Expansion Update

scorpionsMiami is in the news again, as David Beckham is still pushing to locate his MLS franchise in Florida.  Despite statements from Commissioner Garber suggesting that the lack of a stadium plan is a detriment, plans are moving forward.  There has been talk that a major announcement is scheduled for next week to discuss the future of MLS in the Sunshine State.   The plan is apparently to start play in 2017 at a Soccer Specific Stadium in Miami.  Beckham is just one of the luminaries to be involved in the effort.  MLSSoccer.com quotes Lebron James, “I think it could be great. We’ll see what happens,” James said. “I think Miami is a great place for soccer. There’s so many great athletes that come from South Florida, Florida in general, and you know, the lower coast. Hopefully we can make it really good.”  Remember when Barcelona combined with Marcelo Claure and Florida International University to submit a bid to bring MLS back to South Florid?  As MLS fans well know, the Miami Fusion entered the League as an expansion team in 1998 and were contracted just four years later.  That background, combined with South Florida’s rather weak history of supporting its teams (Florida Marlins anyone?), has lead many to scoff at any move back to the Miami area.  However, Beckham and friends look to be serious and willing investors (James already owns a small stake in Liverpool), so perhaps the future is bright.

We’ve talked about San Antonio and the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions, including their almost 10k average attendance, new stadium (Toyota Park), on the field success.  The team has boasted an over-the-air television deal for thirteen matches  in 2013.   Three of the games were broadcast on KSAT in prime time while the rest were on derivative channels.  This is a great accomplishment for a team set to unveil an 8k stadium for the start of the 2013 NASL season. Earlier this week, Commissioner Garber met with the mayor of San Antonio and Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman about potential expansion.   The team averaged just shy of 7k in their 8k venue in 2013.  Can a third Texas team succeed in MLS?

Sporting Goes Java

ivyJust a quick hitter today.

Teams around Major League Soccer sign relationships with corporate partners big and small.  There are stadium sponsors, jersey sponsors and category sponsors like beer, soda and others.  These partnerships provide revenue, branding and community relationships that are an integral part of modern sports.  A couple of years ago, MLS let teams sign local deals in categories where a national brand had a league level relationship (e.g. a team could sign a deal with Coke while the league had a deal with Pepsi).

Many of these local deals are under the radar, but on Tuesday,  Sporting announced furtherance of their relationship with local coffee maker The Roasterie.    The Kansas City area coffee house  is the official coffee partner of SKC and has three cafes.  Per the official release: “Sporting Kansas City and The Roasterie announced on Tuesday a strategic partnership for the release of Sporting Blend. The brand new coffee blend is now available at each of three The Roasterie Cafes and The Roasterie’s more than 75 grocery partners, and will also be sold at Sporting Park for Sporting Kansas City home games during the 2014 season.”


Soccer Business Bits: MLS Digitial Update, Edu & More

unitedOn Monday, MLS released some thoughts from Bryce Kahle, a Developer in the MLS Digital office.  Mr. Kahle provided a detailed explanation of improvements to the MLS mobile Matchcenter App.  According to his entry, the digital team wanted to create a mobile first platform.  “Mobile users are a major percentage of our website visitors, and we weren’t delivering the best to them. It was the byproduct of a desktop design that had been progressively hacked to work on mobile with responsive stylesheets. There was a laundry list of things that we didn’t like, and we concluded it was best to start over.”

Elsewhere, the league drew the ire of many fans when the terms of the Maurice Edu signing were released.  League rules on player acquisition and funding have always been a bit murky, but fans felt comfortable with the MLS rule that DP signings do not impact the Allocation Order based on prior year finishes.  That rule disappeared with the signing of Edu, the American international returning from overseas to join the Philadelphia Union.  As a result, the Union got their man, but lost their spot at the top of the allocation list.  Some believe that the league loses credibility when its rules get changed on apparent whims.  However, it is important to remember that the league is still feeling its way, and as long as the owners are on board with the changes, fans should understand that the rules are designed to continue to grow the sport and the league.

Finally, there are reports emerging (including this one from NBC Sports), that suggest DC United continues to face tough sledding in its efforts to locate a stadium within the district.  We could fill two weeks worth of posts with the various trials and tribulations faced by United over the years.  They have explored Maryland, Virginia and many locations within the District.  However, the latest efforts to locate a stadium within the city have seemed promising. Yet, per NBC, “[t]he bill, being pushed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Grey, has support from only 35 percent of the 1,003 residents polled, with most expressing skepticism about the district’s potential $150 million investment….The city has yet to secure the land it would donate for the project, and any financing plan (which involves selling an office building) would still have to be approved by the city council. It seems like we’ve been here before. There’s an apparent stadium plan for D.C., the MLS community gets excited, and then we’re reminded how difficult things get once we move beyond the soccer sphere.”


Monday After

fc tucsonThe Major League Soccer preseason is underway, with training camps opening around the country and teams reuniting after a very brief off season.  For some teams, there has been less than a two month break (the shortest in American sports), while many have enjoyed 3 plus months off since their last competitive match.  It is a World Cup year, so for a select group of players, this training has extra significance as they gear up for a Summer in Brazil.  We will have our usual coverage of the preseason, reporting on events from Florida, Arizona and elsewhere.  Regardless, the MLS season is now about six away, with March 8 slated as opening day 2014.

Keeping with the Spring Training theme, Bradenton is trying to position itself as the Tuscon of the East, with an attempt to capitalize on the annual preseason pilgrimage to the Sunshine State. Six MLS teams will train at the Bradenton IMG facility this year.  Per the Bradenton Herald, “IMG offers a 12-field professional soccer complex, a 5,000-seat stadium equipped to broadcast games internationally plus dozens of other amenities professional athletes seek out for training on the 450-acre campus.The growing league is figuring out what to do about spring training. It has set up an eastern hub in Bradenton after having a West Coast hub in Tucson, Ariz., where clubs have participated in a pre-season tournament, the Desert Diamond Cup, for the past three years. Tucson’s spring training, which signed its own multi-year agreement, has also expanded in games and teams for both the training camp friendlies and tournament segments. The Kino Sports Complex also has a 2,300-seat shaded soccer stadium to showcase the sport.The preseason games last year brought in more than $75,000 to the publicly financed complex there, which includes an 11,000-seat baseball stadium and auxiliary fields.The Arizona event drew more than 30,000 fans in 2012, but it didn’t hurt that David Beckham was among the players on site. In Bradenton, the hot names this year will be on Toronto FC — English striker Jermain Defoe and one of the top American players in the world, midfielder Michael Bradley.”

Major League Soccer is hawking its excellent MLS Live software through e-mails, its website and elsewhere.  The price has increased for 2014, but the league is offering a 20% discount for those renewing now.  Typically, there is a free preview early in the season.  The software is compatible with Roku, Apple TV, Android and other devices. Recall what Chris Schlosser told us about MLS Live in November.  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.


Kicking Around Eminent Domain

gavelIt isn’t often we get to discuss eminent domain on this site, but the stadium situation in Orlando has brought that arcane legal concept to the fore.  For those unfamiliar with the term, eminent domain is the power of the government to take private property for some public purpose (it can be a bit more complex, but that is the general idea).  When a government entity exercises its eminent domain powers, it must pay fair compensation for the taking.  The power is embedded in the fifth amendment to the US Constitution and has long been a part of American public policy.  In Orlando, construction of the future home of Orlando City requires the demolition of multiple structures, including a church.  As is typically the case, efforts were made to negotiate a payment (apparently well in excess of fair market value), but the church refused, and now the City is threatening to use its eminent domain power.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Church countered the City’s $1.5 million offer with a demand of $35 million.  The parcel has been appraised at less than $700,000.  The City will now file in court to have a fair price set for purposes of eminent domain. According to the Sentinel, “Church members based their asking price, in part, on the city’s decision in 2007 to spend about $35 million to acquire a piece of First United Methodist Church’s downtown campus so the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts could be built.At the same time, church members said they expected the city to continue negotiations with another offer.”It comes as a surprise to us,” Jonathan Williams, son of the church’s founders, said of the eminent domain action. “We’re still looking to work with them. What they were offering and what it would cost us to move just didn’t jibe.””

Ultimately, the decision may be left to the courts, but these types of proceedings can certainly delay the construction process and impact the planned 2015 opening of the stadium.   There certainly could be a debate about whether a stadium is sufficiently “public” to meet the eminent domain standard, but the recent Kelo v. New London case (a US Supreme Court decision) confirmed that such uses are permissible, suggesting that the City will have the stronger argument.  However, the decision was nine years ago and the makeup of the court has changed (and it was a 5-4) decision, so the issue could certainly be ripe for appellate action.

The Deal in Dallas

advocareHow far some franchises have come? I’m finishing up a threee city swing through MLS territory (Dallas, Houston & Chicago) and I am reminded of my last trip to the Metroplex.  At the time, Pizza Hut Park was the home, but attendance was down and the club was barely a blip.  Things have gotten better since…attendance is up, season tickets are up and the team has had some success on the field.   Here is what we wrote in 2009.

We have discussed the attendance woes in Dallas on a number of occassions.   Attendance in Big D (or Frisco) is down this year by almost 40% But for Kansas City and its forced limited attendance, Dallas would be bringing up the rear with its average of 9,300 (that includes an opener of almost 16k) over four games.  With a fairly new stadium in Pizza Hut Park, a local population in Dallas that plays soccer en masse, premier online, independent coverage and a long history as an original team in MLS, FC Dallas would seem to be an obvious choice for success at the gate.  Yet, the team is averaging just over 9k and attendance is dropping fast.

The big question is of course, Why?  There are theories about front office ineptitude, poor performance on the field or a suburban stadium too far from downtown Dallas (does anyone actually live in downtown Dallas??).  We were in Dallas this week and performed a bit of marketing reconissance to check on efforts to promote FC Dallas  in Big D.  We asked everyone we met, from cab drivers to waitresses to business assoicates about FC Dallas and Pizza Hut Park.  The results of our anecdotal survey were pretty dramatic.

Almost everyone we met had heard of Pizza Hut Park, but nobody had every been there.  Most associated Pizza Hut Park with the Roughriders, a Double A baseball team playing at Dr. Pepper Park in Frisco, TX (same location as Pizza Hut Park).   We spoke with season ticket holders for the Mavericks, Stars and Cowboys, all of whom knew nobody that had seen an FC Dallas game, yet almost everyone knew about the Team.  Everyone we spoke with was shocked that FC Dallas struggled to fill the stadium; they all mentioned how popular soccer is in Texas.  Interestingly, almost everyone we spoke with knew where the stadium is located, knew how to get there and said it was “close.”

We saw no advertising for the Team, whether on signs, buses, television or newspapers.  There was no evidence of FC Dallas merchandise at Dallas-Forth Worth airport and we heard no commercials on the radio for upcoming games or events.  The Team is marketing through its website; pre-game happy hour anyone?  Other marketing efforts are certainly being made (our trip was pretty quick), yet they were not apparent.

Our survey was obviously informal, yet it was instructive.  In recent trips to Kansas City, Washington and other MLS cities, we have seen evidence of the local soccer team in a number of different media.  People were aware of the local franchise and some had been to games.  In Dallas, the Team’s impact on the sports consciousness was minimal.

The question is of course why.  If you have any theories, let us know.  Why is this once proud franchise struggling on the field and at the gate?

Soccer Stadium Update

cityIt has been way too long since we did a comprehensive stadium construction update, but with construction and planning proceeding in multiple markets, now sees like a good time for snapshot.  We’ll start in Orlando, where the local Fox affiliate was granted some time with City’s Phil Rawlins to discuss the progression of stadium construction.  You can see the video here.  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.  There will be 20k seats at the new venue which is expected to open in the Summer of 2015. Populous will be the architect for the project.

In San Jose, stadium construction is continuing to move forward, albeit slowly.  The Stadium will seat 18,000 and is set to open in 2015.  According to the Mercury News, the facility “sits at Coleman Avenue and Newhall Street, across from Mineta San Jose International Airport.  The stadium will feature the largest open air bar in America, plenty of suite seating and convenient highway access to multiple freeways and San Francisco.  The construction has been pushed back repeatedly (the start of the 2015 season is now the target), but to check in on the progress of stadium, you can click on the web cam here.

In New York, the situation is not so rosy, with no indication that a permanent stadium site is close for the expansion team.  Given the politics, shortage of land and the pace of construction in New York, it isn’t hard to imagine the club will be playing in Yankee Stadium until 2019.   For more on the stadium situation in New York, click here.

Monday After

sporting kansas citLost in all of the transfer talk and Superdraft, was the announcement of the 2013 MLS Club award winners.  As readers know, the Footiebusiness Team PR Winner for 2013 was Sporting Kansas City (as voted on by you).  The league awards are not voted on by the media as our the more traditional awards, but they still provide a window into what the league views as important in the business aspects of the game.  Take a read through and let us know your thoughts.

Doug Hamilton Executive of the Year – Mike Golub, Portland Timbers

Ticketing Executive of the Year – Chris Lawrence, Seattle Sounders FC

Ticket Sales Team of the Year – Sporting Kansas City

Ticketing Sales Innovation Award presented by the National Sales Center – FC Dallas

Marketing Executive of the Year – Mikkel Strøjer, Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Corporate Partnerships Executive of the Year – Matt McInnis, FC Dallas

Corporate Partnerships Team of the Year – Real Salt Lake

Partnership Marketing Team of the Year – Toronto FC

Local Digital Editor of the Year – Yvan Delia-Lavictoire, Montreal Impact

Social Media Activation of the Year – #fishcam, Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Public Relations Team of the Year – Sporting Kansas City

Club Broadcast Staff of the Year – Seattle Sounders FC

Merchandiser of the Year – Jon Waldron, Colorado Rapids

Marisa Colaiano Community Relations Department of the Year presented by MLS WORKS – Portland Timbers

Operations Staff of the Year – Portland Timbers

Match Presentation Staff of the Year – Seattle Sounders FC

Supporter Liaison of the Year – Chris Wilson, Portland Timbers

Best Game Day Experience for Visiting Supporters – New York Red Bulls

Security Staff of the Year – Portland Timbers

MLS Team Administrator of the Year presented by Sportscorp Travel – Jason Gove, New England Revolution

MLS Athletic Training Staff of the Year presented by Mueller Sports Medicine – Real Salt Lake

Equipment Manager of the Year – Nolan Myer, Seattle Sounders FC

Draft Thoughts

concaveTraveling tonight, but here are some quick hits on the SuperDraft.

1. Solid coverage by ESPNews, but getting shifted to the lower tier ESPN channel makes MLS seem less than major.

2. Interesting to hear some of the reported statements by Commissioner Garber.  He indicated that the league is close to making an announcement about the future of a possible expansion team in Miami. He also indicated that there will be a resolution of the Camilo situation soon.

3. Interesting to see how quickly some of the drafted players took to Twitter to reach out to new fan bases.  This can be great for these players and fans, but is also a fraught with potential danger.

4.  Finally, one of my favorite parts of the draft is how it brings local coverage of the league from non MLS markets.  When local college players are drafted, local dailies tend to cover the player and the league bringing additional exposure.  That was never truer than the Hartford Courant, which had coverage of the draft within minutes of UCONN and the University of Hartford landing players in the top 8.

Soccer Business Bits: Transfer Madness, Draft Coverage and Ticket Sales

E42040_Adidas_Official_World_Cup_Match_Ball_2010_tnWith the Combine complete and the Superdraft right in front of us, teams have been wheeling and dealing over the last week creating soccer’s version of the hot stove.  There have been DP sightings in Toronto and Philly, rumors of big name players (Xavi anyone), trades for draft choices, players moving within MLS and fading stars (see Chivas).  This is a great time to be a soccer fan.  Soccer rumors are driving supporters to Twitter and keeping MLS beat writers busy as the draft approaches.

The draft will be televised on ESPNNews, a development that started last year after some more prominent airtime on ESPN in seasons past.  Those with access to Watch ESPN can also view the goings on from afar.  Of course, MLSSoccer.net will provide its own draft coverage, and that will include analysis, chats and more.  Whether the importance of the draft is diminishing has been a popular subject this year, with international and homegrown players sapping both the roster spots and quality associated with the drafted.  Nevertheless, the draft is an important milestone in the short MLS off season and an important connection between the league and its American sporting roots.

Finally, with respect to tickets, there is no doubt that the inking of Bradley and Defoe is having an impact on season ticket sales in Toronto.  There are multiple reports that more than 2000 season tickets were sold in the immediate wake of the signing and those numbers seem to be continuing.  There appears to be no doubt that TFC will reverse its declining attendance trend in 2014.