Soccer Business Bits: Back to B-More, RSL Friendly and More

unitedWe are back on our regular schedule now and thought we would start with a quick look to one of the big business stories of the week.  After getting rebuffed by PG County and desperate to leave RFK, DC United is still considering a permanent move to Baltimore.  According to the story from the Washington Business Journal, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon has written to the Maryland Stadium Authority asking them to research a possible stadium project for United.  According to the story, the inquiry was made without consultation with DC United.

This is not the first time United has explored a stadium in Maryland.  Those prior efforts died After an 8-0 vote by the Prince George’s City Council refusing to support funding for a study of a potential stadium in Maryland.  United was then in the unenviable position of having thumbed its nose at the District of Columbia while being left at the alter (or perhaps engagement party) by the State of Maryland.  Now United may have another opportunity to build in the State.

There are many benefits to MLS teams playing mid-season friendlies: exposure, revenue and more.  That said, RSL’s decision to play Chivas in mid-October seems a bit contrary to their efforts to make the playoffs for the second consecutive  season.   With RSL needing points, it seems someone counter productive to exhaust their players with three games left to play.  Nevertheless, with a lenghty break between games, RSL probably needs the matches to stay fit for the run to the playoffs.  However, it is interesting that this match will likely draw about the same amount of fans as a typical MLS match at Rio Tinto.

Finally, the Globe & Mail is reporting that Vancouver will go forward with plans to build a retractable roof on BC Place.  The open air stadium is a requirement of the MLS franchise and moving forward should continue to make the transition for the Whitecaps smooth in 2011.

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Soccer Business Bits: MUN2 Interview, MLS Expansion Update and More

us-soccerWith the Mexico/USA qualifier set for Wednesday on MUN2, we posed a couple of questions about the broadcast and the channel to Kevin Dugan of NBC Universal/Mun2 digital media.  Please see his thoughts below:

Footiebusiness: mun2 seems targeted to the Spanish speaking offspring of native Spanish speakers, yet this game will attract many native English speakers outside the typical target audience.

Does mun2 intend to retain these viewers going forward?

Kevin Dugan: Most of the original programs on mun2 are in English. We also program the best Spanish language content form Latin America with English subtitles – not unlike other networks, which regularly import English-language shows from the United Kingdom.

FB: Do you believe your programming is attractive to those of a non-hispanic  background?

KD: Absolutely! Check it out for yourself:

holamun2.com/chicas http://www.holamun2.com/chicas
holamun2.com/xtreme http://www.holamun2.com/xtreme
holamun2.com/hookup http://www.holamun2.com/hookup

FB: In addition to the game, what else will mun2 be doing to keep these viewers?

KD: Being ourselves – uniquely American!

FB: Given that this is the first time many viewers will be exposed to mun2, you will have a unique opportunity to create a first impression.  Did you consider broadcasting live from Azteca in order to improve the level of the broadcast?

KD: The Telemundo Deportes team will handle the production of the game. The Telemundo Deportes team is incredibly experienced having covered hundreds of matches around the world. We’re in great hands!
We have also just posted a video that includes interviews about the game with Lionel Messi, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jorge Campos, among others. Check it out: http://www.holamun2.com/usavsmex.  We will be posting similar videos leading up to the game. We look forward to you joining us on mun2 next week. Thank you!

Thanks to Kevin Dugan:  Here are a couple of additional notes from around MLS:

We are traveling this weekend, so just a couple of quick  hits.  First, Don Garber has seemingly foreclosed the possibility of Montreal joining MLS in 2011 as part of the Vancouver/Portland entry into the League.  However, according to this article, the addition of Montreal seems like a certainty, perhaps as early as 2012.  For our thoughts on Montreal (and South Florida) joining MLS click here.

One team that will definitely be joining the League is the Philadlelphia Union.   The team is reportedly nearing 10k in ticket sales.  For those eager to see stadium progress, click here for construction photos.

Our series on MLS fans will continue this week.  Please stay tuned for more.

Expansion Update: Philly 2010

philly

Yesterday we took a look at  the expansion situation in Vancouver.  Today we thought we would take a look at how things are progressing in the City of Brother Love.  Click here for our previous post on the Union. The team website is up and running and established ticket prices and season ticket benefits.  The Union also have a name, a coach and sharp crest.  According to reports, the Team has sold just under 10k season tickets and will cap tickets at around 15k seats in its inaugural season in its 18,500 seat home in Chester.

The Union has a strong supporters group in the Sons of Ben, who have been omnipresent over the last couple of years at an array of soccer events including the announcement of the Team, MLS Cup 2007 and even at a US Open Cup game in Connecticut between the Revs and Harrisburg, PA (about 2 hours from Philly).  Its location between DC and New York should make for some good rivalry games that will bring supporters from out of town.

Yet there are doubts.  Last weekend, the US National Team drew just over 31k at “the Linc” for a Gold Cup Quarterfinal.  This was the first major soccer event in 4 decades in Philly and just months before the Union first kick.  While some are lauding the attendance, there is a good argument that the number was disappointing.  If soccer demand was so pent up in Philly, why weren’t more in attendance?  Efforts to sell the game to Eagles season ticket holders were generally unsuccessful.

At the same time, progress on the Chester stadium is progressing slowly, and there was a recent statement from team officials that the Team might need to start its 2010 season on the road in order to ensure completion. Will people be willing to travel to Chester to see the games?  There are also questions about how receptive Philly will be to a new soccer team.  Philly is a crowded sports city and the best team in town happens to play in the summer. There is some major mainstream media opposition to soccer in the City of Brotherly Love.

Ultimately, we think Philly will succeed, especially in year one.  However, we think it will be difficult for the Union to keep demand for season tickets in excess of 10k for long. A special confluence of factors have helped Seattle and Toronto succeed, none of which are present in Philly.  We hope for the best, and do believe that Philly will be a relatively strong franchise over time.  What do you think?  Vote in our poll.

Expansion Update: Vancouver 2011

bc-placeWith all the tumolt surrounding Portland’s 2011 expansion effort, its cousin in MLS expansion, Vancouver, has quietly slid under the radar.  With opening kick for Vancouver just 86 weeks away, thinks are quietly moving towards a successful opening.   Vancouver is well set up for success.  The ownership group seems solid.  Billionaire Greg  Kerfoot has long been a friend of soccer and Steve Nash adds glamor and splash to the ownership.  The Whitecaps have done well at the gate and the market is hungry for higher level soccer.   BC Place is well situated and funding is in place for a substantial renovation (well over $200 million U.S.) that will add a retractable roof.  Soccer capacity will be limited to 20k.

The team has set-up a slick website, that is unfortunately updated infrequently.  The site contains links to BC Place renovations, and a brief discussion of the hoped for waterfront stadium.   There were reports soon after the announcement of the franchise that more than 5k season ticket deposits had been received.

In the three months since the franchise was awarded, it has been very quiet in Vancouver.  However, with almost two years until Vancouver first kicks off in MLS, that is probably a good thing.  Portland’s bid has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, while stadium renovations in Vancouver are continuing without dispute.  Promoting a team that won’t play a game for two years is a delicate balance.  The Sounders did an outstanding job of building momentum up to their 2009 debut and avoided peaking too early.  Vancouver can quitely promote their MLS squad through the current Whitecaps, while quietly putting together the support system necessary to maintain and succeed in MLS.  We will continue to monitor developments in Vancouver.

Soccer Business Bits: New MLS Expansion?

barcaOvernight English language broadcast numbers are out for the USA/Brazil match, and the numbers are instructive.  Of the top 10 markets, only three are MLS cities, and two of the top five (Miami and West Palm Beach) were home to one of the League’s failed franchises.  Other  top markets like Hartford/New Haven and Richmond scored very well, despite only a passing association with exisiting franchises.  Las Vegas was a solid #2, perhaps suggesting heavy betting action on the game.

Regardless, the real story here is the South Florida market.  Remember Barcelona’s efforts to bring a team to Miami?  Remember the short lived Miami Fusion?  We admit, we were against the idea of MLS expanding back into Florida.  South Floridians are notoriously fickle sports fans; Exhibits A-C are the Heat, Panthers and Marlins.  But as these TV numbers suggest, soccer is definitely a premier attraction in the Sunshine State (this will likely be even more evident in the Spanish language numbers).

The question for MLS is can a franchise (with or without Barca) survive in South Florida.  As we have said before, the idea of 9,000 fans snoozing through Sunday afternoon game in 110 degree Miami August heat, is a nightmare scenario for supporters of the League.  Would the popularity of top-level international football translate into numbers for MLS?  As the US marched through the Confederations Cup, it became clear that soccer is plenty popular, just not MLS.

There are three levels of soccer fans in the US.  There are the MLS fans who cheer on their local team and their national team.  There are the “Euro” fans who follow the big European teams (or South American teams) and their national teams, but have little interest in MLS.  Finally, there are the “event” fans, who get caught up in the hype of a big event and/or will follow the US in any sporting event. The first group is small (but growing), and these are the fans that MLS needs to capture, especially in a market like South Florida, where soccer is king, but MLS is not.

One final expansion note, there was a story out recently that the Saputos are again announcing an effort to bring an MLS team to Montreal. Montreal has shown an ability to support soccer (remember that big Canada Cup crowd) and is close to securing a 21k soccer specific stadium. A third Canadian team would create a nice rivalry and Saputo is solid potential owner.  However, with Philly, Vancouver and Portland right around the corrner, there is a question whether the League can handle another franchise so quickly.  The dilution of the talent pool is a big concern.  That said, Montreal would be a great venue for MLS.

The Seattle Sounders at the Halfway Mark: Good Business

soundersJust over three months ago, we took a look at the business model for the expansion Seattle Sounders.  With the season at the halfway mark, we thought we would take another look at soccer in the Emerald City.  In an indication that demand remains strong for tickets, the Sounders recently announced that they are making more seats available, making it almost certain that the team will set an MLS attendance record.  Fans continue to flock to Qwest for arguably the best stadium experience in MLS, and perhaps most importantly, the Sounders continue to perform on the field.

The Sounders also continue to do the little things right; the Sounders’ web page is second to none in the League.  While other teams have deviated from the MLS web template, the Sounders have done an outstanding job of creating an interactive destination for their fans. Live chats with the Team are offered, links to multiple blogs, an oustanding ticket engine, promotion information and more. In addition, the presence of the Sounders’ band offers a unique element in MLS.

Media coverage continues to be outstanding, with multiple print outlets covering the Sounders from every angle.  The Seattle sports radio station features the Sounders prominently.  The same goes for local televsion stations (and TV ratings are reported as quite strong).  While this level of coverage is not unprecedented, it is far more than many MLS teams.  MLS fans struggle to find coverage of their teams in many markets, and the opportunity to seek information from multiple sources is simply another avenue for fans to connect to and support their team.

Will the success continue?  The same factors discussed in our original piece probably still apply.  The team needs to do well, the experience has to continue to provide fans with something unique and the Sounders have to continue to do well in their fan outreach.    However, 1/2 of the way into their first season, the Sounders continue to do well in all aspects.  With new teams coming in Philly, Vancouver and Portland, Seattle will continue to be a model franchise for expansion.  xboxThe success in Seattle looks like it is here to stay.

Stadium Fun: Downtown in Houston

houstonWhen the San Jose Earthquakes became the Houston Dynamo in 2005, part of the understanding was that a soccer specific stadium was just around the corner.  After years of playing in Robertson Stadium (home of the Houston Cougars), it appears that the dream of a downtown Houston stadium is closer to a reality.  The downtown location of the proposed stadium is right near Minute Maid Park (home of the Astros) and situated in a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone.

According to the City of Houston website, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones are:

special districts created by City Council to attract new investment to an area. TIRZs help finance the cost of redeveloping or encouraging infill development in an area that would otherwise not attract sufficient market development in a timely manner. Taxes attributable to new improvements (tax increment) are set-aside in a fund to finance public improvements in the zone. Zones in the City of Houston have been created for one of three reasons:

  • to address inner city deterioration
  • to develop raw land in suburban fringe areas
    or
  • to proactively address the decline of major activity centers

Total cost of the 21k stadium is expected to be about $80 million with the Dynamo ownership (primarily AEG and Golden Boy Promotions) funding about $60 million.  The rest of the funds could come from tax credits,  the TIZ money and from some of the stiumulus money floating around.  The TIZ program will also provide the property for the stadium.  According to Houston President Oliver Luck, multiple banks are lining up to provide financing for the contruction project.  As we have noted previously, this is a great time for construction, with the cost of materials and labor way down.  Also, these are the type of projects that can bring jobs and income into the economy.  The economic benefit of stadium projects is also debatable, but during a downturn there is a definite economic upside.

The renderings are out and design firm Populous has been selected for the project (also did Citi Field).  An important aspect of the agreement as far as obtaining city approval is the participation of Texas Southern University.  Although negotiations are ongoing, it is expected that Texas Southern football will also use the stadium for at least 30 years and a $2.5 million investment.

Importantly, this is not the first time Houston has gotten close to a stadium deal.  However, the pieces appear to be slowly clicking into place for a 2011 opening.  A downtown stadium in Houston will continue the trend that has been successful in Toronto and Seattle by placing the Team within close proximity to public transportation and population centers.  With Philly and New York set to open new stadiums in 2010 and other projects on the way in Portland, San Jose and Kansas City, this is a great time to be an MLS fan.