

This year those scenes will come from Kansas City, Portland or Salt Lake—three venues with singing, flag-waving, stand-the-whole-game fans. But those fans are my competition. Jayme and I used to compete for tickets against soccer dads and a handful of traveling supporters. By contrast, we barely found tickets for last year’s final in L.A. between L.A. and Houston.

We kept our commitment last year, 17 for 17. This year could be different. We love what MLS has done for soccer. We just wish they would throw a couple tickets our way and keep the string alive, help us reach 18 for 18.

Digital MLS: Chatting with Chris Schlosser

mlsDevotees of Major League Soccer know Chris Schlosser as the Dean of MLS Digital Programs and a regular presence on Twitter.  Official he is the Vice President of Digital Media.  Before joining MLS he held various positions at MSN and is a graduate of Columbia University Business School and Colby College.

Mr. Schlosser was kind enough to respond to some questions from Footiebusiness about MLS Live, including the Stream of the Week promotion, problems with streaming speed and popularity of the service.  Mr. Schlosser also answered some questions about Direct Kick, league blackouts and MLS Digital.  Thanks to Mr. Schlosser; his thoughts are below.

MLS Digital has seen significant growth since it’s creation in 2010, with 2013 poised to become another great year of growth across the digital business. MLSsoccer is setting records for audience growth, revenue and engagement. Our product team has been busy over the 12 months with the release of a new MLSsoccer homepage, upgraded match center, enhanced mobile applications, new Apple TV application and continued upgrades to our video and streaming products. Similarly, our content teams have provided deeper, more in-depth coverage with the launch of long for series like “The Word”, new premium video programming and continued innovation in social media.
 
Stream of the week is a way for MLS to engage with our young digitally savvy fans; each week my team works to select a compelling match for the fans to watch free of charge. The free stream helped bring live soccer to new fans, generated sponsor revenue and provided a great platform to up-sell fans on our full subscription offering.
 
MLS Live and Direct Kick are roughly the same size from an audience size, however, our digital offerings have been growing faster over the last several years which is a trend I would expect to continue as bandwidth continues to increase and the number of devices that allow for easy streaming of content across a range of screen size proliferate.
 
Social media is a key focus across all of MLS. Amanda Vandervort who leads social media for the League is working across our organization to drive innovation and to find new ways to ingrate social tools into our events, sponsorships, digital experiences and office culture. We love that social media allows for a direct connection between the League, Clubs, Players, Executives and Fans. One key element of social media is speed and we are working across the digital product suite to find ways to speed up our operations. This includes match center updates, game data availability, highlights, articles, etc. 
 
MLS Live is a great value for fans, for $60 per season fans get access to over 230 live games, plus access to every game from the last four years in our archive. We are also working with our streaming partners to constantly improve and optimize our streaming experiences. Mark McClure who joined my team earlier this year after several years at DC United is leading this charge for us. You can already see the fruits of his efforts with the release of the new Apple TV application earlier this fall.
computerWhile we are working to optimize our products there will always be some lag in our streams given the need to manage satellite & fiber connections, encoding and delivery across multiple devices. Similarly, given our television contracts we will likely see blackouts for national and local games continue into the future. One big change however, is that our tv partners are starting to provide digital access to their games. MLS fans can currently watch national broadcasts on ESPN3 and NBC Sports Extra. We are also working to create tools to make blackouts easier to understand for fans, on the MLS Live website the schedule page will show you which games are blacked out specifically for your location.

Objective Player Analysis: Part II

Dave Laidig is back with the second part of his series looking at the use of statistics and numbers in soccer.  For Part I, click here.

In part 1, we reviewed Opta’s Castrol Index ratings of MLS players and
an adjusted index minimizing statistical anomalies.  In this part, we
use the objective performance data – i.e., the Castrol Index and the
adjusted ratings – to analyze the relative contribution of the
different positions, and to serve as the basis of determining the
value of each position.

The beginning of Part 2 relies heavily on the work of Benjamin
Leinwand and Chris Anderson, available at
http://www.soccerbythenumbers.com.  In short, I attempted to replicate
their work, and then extend the new areas.  I am indebted to their
efforts, and appreciate their willingness to share their results with
the public – and to start a conversation that consumes large chunks of
my free time.

Using both the Castrol Index and my adjusted scores, I set about
replicating the Leinwand- Anderson analysis.  Their analysis created a
regression equation using a team’s average Castrol Index rating for
each position and the team’s league points (i.e., a mathematical model
roughly summarized as: a Constant + Fwd Rating + Mid Rating + Def
Rating + GK Rating = Expected League Points).

The Leinwand- Anderson analysis reported Defenders have higher average
Castrol Index scores.  And the Defender position was the only one
significantly related to league points in a multiple regression
equation; an equation including a team’s average Forward, Midfielder,
Defender, and GK ratings (which are 7.07, 7.09, 7.59, and 6.53
respectively).  Considering forwards are paid more than Defenders,
this suggests that investing in defenders may be a more productive use
of resources.  Using publically available data, I was able to recreate
their result, although some of my interim calculations were a touch
different.  Replicating their process as best I could, I obtained an
R-squared of .62; meaning this model roughly explains about 62% of the
variation in a team’s league points.  Perhaps more importantly, and as
originally reported, only one position group resulted in a significant
relationship with the league table.

As stated in Part 1, I believe the Castrol Index can be improved,
especially among players with lesser playing time.  Accordingly, I ran
my adjusted index scores through the same process as the Leinwand-
Anderson analysis.  Notably, defenders still retained a higher average
rating over midfielders and forwards (7.89 versus 7.58 and 7.67
respectively), but the position averages became closer with using the
adjusted index.  Using the adjusted ratings, the R-squared value was
.72; which adds 10% over the model using the original Castrol Index
ratings.  Consequently, the adjusted ratings were a better predictor
of team performance.

Next, I attempted to address a unique soccer feature of the regression
equation.  The Leinwand- Anderson equation treats Forwards,
Midfielders and Defenders as equal units.  But we know, depending on
the formation and game situation, there are uneven numbers at each
position.  Thus, I modified the equation to account for the relative
time contribution of each position.  To do this, I used average
position score from the first analysis, and weighted it by that
position’s contribution to the overall team minutes.  For a math
illustration, the LA Galaxy forwards may have an adjusted index
average of 7.17, and contribute 20% of the team’s minutes.  I would
then report .2 * 7.17 or 1.43 as a value of that position’s point
contribution to the team.

By considering playing time with each position, the multiple
regression equation for the position’s adjusted point contribution was
significant for Forwards, Midfielders, and Defenders, with a
non-significant p-value of .14 for Goalkeepers.  Thus, this model
permits analysis of all field positions, not just defenders.  In this
model, defenders have a larger regression coefficient than
midfielders, which is larger than forwards.  This would support the
notion that defenders contribute more to wins than other positions.
Further, the R-squared value was .78; which, by explaining 78% of the
variance in league minutes, represents the model with the greatest
explanatory power (compared to .62 for the Leinwand- Anderson model
and .72 for the Leinwand- Anderson using adjusted index ratings).

Although this mathematical model shows each position’s contribution to
league points, the model is clumsy for team use.  Contracts are
determined player by player, and not position group by position group.
Thus, in order to make the equation useful, the regression equation
coefficients need to reflect the value of one player. Consequently, I
considered league data and determined forwards accounted for 19.0% of
all league minutes, midfielders 39.5%, defenders, 32.2% and
goalkeepers 9.1%.  With eleven players, I calculated how many
“players” were assigned to a particular position group.  Using
forwards for example, this position had 2.1 players’ worth of league
minutes applied to this position’s regression coefficient.

As a result, the estimated impact of inserting a field player with a
higher adjusted index score on the team’s league points can be
calculated.  Recalling our model, the defender position group had the
highest contribution to league points.  But when comparing a single
player to a single player, the value of a forward was greater than
that of a defender.  This result is due in large part to the defender
group consisting of more players than forwards, thus the defender’s
contribution is diluted by the extra players incorporated into its
effect.

To illustrate, I went back to my adjusted index scores to provide some
examples for each position.

Upgrading from a median forward to an 80th percentile forward
(represented by Zusi) would expect to yield an additional 7.98 league
points.  Upgrading from a median defender to an 80th percentile
defender (AJ DeLaGarza) would expect to yield an additional 4.68
points.  And upgrading from a median midfielder to an 80th percentile
midfielder (Zach Lloyd) would expect to yield an additional 3.03
points.

And this model can be adapted to a team’s current system of player
valuation (instead of using the adjusted index or Castrol Index) by
using the assumption that player distributions are similar. And while
the player rating distributions may not exactly replicate the adjusted
index, this method provides structure for roster management decisions.

Upon review, one is justified in saying defenders contribute more to
wins.  With a closer inspection, we see less variability among
defenders compared to other positions.  And on a player by player
basis one can justify paying more for a forward upgrade because of
greater expected results.  In sum, forwards may be more valuable for
their combination of rating and scarcity.

However, this analysis alone does not justify current expenditures.
In Part 3, we will consider how salary affects team success and
whether salary is associated with player performance.

Monday After

Timbers BillboardBack (sort of) to a full schedule this week.  Thank you for your patience.  Before we get to the attendance from the packed week of playoff action, here are a few business stories that we can catch up on from the last few days.   One of the biggest business stories surrounds reports that Major League Soccer will announce that Orlando will become the 21st MLS franchise.  While the fact of the announcement is no surprise, the apparent immediacy is.  During the prolonged window between playoff games over the next two weeks, the league hopes to grab headlines with a November 19 press conference.  Over the  past few years, the league has done well with this announcements by including supporters groups, local dignitaries and more.

One area where the league has struggled over the past few weeks is in the playoff television rating department. During the playoff run, ratings on the league’s broadcast partner, NBC have been abysmal, barely registering on the Nielsen scale.  The games on the NBC Sports Network have averaged more than 150k per game, which is fairly solid given the history of playoff numbers and the season ratings on NBCSN. The ESPN game last week was also fairly solid with just under 300k on November 3.  Recall that many of the NBCSN broadcasts were simulcasts of the RSN telecasts from the home teams.

On to attendance, which got off to a rough start in the first week but picked up thereafter. For the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship, it was a sellout at Sporting Park.  There were 4,000 tickets still available on Sunday for the game at Rio Tinto, but from appearances, the game looked close to a sellout.  For the final legs of the conference semi-finals, both Portland and RSL managed sellouts in the Western Conference. Sporting also managed a full house for their home date, while the Red Bulls fell before a crowd of more than 22k at RBA.

Thanks & Answer

Thanks for the kind words about the baby!  I will be back with a full series of posts next week.  For now, here is the trivia answer.

On November 19, 1987, President Ronald Reagan hosted FIFA President Jao Havelange in Washington D.C. What did the U.S. president want from the FIFA president?

The meeting took place in the Oval Office of the White House with USSF President Warner Fricker.  Reagan made a pitch for FIFA to play the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. Havelange talked about how impressed he had been with the U.S.’s effort for the Olympics three years earlier and eventually supported the U.S. bid.

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

Of Labor and Trivia

celebrationAt the stroke of midnight on 11/6 my third child (and second son was born)….a playoff baby!

So no post last night and a quick one tonight.  We missed trivia last week, so here is a Wednesday night trivia question.

On November 19, 1987, President Ronald Reagan hosted FIFA President Jao Havelange in Washington D.C. What did the U.S. president want from the FIFA president?

***The trivia questions come courtesy of Jamie Clary.  Mr. Clary is the author of the First American Soccer Trivia Book, available through soccerprofessor.com. He has played, coached, refereed and reported the game. During national team games, he often works with USSF compiling stats and helping media. Goalies, he feels, get too much respect from officials. Mexico and France, respectively, are his most hated teams. He plays and lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee.  The excerpts are from The First American Soccer Trivia Book by Jamie Clary; Copyright 2007 FreeFalling Graffiti