Business Snapshot: Television

Last week we took a look at the status of expansion on the eve of the 2012 season.  Today, with the start of the NBC/MLS relationship just days away, we thought it worth taking a quick snapshot of the American soccer broadcast relationships.  In August MLS and NBC  announced a three year television rights agreement that will put Major League Soccer on the Peacock and its affiliated sports channel from 2012-2014.  The three year deal is worth an estimated 10 million dollars per year and replaced the league’s one year $6 million + deal with FSC.  As part of the agreement, NBC and NBC Sports Network will air regular season and playoff matches from MLS and USMNT games.  Promotional efforts have already begun and the network has produced a number of high quality spots to promote the upcoming season of soccer.

MLS has timed the expiration of its newest deal to coincide with the end of the ESPN and Univision deals as well.  Conventional wisdom suggests that this is a calculated risk that will allow the league to maximize it s future tv revenue by negotiating rights deals in the glow of a World Cup year.  However, that approach puts MLS in the unenviable position of entering the negotiations with no security blanket.  If one its primary partners declines to participate in the discussions, the league will lack leverage.

The standard bearer for league television relationships is ESPN, which is a longtime partner of the league.  ESPN still holds the rights to the MLS Cup and All Star Game.  ESPN pays $8.5 million annually for MLS rights, yet that deal is part of a larger SUM/ABC/ESPN package that includes USMNT games and FIFA World Cup. In 2012, ESPN’s package is reduced to 20 games but includes a number of games on ESPN rather than ESPN2.

No discussion of league television rights would be complete without reference to the new $55 million deal with two Time Warner Regional Sports networks to televise Galaxy games.  The new networks (one in Spanish and the other in English) are fighting for content in the crowded LA Sports market and this deal guarantees live programming from March to October. The size of the deal is staggering.  NBC recently paid $30 million for 3 years of Major League Soccer on a national level and now Time Warner is offering $5.5 million per year for a team that never topped 16k viewers over the last year.

The last note applies to future World Cup broadcasts.  FOX outbid NBC and ESPN to claim the rights for approximately $450 million dollars.  The Spanish language rights were won by Telemundo for an estimated $600 million.  The combined $1 billion bids shatters FIFA records and confirms both stations as primary player in the soccer broadcast arena.  The package includes rights to the Womens’ World Cup events in intervening years and rights to various youth World Cups.  In 2005, ESPN paid $100 million for the English-language rights to the 2010 and 2014 games. Univision paid $325 million for the Spanish-language rights.  US rights are the most expensive in the world.

Soccer Business Bits: MLS Pre- World Cup Version

With the World Cup about to start and MLS about to embark on a 2 week hiatus, we thought we would take a quick look around the business of the league before all eyes turn to South Africa.  A while back we reported that longtime FIFA sponsor Continental Tire has signed with MLS as a league sponsor.  The multi-year deal provides signage at all MLS matches, hospitality arrangements at games and commercials on league broadcasts.  As is typical for such league-wide deals, SUM negotiated the deal on behalf of MLS and terms of the deal were not disclosed.  Continental is now the official tire of MLS and will have the right to use league marks in its advertising and product.

Now Major League Soccer’s official website is circulating (via e-mail) a survey targeting its user’s tire preferences.  The survey asks readers for their knowledge of Continental Tire and whether they are more likely to purchase tires from Continental because of Continental’s relationship with MLS.  The survey provides some significant insight in Major League Soccer’s efforts to promote its sponsors.  Recall that Continental Tire, through the MLS website, recently offered a free MLS jersey to any fan who purchases four Continental brand tires at participating dealers in certain Northeast locations.  The jersey can be from a team of the fan’s choice and can be redeemed by submitting certain documents to a designated address. The promotion applies to purchases made between May 15 and June 30.

In New England, injured Revs star is the official World Cup analyst for Comcast Sports Net New England, the Regional Sports Network that carries the Revs. Despite his injury problems, Twellman is a recognizable figure to most Boston ara sports fans and his presence on a station as popular as CSN will likely drive mainstream interst in the Cup.

MLS closes its pre-World Cup schedule on ESPN2 Thursday night with a Seattle home game.  The game gets a lead in from ESPN2’s 2.5 hour World Cup preview and provides a great opportunity to put the outstanding atmosphere of Seattle before non-MLS soccer fans who are watching the preview might tune in for MLS action.

Soccer Business Bits: Fox Soccer Ratings, Castrol Joins SUM & More

In an article addressing ratings for the MLB network, the Sports Business Journal reports that FSC is the lowest rated of the Nielsen rated sports channel.  From March 29 until April 25, FSC averaged less than 50k viewers in prime time.  MLSB Network was the second lowest, with just under 100k viewers in prime time.  However, given that much of FSC’s programming involves European soccer games that broadcast outside the 8-11 prime time window, the numbers are not surprising. The MLB rating includes occassional live broadcasts that included a Yankees-Red Sox game.   FSC’s three highest rated broadcasts in the same period were all over 215,000 viewers for specific European/EPL matches.

The Sports Business Journal is also reporting that FIFA sponsor Castrol has signed a two year deal with SUM that includes rights to the US and Mexian National Teams and MLS.  Castrol marketing will me directed to Hispanic fans and will include ads, appearances and other avenues.  MLS players will also be added to the Castrol Index.   This is a neat compartive device that includes players from some of the world’s biggeest leagues.

Finally, take a look at these ESPN World Cup promos.

Soccer Business Bits: Portland Expansion Moves Forward, Fox Soccer Doubles Up & More

The Daily Journal of Commerce in Oregon is reporting that a final deal for the Timbers to move forward in the renovation of PGE Park could be in place by Thursday.   Construction has already begun on the PGE renovation despite the absence of a development deal thanks to a 3-2 vote last week.  That could all change Thursday if the proposal clears a final hurdle.  Apparently, Commissioner Amanda Fritz had been one of the folks not yet sold on the deal between owner Merritt Paulson and the City.  However, according to the cited report, Commissioner Fritz has had many of her concerns alleviated and the project may be set to move forward. A final vote is due at the end of the month that would clear the project to move forward in earnest and meet the 2011 opening date.

In media news, Fox Soccer Channel is reportedly set to add a second network devoted to the beautiful game.  The channel will be devoted to English and European soccer.  The channel is set to debut in March and will be called Fox Soccer Plus.  Some of the content will be derived from the staggering Setanta USA.  Not yet determined, is how the channel will be offered on American cable systems.  The network will reportedly carry games in HD.

Finally, there are multiple reports that Columbus has re-signed former League MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto.  Although terms of the deal have not been released, it has been announced that Columbus will not be  using its DP slot to retain the Argentininan midfielder’s services.  This continues a trend of MLS teams finding a way to keep high priced talent will using the allocatino funds or by simply reducing salary for former DPs.  Claudio Lopez agreed to a similar arrangment last season with Kansas City.

Soccer Business Bits: Seattle Business, Stadium Architecture & Labor Issues

Before we get into it today, note that we will “business blog” the Final providing discussion of the broadcast, advertisements and other business aspects of the game on Monday morning.  Please check back for that.

Next week we will also have a chat with Soccernomics author Simon Kuper, but today we post a link to a Seattle Times article about the perceived economic benefits of the Sounders to downtown Seattle.  The article provides anecdotal evidence of increased economic activity resulting from the 15 Sounders’ home dates.  Such claims have long been disputed by economists, who believe that the there is little to no benefit from stadiums.  Nevertheless, on the eve of MLS Cup 2009, the article does show that local business in Seattle have bought into soccer as a financial plus.  A number of the people interviewed indicated that they were originally skeptical of soccer in Seattle, but have now embraced the team.

The Original Winger posts a great interview with Gino Rossetti of Rossetti Architecture.  Rossetti is the designer behind many of the new MLS soccer stadiums and he provides some great insights into the design process. There are some great tidbits about how designing a soccer stadium involves different factors from those of other sports (i.e. soccer fans only get up once per game at halftime) and how Red Bull Arena will change the soccer stadium playing field.  We recommend the story.

There have been a number of labor related stories popping up in the last few weeks, most regurgitating information about a potential strike (which is very premature).  However, with the Commissioner giving a number of interviews over the last few days, here is a link to some of his most recent comments on the issue. Based on comments in the story from Nat Borchers, guaranteed contracts will be a big subject of dispute.  The NFL is on the only other major sport without guaranteed contracts.


Soccer Business Bits: Flying to Seattle, ESPN News & More

Just a couple of quick hits today:

Kudos to RSL for arranging a $300 non-stop flight for RSL fans from Salt Lake City to Seattle for the big game.  The best part?  The flight will be on the RSL branded plane. Other one-stop flights are available at $99 per flight.

ESPN has announced its broadcast plans for the game and lead-up to to the match. Highlights inclulde an ESPN Classic presentation on the lead-up to the Cup and notifcation that the broadcast will be seen in 122 countries.  Perhaps most interesting, the article also notes that the Galaxy/Dynamo Conference Final, despite the 11:25 start tine and and 36 minutes of power delays, was the most watched MLS broadcast in ESPN history, with more than 700,000 viewers and a .5 rating. These numbers do not include an additional 120,000 on ESPN Deportes.

Finally, Red Bull Arena has been announced as a host site for the Football World Series.  The four team tournament will take place in the Summer of 2010 and will include a number of prominent world club teams.  The Red Bulls will be one of the teams involved.



Covering the Coverage: The Internet

computerAs part of our ongoing series looking at media coverage of soccer in the United States, we have explored the various mediums covering the game.  In Part I, we took a look at the mainstream media.  To read that article, click  here.  Thereafter, we took a look at sports radio. Subsequently, we took a look at local newspapers.  While these media are important, there is no question that the internet is the primary source of soccer coverage and the primary  medium used by soccer fans to get their fix.  To explore the coverage of soccer on the internet, we spoke with three recognized names in American soccer coverage.  Steve Goff of the Washington Post Soccer Insider, Ives Galarcep of Soccer By Ives and Jason Davis of MatchFit USA.  Look below for their thoughts on the coverage of soccer on the internet, and check back for more stories in this series.  Your blog covers soccer on a local, national and international level.  What types of stories drive the most traffic (e.g. National Team vs. MLS vs. Red Bulls vs. DC United vs. UEFA)?

Ives Galarcep:  National team stories drive the most traffic, followed by MLS stories and Americans Abroad stories. My Q&As and running commentaries are pretty popular as well.

Steve Goff: USA national team drives the most traffic, followed by DC United.

Jason Davis: National Team, by far.  It’s clear that my potential audience increases dramatically during periods of USMNT activity, and that inevitably leads to more traffic.  It makes sense strictly from a numbers perspective; while a narrow focus might give me a higher profile within a smaller community, the broader national appeal of the National Team give me the ability to attract more readers if my content is good.

FB: Do you pay attention to the sources of traffic on your blog?  Do you find that links from other soccer sites drive traffic or do most of your readers go directly to your site?  Similarly, do you track which links people use on your site to go elsewhere?  Do these factors dictate which stories you cover?

IG: Most of my readers are regulars, with about a quarter coming from other sites. I don’t really track outbound links much though.

SG: Most of my readers come directly to my blog. However, I do receive traffic through secondary sites such as and dcunited’s in-house blog. I do not trace the popularity of links that I provide, but based on the number of comments, I have a good idea what’s popular.

JD: Referral links were my lifeblood for a time, and my traffic was almost entirely dependent on whether or not I was linked to by a much more popular site than mine.  As time has gone on, I get more direct traffic than I used to, though the links still drive a good amount of my daily hits.  The links people follow out aren’t generally something I worry myself with; many of them are referenced news stories, so they aren’t necessarily indicative of anything other than the reader looking for background information.  I’m very much an “if it interests me, it will probably interest others” type of writer, so I go with my instincts and try not to over-analyze my traffic, or let things like exit links dictate my content.

FB:  How has the blog changed the way you cover soccer?  Do your sources act differently when they know a story might be headed for the blog as opposed to a different medium?

IG: As a newspaper writer I was more of a team beat writer who focused on team news and features, with my column allowing me to write about a broader range of subjects. Now, with the site (I’m not a fan of calling it a blog, but that’s the label it will have until I re-design it into a more news site format) I can write about a broader range of topics. With my readership more evenly spread out around the country I have moved away from a New York/New Jersey focused site to a national site. Actually, I moved my coverage to a more national approach and the readership eventually took on that shape. As for sources, I think most folks in the American soccer community realize that my site is read by a pretty big audience so if anything it has made securing interviews easier. There are a few instances where some media relations people don’t quite grasp the power of new media, and are still stuck in the old way of thinking that traditional media (such as newspapers) are king, but more and more people are beginning to understand the power of the internet and the influence of websites like mine.

SG: For better or worse, the blog has become the priority because of its immediacy. Indeed, I always inform someone whether the interview is for the blog or paper/web.

FB: You made a bold decision to blog full time.  Has the blog increased in readership since you made that decision?  How do you decide what events to cover live?

IG: To give you an idea of the change when I went independent, the best month I ever had traffic-wise on my old newspaper blog was 375K pageviews in a month. My first month with the new site had 750K pageviews. This past summer, we averaged 1.5 million pageviews per month.

FB:  Do you have any interest/input into the advertising that appears on the blog?  How is the advertising content for your blog decided?

IG: For the first year and a half of the new site I sold all the non-Google ads myself. In the past four months I have begun working with an agency that has been selling ads for me. Most of the advertisers have been soccer specific, or companies looking to target the American soccer fan demographic, which is what my site delivers.

SG: I have no involvement with ads and don’t know the process.

JD: I’m still working on a low enough level that almost all of my advertising comes from affiliate membership, and is therefore commission-based.  They drive almost no revenue, but they give the site more of professional image in my mind.  I can choose the ads that appear, and obviously attempt to have them match the content of focus of the blog.  I do have a few direct partnerships, which obviously guarantee a little money, and I’m hoping to work towards more in the future as long as they don’t compromise the look and feel of the site.

Thanks to Steve Goff, Ives Galarcep and Jason Davis for their thoughts.

Business Blogging: ESPN Coverage of Wednesday Night Soccer

espnWith a big soccer doubleheader on ESPN, we thought we would review the broadcast, commercials and marketing from the telecast.  Before the game, the USA/Costa Rica match featured prominently across all ESPN platforms.  There were lead ins on SportsCenter and a 30 minute pre-game featuring Stone and Musto from Bristol.  The pre-game coverage included a thorough review of qualifiying from around the globe.  Commercials during the pre-game included Bridgestone, Gatorade, Pennzoil and others. There was also a fairly limited amount of local advertising.

The coverage on ESPN was fairly impressive.  Bob Ley anchored from RFK with Lalas while eand Harkes handled the broadcast.  When including the studio team, ESPN devoted 6 separate “talents” to the match.  The coverage was professional and comprehensive.  Scores from around the globe were regularly updated and viewers were kept apprised of develpments from all regions.

Tabasco, Gatorade, Pepsi Max, Blimpie and FIFA ’10, Budweiser and others made up the advertisers for the game broadcast.  Pepsi, Axe and Gatorade also had in-game advertising near the on screen scoreboard.  Healy and Healey did a good job with the broadcast and the ESPN Axis technology is always stunning.  There was surprisingly little mention of the ESPN2 broadcast of the Red Bulls/RSL game.  The USA match represented an important opportunity for MLS to put its broadcast before the much larger US Soccer audience.  While MLS had spots during the game featuring Becks, Angel and GBS, little was done to promote the following MLS match.    ESPN did promote its U-20 WC final.

Finally, ESPN concluded its USA coverage with a nice montage of qualifying, but the lead in to the MLS match was terrible.  The game was hardly mentioned, some of the graphics were in Spanish and it wasn’t clear for a number of minutes that the “pre-game” show was for MLS.  While the broadcast quality was outstanding (and included some in-game ads), the transition was a wasted opportunity for both MLS and ESPN.  This is too bad because few teams in MLS playsoccer as aesthicaly pleasing as RSL, especially at Rio Tinto.

As an aside, check out this outsanding piece on Portland’s entry into MLS as an expansion team from Major League Soccer Talk.

Soccer Business Bits: ESPN Doubleheader, Denmark Friendly and KC Stadium

tv soccerAmerican soccer fans will be treated to a soccer doubleheader tonight as ESPN2 will televise both the USA/Costa Rica match and the RSL/Red Bulls MLS match.  The lead in offers MLS a great chance for exposure to fans of the US Men who are reluctant to watch MLS matches.  MLS can showcase its product in one of its premier stadiums.  Unfortunately, the teams are near the bottom of the table and not necessarily the best advertisement for the League.  It will be interesting to see what steps ESPN takes to promote the MLS match to its Nats audience. If nothing else, RSL fans can feel pretty certain that there won’t be some other sporting event cutting out the first 15 minutes of the match.

In other news, the USSF  announced a November friendly with Denmark in Denmark.  Television coverage has not been announced.

Finally, it appears that Kansas City is moving closer to its alternative stadium site in Kansas.   For more on the project, check this article at Pitch Invasion.  While we think a 2011 opening is very aggressive and seemingly  unrealistic, we hope that the Wizards can make this a reality.

Soccer Business Bits: Soccer on TV & September Preview

tv soccerIt is time to turn the page on the calendar and the “summer of soccer” in the United States.  WPS is done for the year, MLS is entering the playoff stretch drive and the USMNT is facing a double shot of immense matches in World Cup Qualifying.  These are some big games, but actually finding them on television may pose a bit of a problem.

While ESPN (and not Mun2) will televise both upcoming qualifiers, they will do so on ESPN Classic, one of the weak sisters of the ESPN family.  Both ESPN and ESPN2 reach almost 100 million households, while Classic reaches closer to 60 million.  Moreover, Classic is frequently on a pay tier and thus not readily available to many potential viewers. This is a tough blow to soccer fans still irritated by Telemundo’s ownership of the Mexico/USA match.

Keeping to the TV theme, it will be a slow month for ESPN and MLS.  The Worldwide Leader is presently scheduled to televise one match in MLS in the month of September (San Jose/Colorado on the 18th).  FSC will continue its regular schedule of weekly games, while Telefutura will skip the first weekend in September and will televise only three games.

ESPN will continue to offer its slate of EPL and La Liga matches and FSC will continue to offer EPL and Serie A games.  Gol TV will also maintain its array of European and South American matches.  FSC will also show a variety of World Cup Qualifiers from around the globe.  It was also heartening to see ESPN promote its MLS broadcasts during its EPL telecasts.