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.

Covering the Coverage: The Business of Covering American Soccer

soccertvWith the Summer winding down, we thought we would take a look at the coverage of American soccer in the United States.  Tonight, we will start by looking at “mainstream” national media, with a focus on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and other outlets.

Not surprisingly, ESPN is at the head of the class, with a wealth of online content, regular soccer broadcasts and fairly regular content on its various television and radio platforms.  Despite regular criticism from soccer fans, ESPN does an outstanding job covering the game.  This is especially so with respect to the US National Team.  In the lead-up to big qualifiers, ESPN has devoted substantial time across all platforms to discussing the match and even went live from Mexico City despite not carrying the broadcast. ESPN.com has a number of columnists devoted to MLS and US soccer and its US soccer pages are updated daily with new content.

On the flip side, one valid and longstanding criticism of ESPN coverage is the lack of attention paid to MLS.  These criticisms have risen in the wake of ESPN’s recent commmitment to EPL and La Liga.  Many fans also take issue with the online focus on leagues outside MLS; it is far easier to find coverage of English soccer than Major League Soccer on ESPN.com.   Nevertheless, American soccer fans have been heartened by the recent exposure through an unlikely source; Bill Simmons.  Simmons’ is a lead ESPN writer and he followed up his long column about the Mexico match with an hour long podcast with Alexi Lalas. Yet, even Simmons has largely ignored American professional soccer.

Sports Illustrated has Grant Wahl, possibly the most renowned American soccer writer (thank you David Beckham), and a fairly regular turnover of soccer columns during the MLS and European seasons.  SI also has an ongoing relationship with Soccer America that provides access to the content of that publication.  The magazine does cover soccer to an extent, however that coverage is typically limited to the National Team, with only occasional references to MLS.  Nevertheless, CNNSI is part of the regular rotation for most American soccer fans.

The same cannot be said for The Sporting News. It is tough to find soccer coverage in the magazine or website for TSN.  Long ago, I had an e-mail exchange with a representative for TSN indicated that demand simply didn’t warrant coverage of soccer (be it European or American).  The same can be said for CBS Sportsline.com and many of the other “national” sports websites. Soccer coverage is tough to find and usually dependent on AP stories or other pool reporting.

One final outlet: USA Today has always done an adequate job covering soccer both for the National Team and MLS.  The website is regularly updated and they feature the regular comments of Beau Dure.  The paper also regularly covers the games.

We will continue to look at the coverage of soccer over the next few weeks, including blogs, sports radio and other outlets.  In the interim, tell us what you think. What national outlets do you rely upon for soccer coverage? Do you ignore mainstream media all together?  What other outlets should we discuss.

Soccer Business Bits: Wall Street Journal Weighs In, Welcome Back Wynalda

mlsWith the Summer of Soccer in full swing, the Wall Street Journal is the latest mainstream publication to provide coverage of the Beautiful Game’s recent burst of  popularity.  The article discusses the Confederations Cup run, the big crowds watching soccer live this summer and of course the youth participation rate.  The article also includes quotes from Don Garber and Sepp Blatter, discusses the attendance in Seattle and the World Football Challenge.  The piece also looks at an issue we devote much of our time discussing, the question of how to capture American soccer fans and make them MLS fans.  Though breaking no new ground, it is important for American soccer and MLS to appear in such a publication, and the article certainly gives American soccer and MLS a fair shake.

Elsewhere, former US International and ESPN broadcaster Eric Wynalda has resurfaced as Nick Webster’s new co-host on Fox Football Fone-In.  Former host Steven Cohen got into trouble last season after making controversial remarks about Liverpool’s past Hillsborough tragedy.  Wynalda is no stranger to controversy, and his presence will provide a knowledgeable and familiar American voice to a show that has long been EPL-centric.   The show is set to debut on August 10.

Finally, it is All-Star time in MLS.  Kudos the Galaxy for promoting a viewing party at a Pasadena bar.  The event will include Galaxy players, free admission and more.  Another interesting All-Star business note:  Adidas is outfitting 3 MLS All-Stars with unique cleats for the big game.  Montero, Casey and Holden will wear signature one of a kind boots for the match.  Fans are also offered the opportunity through adidas to personalize their own cleats.  Click here for more.

Soccer Business Bits: Mexico/US 3, Portland Expansion and Shirts in Seattle

us-soccerA recurring theme of this blog is the importance of soccer businesses interacting with soccer fans.  Whether it be MLS franchises, WPS, US Soccer or soccer media, we frequently advocate for open lines of communication between fans and those in charge.   Through the years, American soccer officials (from all leagues and teams)  have done an outstanding job of making themselves available to fans and “new media”.  Given soccer’s lack of presence in mainstream media (an improving situation), the web is the most important resource for soccer news and these same officials have historically been receptive to the internet soccer coverage and reporting.

Along these lines, we offer kudos to NBC Universal for reaching out to a number of soccer bloggers and websites to present their side of the debate over the televising of the Mexico/US match.  Specifically, Kevin Dugan of NBC Universal reached out with an offer to answer any questions about Mun2.  He also offered this brief promotional video and announced that the station will be available on Direct TV and Dish Network as part of a preview on August 12.  Longtime soccer broadcasters Phil Schoen and Marcello Balboa will handle the English broadcast (from a studio).

The situation is obviously not ideal, yet we certainly appreciate NBC Universal’s efforts to reach out and make the best of the situation.  Far more native English speakers will now have access to Mun2, yet are they the intended audience of Mun2?  From a business perspective, the decision to show the game on Mun2 (instead of a different NBC English language channel) should still be analyzed.  Mun2’s intended audience is the English speaking offspring of Spanish speaking parents.  Will the provision of this network to a larger population of native English speakers for the Mexico/US game really increase the audience for Mun2 over time?  We have put these questions to Mr. Dugan and eagerly await his response.

In Portland, the improvements to PGE Park were approved last week by the City Council.  We will address this story in depth going forward, but for now, please see our previous stories on expansion in Portland.

Finally, there is this nugget from the New York Times about MLS merchandise sales.  As part of a promotion putting MLS jerseys in Toys R US, MLS shed some light on merchandise sales in the League.  Seattle is number 1, followed by TFC and the Galaxy.  Not suprisingly, Designated Players are the most popular jerseys.sounders

The Return of Beckham: The Business of the FSC Broadcast

becks2The big story in American soccer is the return of David Beckham to MLS and the Galaxy lineup.  As we have on a number of prior occassions, we thought we would blog about the business of the TV coverage of an important American soccer game.  As is typical, FSC started with a 30 minute pre-game.  The pre-game was sponsored by Geico, and included a Beckham interview, a Grant Wahl interview and the usual FSC personalities breaking down the game.

Advertisers for the broadcast included a slew of national companies, including Home Depot, American Airlines, Sketchers, Adidas, Quiznos, Panasonic, Dick’s and more. During the game, there were on screen logos for Home Depot, Adidas, Panasonic, Glidden, Dick’s, USSF and Makita Tools.   Stadium advertising included VW, Pepsi, Makita, X-Box, Napa, Gatorade and more.

The halftime show was sponsored by Dick’s, but the halftime commercials were of a lesser variety, including adds for Gracie Combat, American Airlines, USSF and more. During the second run, there were commercials from Dick’s, Home Depot, Glidden and Panasonic and FSC standard, Pro Activ.

The crowd was lively and FSC did a fairly good job of conveying the atmosphere through its broadcast.  FSC did a fairly reasonable job of advertising the upcoming Gold Cup matches both in game and during the pre/half time. Max Bretos was also sure to promote the CONCACAF and UEFA Champions League competitions on FSC.  They also did some promotion of the AC Milan/Galaxy match.   Beckham fawing was largely kept in check.