SBJ Talks Soccer

fireworksThe Sports Business Journal has a pair of excellent pieces looking at MLS as the league prepares for the 2014 season.  This is part of the annual MLS preview in the periodical.  We will have more on this next week in the lead-up to the openers, but tonight we will focus on two of the articles.   The first is a roundtable conversation with Adrian Hanauer, Tim Leiweke, Merritt Paulson, Anthony Precourt and Nick Sakiewicz.  For fans of the business of the game, the interview is filled with nuggets about how the teams and leagues are operating in 2014.  There was a significant amount of talk about the improved level of play in the league, the importance of a dedicated time slot and additional promotion as part of the next television deal and the importance of big name players coming to MLS.  With respect to to local television, Sakiewicz said, “In Philly, we feel good about our ratings story. We had a 47 percent improvement last season over the previous year. We have awesome partnerships with our local ABC affiliate and with Comcast. We see it coming. We’re anticipating that in the next few years, we’ll be able to turn the corner on local TV.”   Leiweke indicated that TFC wants to increase its stadium to 30k in coming years and believes that the team could have sold that many in 2014.

The other SBJ story involves a chat between the magazine’s Executive Editor and a number of his friends and acquaintances.   Essentially, the soccer loving friends are asked for their thoughts about MLS.  The piece doesn’t cover much new ground, but includes the usual refrains about turf fields, unknown players and the quality of play.  Nevertheless, the group covers some positives about the league, including the Pacific Northwest rivalries, improving play and increasing attendance.

Sporting Does a Deal

sporting kansas citOn Tuesday, Sporting Kansas City announced a a deal with fan engagement technology company Experience, to provide  in stadium technology and experiences for the Sporting faithful.  Beginning with the 2014 season, Sporting fans will be able to use Experience within the team’s Sporting Club Uphoria App for the iPhone and Android.   In 2013, the Uphoria App allowed fans to view highlights and listen to game audio while in their seats.  The new partnership with Experience will allow fans to buy game experiences at the match, including on field experiences, seat upgrades and more.  The integration will be up and running for the team’s home opener.

Sporting is not the first soccer team to work with Experience, but given the team’s focus on technology, this seems like a  partnership made for both organizations. The product has been live for about two years and the company has relationships with teams across the sports spectrum.   I had the opportunity to speak with Experience President Ben Ackerman about his product and the partnership with Experience.  He said that Experience had a goal to establish a relationship with Sporting, because of how innovative and forward thinking Sporting has been and how focused the organization is on the fan experience.   Mr. Ackerman also told me that the goal is to provide targeted fan experiences that improves the game day experience.

The App represents the next wave of targeted marketing opportunities for teams.  Experience can assist Sporting in offering opportunities to fans based on their demographics and prior choices.  Whether fans are hard core supporters, families out for a weekend event or attending a corporate function, the App can guide fans to in-stadium experiences that meet their needs.   The technology aside, this offers another potential revenue opportunity for teams with fans already in the stadium.  Interestingly, Mr, Ackerman told me that Experience’s financial model is “success based” with Experience not charging Sporting anything up front, but only if fans purchase opportunities through the App.   In Mr. Ackerman’s view, the success model incentivizes both the team and Experience to make the partnership work.

DC United Finds a New Sponsor

propaneThe biggest business story of the day comes from the Nation’s Capitol, where DC United announced a jersey sponsorship deal with government contractor Leidos.  Per Steve Goff, the deal is reported at 3-5 years and for a figure close to the fee formerly paid by VW which was just shy of $3 million.  Per Mr. Goff, “the Leidos logo will appear throughout RFK Stadium and all of the team’s marketing and media properties”.  The jersey with the logo will go on sale starting on March 8 for the team opener.

This is a coup for DC United, which manages to keep the income stream of a jersey sponsor despite the end of the VW relationship. Leidos is not a household name, but it is an American defense company that provides scientific, engineering, systems integration, and technical services. The company does billions in revenue every year and employs more than 20k people..  The company is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

If reports are correct, the finances of the deal are seemingly on the low side of those in place around the league.  On January 12, 2011, the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer announced a four year, $12 million dollar deal with Mexican food conglomerate Bimbo.  In 2012 the Chicago Fire signed a multi-year deal with Quaker worth slightly less than that. Recall that at the end of 2013, RSL signed a 10 year, $30 million deal with LifeVantage that starts in 2014.

Although many fans associate jersey sponsors with consumer products life Quaker and Bimbo or (at least in MLS) with MLM schemes like Advocare and Herbalife.  However, Leidos is an enormous company with substantial resources.  It is difficult to see what Leidos gets from the deal other than additional name recognition and opportunities for community outreach with the team.  From the official presser: “Soccer is a growing, global sport and we are a growing company with our eyes on the future,” said John Jumper, Leidos Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board. “This sponsorship will help enable us to get exposure not only locally, but throughout the country and internationally.”


Monday After

unitedOnly two Monday After posts before the start of the regular season in Major League Soccer.  We’ll start with the jersey week gimmick that MLS started last year and is continuing for the 2014 season.  While I personally don’t understand the excitement that surrounds the release of new jerseys, I understand the business importance of putting new gear out for fans to purchase.  Many look forward to the release of the new kits and teams can sell them at top prices.  17 teams will participate in the release the week  before the season, beginning the Monday preceding the first games.   The events will be a mixture of public and private while some will take place at the stadiums with other out in the community.  Not surprisingly, there have been some initial leaks of the jerseys, but those types of leaks typically serve to simply whet the appetite of the public.

In other weekend business news, American soccer fans have been keeping an uneasy eye on the situation in Kiev as the March 5 date for a USA/Ukraine friendly nears.  There are significant political events occurring in the former Soviet Republic that are far more significant than a soccer match.  Nevertheless, the safety of the US players and coaches is an important consideration and there are reports that the USSF is already considering potential alternative locations for the match.  The situation is one that bears watching over the next week, as tensions remain exceedingly high in the region.

Finally, the DC United stadium saga took another turn last week when mayoral candidate “Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said Wednesday that she wouldn’t support Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s proposal to trade away the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center in order to help pay for a new D.C. United soccer stadium on Buzzard Point.:  This is just another setback from the seemingly premature announcement last July that stadium efforts were moving forward.

Chivas Changes

chivasI was planning for a Bits column tonight, but there was a rather dramatic piece of news in Major League Soccer on Thursday that dominated the headlines.  MLS announced that it purchased the rights to Chivas USA from Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes effective immediately.  While Commissioner Garber would not state the price paid by the League, he suggested that fair market value was paid.  Some have used the recent $35 million sale to Vergara for half the team as a guide, but $70 million seems like a high number for the struggling club.

Garber indicated that a re-brand would be coming and that MLS was looking for an ownership group that could bring a stadium deal for Chivas USA.  He was adamant that the team would stay in Los Angeles and acknowledged that a new ownership group would likely not be found in 2014.   The team has struggled almost since the beginning and a recently resolved lawsuit involving claims of bias and discrimination made national news when featured on 60 Minutes.  For the last while, league officials had been working behind the scenes to try and improve the Club.  Obviously, MLS felt compelled to take this dramatic step because those efforts weren’t succeeding.

Per the official press release,  Mr. Vergara and Ms. Fuentes retain all branding and licensing rights to the Chivas name, however the league will continue to have rights to use the name during the transition, which will include the 2014 season.  Garber also acknowledged that they will have one shot to get the re-brand correct.  Some successful rebrands in MLS include Kansas City and Houston. in 2014: Chat with Greg Lalas Part II

mlsYesterday we presented Part I of our new chat with Greg Lalas.  Today, we offer Part II.   In this segment, Mr. Lalas discusses the editorial process at , takes a look back at the last four years and offers some thoughts on what fans can expect in 2014.

Thanks to Mr. Lalas. When we spoke four years ago, you told me “[t]he idea is to present a place that a soccer fans, not just MLS fans, can get all kinds of content that is connecting MLS to world and is engaging and interesting to them.” Four years on, have you reached that goal?

Greg Lalas: I would argue that we are moving in that direction more and more every day.  We have done a pretty good job in the last four years to present ourselves  as a place where the North American soccer fan, in particular, can come and get their daily, weekly or hourly dose of the soccer news and conversation and chatter and banter , but I always think of it as a work in progress.  Are we where I would like it to be or any of us would l like it to be? Not quite.  But we are getting there.

FB: We also talked about the balancing act that you had, trying to provide both news and commentary.  Are you satisfied with that balance now and how it has shaken out?

GL: To an extent.  I think we are proving that the commentary can exist.  Coming in, maybe we weren’t in the beginning as responsible as we needed to be with our commentary  to ensure that , that all the T’s are crossed and I’s dotted and the facts are right.   It has improved our journalism and reporting over the last couple of years  to make sure what we are saying and what we are writing about,  whether we are being critical or praising. is backed up by the truth so we are trying that all of the time.  We are pushing into areas all of the time.  A writer like Matt Doyle, who I think is superstar, is pushing the limits of commentary with his Armchair Analyst articles and his Three Thoughts after matches and tournaments.  These are really starting to resonate with our audience which is not just an MLS audience, but a North American audience for soccer.    The balance between news and commentary is something that every outlet has to deal with and has to be as responsible as possible.  I hope we are doing it as well as anybody with that responsibility.

FB: Is it a tough balance especially, because part of what makes sports so fun, and what people are looking for is rumor and more than just news?

dsgGL: True.  Its not like we don’t deal with and discuss rumors.   It is amazing how many times we have reached out to a club about a rumor, and every once and while I ask “how many others have reached out to you? It is amazing how many times the answer is “nobody” and yet we see five other articles. Why did nobody else reach out to you? Why are we the only ones who reached out to you?     Part of that it the modern journalism world that we operate in.  I understand that.  I understand the notion “Let’s get this rumor up and we’ll contact the club” and there is a second article that can go up and deal with that because something I have always said is that context is no  longer found in one article like in the newspaper world.  The site also provides the context.

Here is an article that says.  There is a rumor that Jermaine Defoe is coming to TFC. Maybe an hour later, another article that Toronto denies that  Jermaine Defoe is coming to Toronto.  Maybe the next day there is a rumor and a comment  from someone at Spurs saying that Defoe is likely to leave at end of the year and it goes on and on.  If you just read one of those articles you are not going to get the full story and I think that is how journalism in the digital space is moving more and more. To some peoples’ chagrin and to some peoples’ embracing of it and saying this is an interesting way to approach it.

FB:  Anything on the site that fans should be looking forward to for 2014?

GL: We are doing a really cool series of profiles right before the new season starts which is on March 8.  The week leading up to that we have a huge suite of content to get people ready for the season.  That includes a media roundtable; we are doing team by team previews, but we are doing some unique videos around them that are aimed at trying to give a little more context about each club.  Not just the club in 2014, but a little bit of its history. We are coming up in 2015 on  the 20th season of MLS, so we are trying to build a little bit more of that historical  context for people.

And the MatchCenter is one of the most groundbreaking things we have done.  Its code name is Golazo. It went live towards September of last year, technically in Beta, but this year it will be full live and it is an amazing experience of social content, highlights, photos, the usual commentary from OptaSports, live stats  and its an incredible experience.  This year we have redone the mobile version of it.  It is now an incredible experience that I hope people will check out.  The last thing is fantasy .  We are still pushing fantasy; we have revamped the game, made it a little more intuitive made it a lot better.  We are hoping that people will dig the new fantasy game.

FB: Do you envision MLS Live continuing to grow?

GL I hope so.  Everyone is discussing the tv contracts that are up at end of the year and we will see and for MLS Live, the more growth the better.  There is a huge digital audience for MLS and soccer in the US and Canada.  We have the numbers and a study to back that up in terms of the number of people with smart phones, people that are watching games soccer digitally in the US and Canada is higher than the other sports.  I expect MLS Live to continue to grow. in 2014: Chat with Greg Lalas Part I


Back in 2010, I had the opportunity to spend some time chatting with Greg Lalas about the newly launched  Mr. Lalas was named as the editor-in-chief of the new site and back then, we discussed his vision for the site, the technical problems it was experiencing and a number of other issues surrounding the launch.  Now four years later, Mr. Lalas was kind enough to chat for a few minutes about the how the site is doing four years later.  In Part I of our chat, Mr. Lalas discusses site metrics, content and more.  Part II will feature tomorrow.

Thanks to Mr. Lalas. What content drives the most traffic to

Greg Lalas: It’s going to be the big stars…and  any talk about new stadiums and expansion to new cities is a big thing.  The connection between MLS and the National team drives a lot of traffic to us.  It is a World Cup year so everyone is really fascinated with the US National Team.  The number of players on the USMNT who are in MLS is just making that connection stronger and stronger, so that is a big thing for driving traffic.    Right now, since we are in the off season, it is a little different, but obviously matches drive it.  Traffic spikes around matches and that is the same for everybody.  I talked to the guys at NFL and the same thing happens to them.  The highlights, the great goals; its what we as fans love.  I want to read about the US Team, I want to watch great goals.  I want to watch the action.  Ultimately, I think that is what  one of the great lessons of the last four years for us.  No matter what happens we are basically mirroring the fans.  We are fans, so what we find interesting is probably what the fans find interesting.

FB: Are you continuing to see growth? Are you satisfied with the growth rate?  Are the numbers where you want them to be?

GL:  Yes. Our growth rate in 2013 was really great.  From page views, we were up a decent chunk and more importantly in unique users, they were up a lot, especially in the second half of the year.  I don’t know what happened in the second half of the year, other than we were doing  a little bit more digital marketing and we were doing a really good job in social media to drive the numbers.  In the second half of the year, the numbers really took off.  That might have also been around expansion.  The second half of the year started with NYCFC  and the bookend was Orlando City SC in November.  You look at those numbers and you see tremendous growth in the second half of the year.

FB: Are people spending a significant of time on the site once they get there?

GL: Not too bad.  Our average is 4 something minutes.  I would like it to be higher.  Page views per visit have held steady.  Our goals in 2014 in particular, are to really drive unique users even more than page views.  Like everybody else, we are trying to figure what is the actual calculus behind putting a bunch of these numbers together to say what is really a successful metric for us.  It is not just unique users.  It is engagement, it is Likes and Tweets and page views per visit and time spent and engaged time that ChartBeat uses (and we use ChartBeat for ourselves).

One of the biggest metrics that I am looking at, if we grow our unique users, can we maintain the same ratio of new users to returning users. The last thing I want is to blow out the number on new users, but they don’t become returning users.  If our unique users double, but our new users go up to 50% versus  what it has been over the last two years or so which is about 30%, then we are doing something wrong because we are not keeping those new users we are not making them  come back or giving them something that they want to come back for.   So, if I can grow the uniques  but still keep  it 70/30 returning/new  then I am going to me happy with the user metric at least.

FB: Is there a feature on the site that gets less traffic than you think it should?

GL: I think that there is a lot of talk about statistics  and Moneyball type analytics and I don’t think yet that we are seeing the traffic there that we could or should.   There is so much talk out there with Optasport and Match Analysis and all of these other statistically driven companies, talking about statistics 2.0 and deeper dives into the analytics, but I at this point I don’t see the interest in it at a very high level.  Part of it is that people are still trying to figure out a way to bring it down to a level that is digestible for the more casual fan.  You think about baseball, here is his ERA and that is his batting average.  Those are simple things to understand.  They are almost intuitively understood and then someone just put a number and an acronym to it. In soccer, we are trying to figure out what are those few little stats that help us understand the game a little better, so that a casual fan can get a glimpse of a match or a player or a moment and really say, I get it.   Right now, I think all of the stats are a little too complicated for the casual fan and in some ways we just need to dumb it down;   I need to dumb it down for myself sometimes when I read  what Devin Pleuler, one of writers, writes about.  We are getting there, it is a

FB:  I look at what you guys do with the Chalkboard and I wonder how much traffic it generates.  It is an interesting look after a match. 

GL:  It doesn’t generate as much traffic as we would think or we would hope.  That is why we are trying to do more around the written content or the video content around stats.  Devin writes the weekly article called the Central Winger and he breaks down stats.  He is doing some pretty groundbreaking work on the side.  He works for Opta full time and he is a contributor for

Monday After

galaxyMajor League Soccer descended upon Fresno, CA over the weekend for a preseason match-up between the Earthquakes and Galaxy.  Billed as the Central California Cup, the match drew a sellout crowd of almost 13k.  As we have repeatedly stated, these types of exhibition games provide the league with a great opportunity to spread its message beyond the MLS cities.  For a league that is hoping to grow its television audience, it is important for fans outside the home markets to become interested in the league and its players.  MLS somewhat accomplishes this through its efforts in Tucson and regular exhibitions in Texas.  13k is a great number for a neutral site preseason game.

The effort to locate a soccer specific stadium in DC continues, with United releasing some additional stadium renderings as part of a season ticket holder event.  The team also noted that renowned architectural firm Populous will be the architect in charge of the design.   Populous has designed a number of MLS stadiums and during the construction process in Houston, the Dynamo presented this interesting Q&A with Loren Supp from Populous.  The possibility of locating the stadium in DC requires some land swaps with private entities which remain underway.

Finally, there are reports that an ethics review is underway because of alleged improprieties in how David Beckham has approached his effort to gain support for a stadium project in Miami.  There are suggestions that Beckham’s dinner with the Mayor violated rules regarding lobbying and interaction with public officials.  While the initial issue seems minor, this is indicative of some of the minefields that await Beckham’s efforts in Miami.


Trivia Time!

questionBeen far too long since we offered up some soccer business trivia:

Q. What British celebrity was part owner of the Los Angeles Aztecs of the North American Soccer League? Answer Below

***The trivia questions come courtesy of Jamie Clary.  Mr. Clary is the author of the First American Soccer Trivia Book, available through 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

A. He also was on the board of directors for England’s Watford Football Club but was better known for “Rocket Man”.  He’s Elton John.

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

Interview with Tim Martin

san-joseOn the road tonight, but in the spirit of our fifth anniversary, here is the first interview we conducted back in 2009.

We thought we would revisit an interview with Tim Marting of Gallagher sports.  Mr. Martin, a 10 year veteran of the sports marketing field and the President of soccer marketing entity Gallagher Sports, discussed the San Jose marketing deal in a recent article for  Mr. Martin has worked for a number of major brands in an array of sports marketing categories and has negotiated tens of millions of dollars of sponsorship agreements.  He was kind enough to answer a few questions posed by  Despite the obvious positives of bringing money to San Jose,  some fans have wondered whether adding Amway to the League’s other two multi-level marketing jersey sponsors (Xango & Herbalife) either diminishes the standing of the League or creates an association that could be harmful. Do you think those are legitimate concerns?

Tim Martin: They are certainly legitimate concerns, because each of those MLM’s has had noteworthy and seemingly legitimate legal and/or scientific complaints registered against them in the past.  At the end of the day, however, it needs to be a decision weighed, and ultimately made, by the club, based off of its unique goals and objectives.  We are also in an unprecedented economic environment where almost no industry is immune to public scrutiny when it comes to where they are spending what may be perceived to be the public’s money.  Two years ago an observer may very well have listed major financial institutions and auto makers as two of the best and most stable of industries from which a club could secure a shirt sponsor.  That was before congressional hearings and TARP funding became staples of the evening news broadcasts and cast major sponsorship funding in an entirely new light.  At times like this, there is risk in just about any sponsorship.  If there were 15 multi-level marketing companies across the front of MLS jerseys, it may be indicative of a problem.  3 of out 15, however speaks to sponsor category diversity.
FB: The League has been working hard to market the game to a younger, “hard core” fan base for a while now.  Do you think Amway’s product line a good match for this type of crowd? Who are they trying to attract?

TM: I do not think that Amway’s products are necessarily a good fit for such a target, however, without having a working knowledge of Amway’s marketing strategies, its difficult to say exactly who they are targeting, particularly because they are so diverse.  The one thing that I believe is safe to assume is that they find the Quakes (and MLS) a global medium for broadcasting their brand, and must feel that the impressions they will receive around the world are worthy of the investment.
FB: There are now four clubs without jersey sponsors.  Do you think sponsorships deals are in the works for those clubs?  Fans are amazed that teams like the Revs, Rapids and Dallas (with the power and business acumen of  Kraft, Kroenke, etc..)  have not landed a sponsorship.  In your mind, what are those teams looking for, and what should they be looking for in a deal?

T.M. I’m fairly certain that any club without a jersey sponsor is actively pursuing one.  Its far too great of a potential financial resource not to be.  Each club, however, will assign a different value to the front of their shirt, and by value I don’t just mean a certain sum of money, but also cognizance of the brand they are associating themselves with.  This is very relatable to your first question in that it all comes down to the goals and objectives of the club.  It’s possible that these remaining clubs have had offers from multi level marketers, or casinos, or tobacco companies, and simply choose not to go into business with them due to an organizational belief system (I have no first-hand knowledge of any such offers, just using that as an example).
F.B. Some of the first deals have now been in place for a couple of seasons.  Do you think that the sponsors have realized the intended benefits from these deals?

T.M. Again, not knowing each sponsors specific goals and objectives for striking these deals in the first place it’s impossible to say for certain how they feel these deals are working for them.  I think that at least one success story would be Glidden and the Columbus Crew.  First and foremost, they bought the sponsorship at what would today be considered a great value price of $1M per year.  Little could they possibly have known at the time that a former Boca Juniors legend would guide the franchise to its first title while providing the brand with unprecedented exposure in South America, on top of what they also obviously received in the States.  It can also be reasonably assumed that Herbalife has received adequate value back on their $4M+ investment through worldwide Beckham jersey sales alone, and the exposure that they provide.

Once again, many thanks to Tim Martin of Gallagher Sports. To the readers of, what do you think about Amway coming into the League, or about shirt sponsors in MLS?