Expansion Update: 2013 Wrap

twinnAfter a slow period at the beginning of the year, the expansion news really heated up in 2013.  Teams 20 and 21 have been announced, with New York City FC and Orlando set to join Major League Soccer in 2015.   The new franchise in the Big Apple will combine the wealth and soccer background of Manchester City with the New York savvy of the Yankees.  The wealth of City’s owners is well known to soccer fans, but the wildcard in this relationship is the New York savvy and television power of the New York Yankees.  Among Regional Sports Networks, the Yankee owned Yes network is a  powerhouse.  With large national penetration and lock down carriage agreements in the all important New York Metro area (this includes New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut), the Yes Network offers MLS a huge opportunity to become a tv presence.  Even though most of the national agreements do not allow for the broadcast of live games (and that could change for soccer), it seems likely that any relationship will include non match programming.  While a relationship with Yes has not been confirmed, it seems almost a certainty given the Yankees involvement.  Moreover, with all of the league’s national television deals set to expire in 2014, the presence of a new New York franchise that will likely spend on players will be a big negotiation carrot for the league.

Later, Orlando joined the party in November with its eyes also set on 2015.  The reported entry fee will be $70 million, far in excess of prior fees (other than NYC) and supportive of the higher MLS valuations noted by Forbes Magazine (see below).   The minor league version of Orlando City averaged just over 8,000 per game in 2013, a number the franchise hopes more than doubles with the team’s entry into the top tier of American soccer.  The permanent home of Orlando City S.C. will hold 18,000 and the home team will be the first MLS squad to sport purple uniforms. The team’s jersey sponsor will be Orlando Health.

In addition, franchises in Miami, Atlanta and the Twin Cities were in the news as prospective owners lobbied the league and local communities for a spot in the next group of three teams.  From David Beckham to LeBron James to Arthur Blank, this is a varied group of potential franchise owners.  These are exciting times for Major League Soccer and its fans, and 2014  promises to provide plenty of MLS expansion news.

Post of the Year: Cascadia Debate

Last entrant in the “post of the year” category and it comes from another Laidig entrant.  We waded into the the ongoing debate about the propriety of the league’s trademark application filed to secure rights to the Cascadia Cup.  I took one position and Footiebusiness contributor Dave Laidig offered his reply.  For more of Dave’s excellent work, click the tab at the top of the page, and find some more here.

xboxThe debate surrounding MLS’s trademark application of the Cascadia Cup is intense.  And each side has valid points.  The Supporter Groups that creates the Cascadia Cup nearly a decade ago – when the teams where in a different league – rightly feel that they own the Cup.  The Supporters have managed the ceremonial aspects of the Cup, its award and the subsequent taunting of the other teams, and have not neglected the Cup. For their part, MLS literally owns all of the teams that compete for the Cascadia Cup.  And it’s a common fact of modern day sports that leagues have an obligation to aggressively protect their brands.  To do otherwise may be interpreted as forfeiture of their rights, and may allow third parties to muck up the brand, confuse customers, and ultimately cost money.  In this situation, it’s tough to say who is right, and who is wrong.  

But Major League Soccer is wrong – I guess that wasn’t so tough. The league may not be wrong with regards to the law (and really this should not get that far).  They may not be wrong with trying to protect their investment.  The league is wrong because it misjudged its own customers, and pissed off a large swath of fans (and not just those in the Pacific Northwest) by roughly appropriating their creation. It’s tough to stay in business when you screw over your customers.

The Supporter Groups rightly have concerns about MLS ownership of their Cup. The award and caretaking of the Cup is between fan organizations, and represents these groups as much as the teams. By claiming ownership without notifying the groups, the league has indicated that it either (1) is not concerned with the Supporters Groups, or (2) feels it needs to hide its actions from the Supporters Groups.  Regardless of the reason, MLS is foreshadowing that the league may manage the trademark in conflict with the goals of the Supporter Groups.  The league may sell a sponsorship for the event that the Supporter Groups don’t want associated with their name.  Or the creation of a taunting t-shirt by a fan could be shut down as producing counterfeit goods – and one of the best parts about being in a Support Group is the homemade stuff.  Indeed, the league may cut out the Supporters Groups altogether if they wish.  Any of these events offends justice, and the league’s attempt to assure fans rings hollow after their unannounced and unilateral claim to the Cup.

And the fact is that the league already monetizes the event.  With every TV promo, crowd shot, and every ad sale, the league is making money off the creation of the fans.  So far, the Supporter Groups in the spirit of partnership with the league have not filed a claim asking MLS to return their profits. Unfortunately, MLS has not extended the same courtesy to its fans. 

If I could arbitrate a solution to this impasse, I would recognize that the Supporters Groups get to use their creation, and allow the league to police third parties.  The league indicates that it did not wish to infringe upon its fans.  Great, put it writing.  Whichever party ends up with “ownership,” the other party should be granted a license to use the mark.   Give the Supporter Groups some say in whether there will ever be a title sponsor, and recognize that the physical trophy and award will be controlled by supporters.  The league is in a better position to police the mark, and can incorporate the Cascadia Cup into its normal intellectual property protection practices. The league can market the event and supporter atmosphere as they have.  After all, it does make for great TV.  Of course, all of this is just a contractual settlement of an intellectual property dispute, and does not address the underlying relationship with fans. Even in my hypothetical world, I cannot fix that. Portland-Timbers-logo

Posts of the Year: Laidig Speaks

Footiebusiness Contributor Dave Laidig weighs in with his latest manipulation of Castol data.  Dave’s statistical work is ground breaking stuff and represents the cutting edge of soccer analytics and stats based crunching.   Read closely and drop Dave a line.  Also, check Dave out at Par Stat, his innovative website looking at Points Above Replacement in soccer.

Castrol Index scores are represented as performance measures by Opta, the publisher of the data.  Past analyses have shown that Castrol Index scores, positions, and playing time reflect league results (See Footiebusiness and A Beautiful Numbers Game).  And while the scores appear to match up with the league results pretty well of over time (R squared in excess of .73 for each of the three seasons analyzed), the year to year consistency of the data has not been established.  Consequently, this analysis addresses the year to year relationships between adjusted Castrol scores (Castrol scores adjusted to remove the “punishment” for lesser playing time).

stats

The first step in comparing the 2011 and 2012 MLS Castrol Index is to convert the scores to a standardized scoring system. The Castrol Index changed scoring systems between 2011 and 2012; a 3.4 – 10 point scale became a 0 – 1000+ point scale.  Similarly, although the adjusted scores narrowed the ranges, the adjusted Castrol scores (the key component of this analysis) were also different.  Thus, the 2011 and 2012 scores are not directly comparable. Consequently, this analysis converts the reported scores to Z-scores (by position), which then allows for year to year comparisons.

Next, several year over year relationships were examined; starting with 2012 playing time.  In a mild surprise, the biggest predictor of 2012 minutes, was not 2012 salary (r = 0.129), or even 2011 adjusted Castrol scores (0.16), but was 2011 minutes (0.625).  This may reflect that a manager’s comfort level plays a greater role in lineup decisions that otherwise expected.  One might hope that teams play their best performers, but this is not borne out by the data.  And to give managers a break, 2011 performance may not be related to 2012 game time for a variety of competitive or health reasons.  Alternatively, a cynic may assume that a manager may put his most expensive players on the field.  But again, the data does not support this idea.

Turning one’s attention to 2012 performance, the best predictor (although mild) is 2011 performance (r = 0.343).  2011 playing time has no relationship with 2012 performance (-0.01), and 2012 salary is not meaningfully related either (.18).  While we know that with the DP system in MLS, salaries often reflect business value more than on-the-field performance.  Thus, a small salary-performance correlation is not much of a shock.  Here, the key concern is the disappointing relationship between the 2011 performance Z-score and the 2012 Z-score.  A quick rule of thumb would predict that this relationship would explain about 10% of the 2012 performance.  It’s not zero, but only a small benefit, and would likely be captured by other performance evaluation standards.

But one can look at the situation from a larger perspective.  Instead of using the 2011 scores to predict a 2012 score, one may use the 2011 score to classify players into a couple groups, and then determine if this classification helps determine which players will turn in desirable or undesirable performances.  For the statistically minded, this would convert a continuous variable into a discreet variable.  And taking Nate Silver’s admonition to think probabilistically to heart, one can determine whether the 2011 performance data improves the chances of predicting a good 2012 performance.

Here, of the 2012 MLS field players (i.e., excluding goalkeepers), 46.6% had above average adjusted Castrol Scores, and 53.3% had below average performance scores.  In other words, if one had no other information, and randomly picked players, they would select a desirable performance (i.e., an above average adjusted Castrol Score) about 46.6% percent of the time.  We can call this the hit rate.  Any data we can use to improve this hit rate may be of value in personnel evaluation and selection.

Using the adjusted Castrol scores, we can classify the players into two groups based on their 2011 performance.  Roughly speaking, we will call them the good 2011 performers, and poor 2011 performers.  Here, the good 2011 performers are defined as those players with Z-scores at or above 0.5, and the poor performers are those players with Z-scores at or below -0.5.  Under a normal distribution, this corresponds with the top and bottom 30% of scores.  However, because of turnover in the MLS player pool, these cutoffs correspond with the top 28% and the bottom 33% of the players with both 2011 and 2012 scores.

2011 performance

2012 performance

All Field Players

Difference

 

(% above avg)

(% above avg)

 

Top 28%(Z= +0.5)

60.8%

46.6%

14.2%*

(% below avg)

(% below avg)

Bottom 33%(Z= -0.5)

68.8%

53.3%

15.5%*

*Statistically significant; α ≤ .05, two-tailed

Top 2011 performers had a good 2012 performance over 60% of the time, significantly better than the population as a whole (46.6%).  Looking at the other direction, bottom 2011 performers had a poor 2012 performance over 68% of the time, significantly worse than the population as a whole (53.3%).  Thus, the 2011 rating is associated with 2012 performance.  While a good or poor 2011 score does not match up with 2012 performance 100%, nor does it help differentiate between players within the 2011 performance group, knowing the previous performance level increases the chances of getting the decision right.  And with limited roster space, and limited financial resources, relatively small advantages can lead to meaningful advantages.

Another way to look at the data would be to line up the three Z-score groups with the probability of an above-average performance the following year.  Those players with a 2011 score 72nd percentile and above, between 72nd and 33rd percentile, and those below 33rd percentile had a probability of a good 2012 performance of 60.8%, 46.6%, and 31.2% respectively.

2011 Performance Probability ofgood 2012 performance
Z > .05(72nd percentile and above) 60.8%
0.5 > Z > -0.5(between 33rd and 72nd percentile) 46.6% (default %)
Z < -0.5(33rd percentile and below) 31.2%

By broadly categorizing the 2011 performance level, one can determine the probability of a good performance the next year.

For one last comparison, we can compare the predictive value of 2011 performance versus player 2012 salaries (which are negotiated and signed prior to taking the field for the 2012 season).  And there is a common theme that spending on players dictates success on the field.  However, 2012 salary does not predict 2012 performance as well as adjusted Castrol Index scores from the previous season.  A top salary is associated with a good 2012 performance 55.7% of the time, which is 9% above chance.  And a bottom salary is associated with a poor 2012 performance about 55% of the time, only 2% different than chance.  Both of these values are not statistically significant.

2012 salary

2012 performance

All Field Players

Difference

 

(% above avg)

(% above avg)

 

Top 28%

55.7%

46.6%

9.1%**

(% below avg)

(% below avg)

Bottom 33%

55.8%

53.3%

2.5%**

**Not statistically significant; α ≥.05, two-tailed

All in all, the MLS data suggests that knowledge of the previous year’s adjusted Castrol Scores can significantly increase the probability of a hit (i.e., selecting a field player who will turn in a good performance) as well as significantly reduce the chances of a miss.  Further, the adjusted Castrol scores are better predictors than player salaries.  It remains possible that additional data – and larger sample sizes – will allow for refined probabilities.  In the meantime, one can layer in an objective measure into their player performance predictions.

Posts of the Year: Talking Rapids

rapidsAs part of our continuing series looking at some top posts of 2013, here is an interview with David Burke of the Colorado Rapids from March of 2013.

In 2012, the Colorado Rapids hired David Burke as the team’s Chief Revenue Officer. Prior to joining the Rapids, Mr. Burke was the President of the Houston Aeros of the AHL.  Prior to joining the Aeros, Burke was Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service for the Phoenix Coyotes and Jobing.com Arena from 2009 to 2011. He also served as Director of Season Ticket Sales for the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats from 2007-2009. Today, Mr. Burke was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions about the Rapids’ marketing efforts, promotions and more. Thanks to Mr. Burke.

Footiebusiness.com: How are the Rapids utilizing social media? Some teams are aggressively relying on Twitter, posting frequent training camp updates, linking to blog posts about the team and providing teasers about signings and ticket promotions, while others have been slower to adopt the technology. You are currently on Twitter as are members of the team’s front office. How do you anticipate the team using Twitter and Facebook going forward? Does the team have a policy on players using Twitter?

David Burke: We are moving to a more interactive responsive strategy and providing unique content to our followers both on Facebook and Twitter, and to that end have a growing communications team that is now more focused on the digital area than ever before. We’ve recently hired a Digital Marketing Manager who is tasked with growing our online presence and being more engaged with our fans in a variety of social media platforms, joining a staff that is working toward having more unique content in many different online areas. We understand that MLS’ strongest and fastest-growing demographic is 18-35, and they use social media to get their news and entertainment.

As for our players using Twitter, our Marketing Communications group encourages their participation and interaction on social media, while keeping an eye out to help them avoid difficult situations. The lines of communication are open between our players and staff, so if they have reservations about what to post, they are pretty responsible about checking first. With that said, our players that use Twitter are great at it, responding to fans’ questions and sharing unique perspectives on the team.
FB: What are the biggest challenges to selling tickets in such a crowded sports landscape? Are the Rapids in competition with other sports franchises for paying customers? What can the team do to distinguish themselves from other franchises in the Denver area?

DB: Denver has been shown to be one of the most saturated sports markets in the country, if not the very busiest, so we have to be creative in order to gain a share of people’s attention. The biggest challenge we have is getting people to their first match, because once they come to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and watch our team, they’re hooked.

The Rapids’ supporters group, Centennial 38, provides a unique element which no other sport in the area can provide, and the atmosphere at a Rapids game can appeal to everyone from families to young professionals. Our style of play and young squad is exciting and entertaining, and draws in both casual and passionate soccer fans. We are proud of the entertainment value and excellent customer service at the stadium, but we also feel that our fans, players, and the sport itself all do an excellent job marketing the Rapids experience to those in the stadium.dsg

FB: In a recent interview with the Sports Business Journal, Tim Hinchey indicated that the Rapids have 4,000 season ticket holders in 2013, more than double the number from two years ago. What are the Rapids doing to further increase those numbers? Does the team have a specific target for season ticket numbers in coming years? Are there special benefits that season ticket holders receive?

DB: Our first task is identifying, recruiting and keeping top-level salespeople on our staff, which is an ongoing process. Second, we work to train our sales staff, developing their skills and making sure they’re not simply telemarketers, but rather sales executives that meet with clients face-to-face and develop a relationship. From there, our staff can provide a product that best fits the client’s needs. Third, we motivate sales executives to work hard and remain with the club, because we know that continuity can help a great amount in bringing in new customers and retaining existing ones. Finally, we must provide strong leadership that will mentor these executives. With that plan in place, our goal next season is to continue this great recent growth and surpass 5,000 full season ticket holders. Some of the benefits of being a season ticket holder can be found here: http://www.coloradorapids.com/tickets/sth-hq/%252Ffull-season-ticket-holder-benefits

FB: The Rapids introduced multiple new jerseys for the 2013 season. These include a unique primary jersey that incorporates the names of season ticket holders directly into the fabric. Yet noticeably absent from the shirt is a jersey sponsor. Why has the team had such struggles in securing a jersey sponsor? Is the team still looking to secure a jersey sponsor this year?

DB: This is something that our President, Tim Hinchey, continues working on every day. The club has been working very hard to secure the right jersey sponsor, which is not an easy task these days when you look at the investment levels. The average MLS shirt deal is worth over $2.5M per year, with most being three-year agreements – this is not a small ask by any means when calling on local, regional or national brands. In the last two years, the Rapids have made over 15 presentations, and while we’ve converted two of these prospects into local major sponsorships for the club, they just have not been for the shirt. In a market where the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL deliver multiple seven-figure deals, we need to work that much harder to find our “share of voice and share of wallet.” While difficult, this will happen and we hope all of our hard work will be rewarded with the right partner soon.

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

DB: The most notable and visible change in 2013 is the emphasis on our relationship with the state of Colorado. In addition to our new alternate uniforms, which feature the distinctive blue, red and yellow of the Colorado flag, our 2013 marketing campaign is centered on the pride people have in this state. The taglines “State of Mind” and “Colorado For Life” can be seen on billboards and advertisements in the area, and the Colorado flag can be seen on all our uniforms, on our field before the game, and in virtually everything we do. As the only MLS team that uses its state in the club’s name, we’re proud to be Coloradans and want to reflect our fans’ passion for the Centennial State.

Fans will also notice a new area of the stadium called “The Corner 7-Eleven,” which is the result of a partnership we’ve made with 7-Eleven in conjunction with Coca-Cola. “The Corner 7-Eleven” will be in Sections 112 and 113 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, which seats approximately 880, and fans can purchase $15 vouchers – which will be the lowest-priced ticket in the stadium – for the special area at any of more than 300 7-Eleven retail locations in Colorado. We’re excited about the partnership as it allows us to work with two great brands to bring the Rapids to a great number of people in retail locations throughout the state.

Monday After

Man of the MatchTrophy in Stands sideFinally a somewhat quiet weekend for Major League Soccer.  While there continues to be some player movement through both the transfer and re-entry process, overall there has been a bit of business break as the New Year approaches.   One of the business issues that has continued to percolate over the last few weeks is the joining of MLS franchises and lower league teams.  Most recently, the Columbus Crew announced an affiliation with the Dayton Dutch Lions of the USL Pro.   These relationships allow teams to develop players, put roots in other communities and expand their brand.  Per the official press release: “We are proud to unveil our new partnership with Dayton Dutch Lions FC,” said Columbus Crew President Mark McCullers. “We have known the Dutch Lions organization since they came to Ohio. This partnership creates a formal alliance that encompasses player development at its heart but also allows the Columbus Crew to partner with Dayton Dutch Lions FC in growing our respective fan bases and brands.”

Elsewhere, MLS has selected IMG Academy as its Eastern hub for the 2014 preseason. MLS teams, including the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, D.C. United, FC Dallas, New England Revolution and Toronto FC, are expected to train and most will compete in a series of friendlies beginning in late January and continuing through the end of February. The Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) has allocated funds to MLS that will be used by the league and its teams for a national campaign promoting the preseason.”  MLS preseason is fast approaching and Bradenton will join Tuscon as the center of January/February MLS soccer.

Finally, NBC has been promoting its 12 days of EPL coverage over the Christmas holiday.  The games will come fast and furious as the Premier League heads for the turn into 2014.

Posts of the Year: Part II

fc dallasContinuing our ongoing series of top posts of 2013, here is a chat with Kelly Weller of FC Dallas

Kelly 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.

Soccer Business Bits: Vancouver Happenings, Becks & More

Whitecaps uniformThere were multiple big business stories that emerged from Vancouver on Wednesday.  The first involves an extension of Bell’s relationship with the Whitecaps as its primary and presenting sponsor.  All team apparel, including youth apparel, will be branded with the Bell name.  Bell is Canada’s largest telecommunications company.  The Sacramento Bee ran the following quote: “Bell is proud to extend its successful partnership with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC organization, one of Canada’s most respected soccer clubs,” said Wade Oosterman, President of Bell Mobility and Residential Services, and Chief Brand Officer at Bell. “Passion for MLS and soccer is growing rapidly across Canada and we’re excited to give fans more national coverage across multiple platforms than ever before.”

In addition, it was announced that TSN will become the official and sole media outlet broadcasting Whitecaps games beginning in 2014.  Per the official press release,  “TSN’s acclaimed team of soccer experts,  Luke Wileman, Jason deVos, and Kristian Jack, will be part of the network’s coverage of Whitecaps FC throughout the year, including regular news reports, analysis and Twitter updates. Select Whitecaps FC games will also be available in French on RDS and RDS2.”

David Beckham’s efforts to locate a team in Miami took a big step forward with a unanimous vote from Miami-Dade County Commissioners in favor of privately funded stadium in the county. The resolution stipulates that the stadium be funded without county dollars and must pay rent if it ends up on public land, according to reports in the Miami Herald.

Finally, for a very thorough look at the DC United stadium situation, click here.

 

Posts of the Year: Howard Handler Interview

propaneOver the next couple of weeks we will re-post some of our most popular interviews and guest posts from 2013.  We’ll start with our Howard Handler interview from last Winter.  For a blog about the business of soccer, a chat with Mr. Handler, the CMO of MLS,  was a long-time goal.  Below is part one of that post.

Howard Handler was named Chief Marketing Officer of Major League Soccer in early 2o12.  In that capacity, Mr. Handler oversees marketing, strategy, communications, digital, events and club services for the League.  Prior to joining MLS, Mr. Handler served as executive vice president, marketing and sales at The Madison Square Garden Company.  He has also worked for Virgin Mobile, The National Football League, MTV, Saturday Night Live and The Quaker Oats Company.

Mr. Handler was kind enough to answer a few questions from Footiebusiness about a wide range of business topics including television ratings, partner relationships and the impact of the new ASG format on sponsorship activation. Part I of the Footiebusiness chat is below.  Part II will follow on Thursday.  Thanks to Mr. Handler.

Footiebusiness.com: You have significant experience growing businesses in other industries, from wireless services to entertainment giants.  In what way is the business of soccer different? similar?

Howard Handler: MLS is connected to many of the other brands that I have worked on, as I have always been in the consumer marketing business in the broadest sense. The discipline of thinking about of who your target audience is, what makes them tick, why they care, what they are concerned about, what draws them to you and what prevents them from engaging with you, is very similar to the types of things we thought about at MTV, Virgin Mobile and the NFL. The difference with MLS is that we are earlier in our stage of life. We have succeeded on many fronts but we still haven’t planted our flag at the top of the mountain and that’s what drives all of us. We want to be one of the best leagues in the next 10 years, and we have a lot of work to do in order to achieve that milestone.

FB: You also have substantial background in television.  MLS has managed to grow its gate and is now one of the most attended live sports in the country.  Yet television ratings, if not stagnant, remain disappointing.  The league has two prominent English language television partners.  What is the plan to significantly grow those ratings?  With the television deals coming up for re-bid/renewal, is there urgency significantly move the ratings needle?

HH: Building a national TV audience takes time and a dedicated effort.  We’re very happy with our progress here.  First and foremost, it’s about the quality of the product that exists between the white lines. Throughout the last several years, we have brought in big time, world class players like Beckham, Henry, Keane and Cahill, and we’re seeing many great American players come of age, like Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Pontius and others. The quality of the play, an attacking style and goals make the product our greatest asset in terms of bringing in a national audience.  We’ve also got a first rate set of broadcasters: ESPN, Univision, NBC in the US and TSN/RDS in Canada.  They work hard to entertain, to help you see more, to understand the stakes and to keep you coming back.  Our Network partners, the League and our Clubs use every available asset to promote our telecasts.  As a result, we’ve seen lots of growth in the 18-34 demo, very attractive to advertisers.  We’ll continue to grow our TV audience. panasonic

FB:  In the recent Nielsen insert to SBJ, it was reported that the regular season national tv ad buy for MLS in 2012 was $7.5 million, more than double the $3.4 million in 2011 and significantly higher than the $4.5 million in 2010.  To what do you attribute the significant increase?  Do you expect this number to increase in 2013?

HH: We have placed a high priority on building our fan base and reaching more people with our message. The real step up that people observed from 2011 to 2012 related to very dedicated promotion around our big matchups and our rivalries. Our ability to communicate will never be measured by paid media because we’re not a big spender compared to most traditional brands. Our  impact will be the result of the way we use our owned media — MLSsoccer.com, our database, our field boards, social media etc. – and our earned media – the different stories we pitch to media outlets, the way we create a conversation and a sense of urgency with social media.  Is our content so compelling that people are going to share it and be messengers for us?  We’ll continue to work hard across paid, owned, earned and partner media. If you approach this area in a thoughtful and coordinated fashion, you can really pack a powerful punch and get your message to a lot of people. 

FB: In 2011 the league announced Panasonic as the Official Consumer Electronics Partner. Other recent league-wide, major category, sponsorship announcements have included Allstate and Four Points.   Do you anticipate any league wide sponsorship announcements in 2013?

HH: Yes, we do. Sponsors are a critical part of our business. They have helped build the league and fulfill a good part of our vision thus far, and they will be a very important part going forward. Sponsors bring tremendous resources, not just financial, but distribution channels, media content, and their consumers and fans.  We are thrilled with Panasonic and all the existing ones that we have had before. They can help us go a long way, and without them we wouldn’t be as successful.

good handsFB: In a November interview with Sports Illustrated, Commissioner Garber indicated that you were working on “a great vision we’ll be launching soon on our rebranding of the league and tapping into the real supporters culture that exists”.  What can you tell us about that rebrand and that vision?  What should league fans expect to see?

HH: We started the soft launch back at All-Star with “This is Soccer,” which is our call to action. It’s a confident declaration of what makes us special and what typifies MLS versus all the other options people have for spending their time. You can see it all over our website, social channels, within all of our owned media, and our clubs are embracing it.  We’ve got lots of additional aspects of this campaign rolling out during the 2013 season and beyond.  By having a focused message, tone of voice and marketing plan, we are confident that we will reach and inspire the next wave of fans.

Guest Post: The rise of MLS Cup; the demise of GSLs

sporting kansas citA couple of weeks before MLS Cup, we wrote about Jamie Clary’s quest to make it to his 18th straight MLS Cup Final.  Thanks to outreach efforts from the Sporting Communications Department, Mr. Clary was able to attend the game and today he provides some thoughts on his efforts to get to Kansas City and the changes in the MLS ticket buying landscape.

Recall that Mr. Clary wrote:  “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.”

MLS is a growing league yet many of the front offices around MLS still remember the league’s early days, and fan relationships are still cultivated and grown.  Kudos to Rob Thomson of Sporting who reached out to Mr. Clary through Footiebusiness and helped him keep the streak alive.  With so much on his plate with less than two weeks to prepare for the Final, Mr. Thomson reached out and provided a shining example of fan outreach.  When asked why, Mr. Thomson simply said: “Sporting Kansas City got Jamie two tickets to the match because this league, and certainly our organization, are driven by great fans. We were happy to help him continue his wonderful and impressive streak of MLS Cups.”

After the game, Mr. Clary wrote the following about his effort to secure tickets and the magnanimous gesture by SKC.

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After writing the article I embarked on five avenues to secure tickets. Ben Berger, this web site’s owner, offered tickets through his guaranteed seat licenses. Goalie Joe Cannon read about my quest and offered assistance. Rob Thomson, executive VP of Sporting Kansas City, got involved. I took advantage of a friendship with an employee of one of the SKC owners. And I worked the traditional market of box office sales and re-sales. Also, I considered buying a guaranteed seat license.

When Rob Thomson came through, I ended the other efforts. (Rob, look for a gift card in the mail.)

Had I not had these contacts, my streak would have ended. Anybody without those contacts or a compelling story to generate those contacts will be left without tickets to future finals. The overwhelming  majority of publicly sold tickets to future MLS Cup games will land in the hands of season ticket holders of the home team.  Some others will go to season ticket holders of the away team. The others will be used by people paying a premium through secondary markets.

That’s bad for me; good for MLS; bad for soccer fans; good home team fans, the people who provided Saturday’s unprecedented atmosphere.

We got to this point because the league last year chose to play future finals at the home of the higher seed. This year we can say that decision will forever generate a greater demand for tickets than the supply of tickets. It used to be the other way around.

The next decision for the league in this vein is to decide the future of the guaranteed seat license. The lifelong status enables holders to purchase tickets to the all-star game and MLS Cup. They have generated some revenue. But now they are a league liability.

Nobody inside MLS looked at Saturday’s crowd and felt that the GSL holders had any positive impact. If GSLers had bought tickets to the game, they likely sold them. If they didn’t sell them, they appreciated the enthusiastic atmosphere but did not contribute to it. They probably did not wave SKC flags, show up in team colors, or add to the decibels.

They—including me—aren’t the fans that MLS needs.

For the all-star game, GSL holders might be more noticeable only because the crowd is less passionate.

Maybe MLS needed those GSLs some time ago. Maybe they produced some significant revenue once. But I don’t see MLS continuing the GSL for much longer.

That’s good for MLS and bad for me because I may be in the market for one soon.

Monday After

twinnThe first week of the off season is in the books, but it certainly wasn’t quiet.  There were trades, retirements drafts and signings.  Big players are on the move, new players are heading to MLS and the league’s expansion antennae is still raised. There was a testimonial match, a re-entry draft, combine announcements and a new team formed in the NWSL.  Over the weekend there was the College Gup before 7,000 frigid fans at PPL Park.  In short, the domestic off season is a busy time  and soccer fans have plenty to look forward to over the next few weeks.

On Friday MLS announced its plans for the 2014 ASG in Portland.  For the first time in ASG history, the opponent will be a German soccer club.  World famous Bayern Munich will make the trip to the Rose City next  Summer.  This is another soccer power for the League’s warm weather classic.  The prominent opponent combined with the cozy confines at Jeld-Wen should make for a hot ticket next year.

There was some expansion noise at the end of last week.  Reports emerged that Sacramento had expressed an interest in moving up to MLS in the near term.  There are already three teams from California in the league and MLS is already somewhat heavily weighted towards the west coast.  It will be interesting to see if any Pacific Time Zone teams are added as the league moves to 24.

Finally, it was announced that US Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has signed a four year extension to remain as coach of the national team after the World Cup.  While the move is curious, there is a sense that the move can be defended by saying “it is only money.”  If the USSF wants to fire him after a terrible World Cup in Brazil, it will, contract notwithstanding.