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.

US/Mexico 2

tv soccerYesterday we posted the following:  There are a couple of interesting TV notes surrounding US soccer this week.  The most significant is the announcement that the English rights to the USA/Mexico World Cup qualifier belong to……Telemundo.  According to Mr. Goff, Telemundo will show the game in Spanish on its main channel and in English on “mun2″ a station available in only 30 million households.  Telemundo is owned by NBC.  According to Goff, ESPN attmpted to purchase the game from Telemundo, but the rights were not for sale.  Given the strange start time (4:00 p.m. ET) for the midweek game, the match will likely not be a ratings dynamo.  Yet, the lack of availability in English will dramatically impact the ability of the work crowd to catch the game at a bar and of the college/school crowd to watch the game at home.  This is the biggest World Cup qualifier in years, and Telemundo’s power play will likely deny millions of American sports fans the opportunity to watch the game.  In the last 24 hours, the issue has generated a substantial amount of publicity.

Here is another post from Match Fit USA on the issue.

There is an online petition circulating in order to convince Telemundo and its parent NBC to move the game to a more traditional english langugage network.  Go here to participate.  The American run in the Confederations Cup generated a substantial amount of interest in American soccer and there is no bigger US soccer event than then a World Cup Qualifier against Mexico.  Given that confluence of factors, it is a shame that the game will not be on traditional US TV.  While the benefit of online petitions is dubious, we recommend that you participate.

Soccer Business Bits: Soccer on TV

us-soccerThere are a couple of interesting TV notes surrounding US soccer this week.  The most significant is the announcement that the English rights to the USA/Mexico World Cup qualifier belong to……Telemundo.  According to Mr. Goff, Telemundo will show the game in Spanish on its main channel and in English on “mun2” a station available in only 30 million households.  Telemundo is owned by NBC.  According to Goff, ESPN attmpted to purchase the game from Telemundo, but the rights were not for sale.  Given the strange start time (4:00 p.m. ET) for the midweek game, the match will likely not be a ratings dynamo.  Yet, the lack of availability in English will dramatically impact the ability of the work crowd to catch the game at a bar and of the college/school crowd to watch the game at home.  This is the biggest World Cup qualifier in years, and Telemundo’s power play will likely deny millions of American sports fans the opportunity to watch the game.

In other TV news, FSC landed the big match (for viewership purposes) of the MLS season to date.  Beckham’s Thursday night match in NY and return to MLS should be a ratings draw in prime time for the soccer network.  FSC has done a good job of promoting the game during the Gold Cup broadcasts.  At the same time, ESPN2 definitely drew the short straw for the week (yet a better game), with a 1:00 ET Saturday Toronto/Houston match.  The Toronto game is probably the better match-up, but the Galaxy contest is the sexier game.  Saturday times were not historically successful for ESPN, and a 10:00 a.m. Pacific start time (even in Toronto) will probably continue that trend.

Finally, the semi-finals of SuperLiga are upon us, with a two match doubleheader at Gillette on Wednesday night.  The game promises to be lightly attended (although the Revs are including this in their season ticket package).   All SuperLiga games are televised on Telefutura, yet the semi-finals have also been picked up by English language TV in New England on Comcast SportsNet.  The game will be shown in Mass, Conn. and Rhode Island using the Revs usually play-by-play man Brad Feldman.  superliga

Soccer Business Bits: MLS Attendance, Superclassico and More

mlsA while back we wrote about the “war of words” between the New York Yankees and MLS Commissioner Don Garber.  MLS-Daily has taken the baseball/soccer attendance analysis to a new level with a clever look at year over year attendance between MLB and MLS.  The comparison is instructive because it shows the challenges of drawing at the gate in the current economic climate.  With both Leagues showing similar attendance drops this year, MLS cannot be too disappointed with its attendance (although there is a bit of a Seattle skew). With expectations of a big second half for attendance, 2009 might still be a good year for MLS attendance.

In other news, Chivas USA has announced that it will open the upper deck of the Home Depot Center for the upcoming SuperClassico against the Galaxy.  FSC will televise the match on Saturday (and they did pump the game during the Gold Cup).  This match always shows well on television, so the USA match provides a nice platform to promote the game.

Speaking of the Galaxy, this report suggests that the Galaxy will be touring Tanzania in the off season for a three game exhibition.  This would certainly have the effect of spreading the Galaxy message to a new fronteir.  Somehow, I don’t foresee Mr. Beckham making the trip.

In the Gold Cup, advertisers for the USA/Honduras match (other than male enhancement) include DirectTV, Honda, Corona, Geico and Verizon.  There were also some credit relief services, 5 hour energy and of course ProActiv. There was also some pimping of the Barca-Galaxy game coming in August.   The half time show was fairly low key with Bretos handling the duties from RFK.  The crowd at RFK showed well and sounded good.

Soccer Business Bits: Confederations Cup, Getting Friendly II and More

us-soccerOn a day when American soccer fans are busy celebrating the USMNT victory over the Red Fury of Spain, we thought we would take a quick look at coverage of the big win opn outlets around the country. Online, the victory has been the top sports story of the day, with the game getting first position on ESPN.com, Foxsports.com and CNNSI.com.  Even traditionally anti-soccer TSN gave the match a fairly prominent position.  On ESPN proper, Sportscenter led with the game as did the boys on PTI. Even radio stations like WFAN in New York featured the game on their 20/20 sports flashes and espn radio’s “Backpage” show carried a lengthy discussion about the significance of the win
(as compared to the “Miracle on Ice”)

Outside the sports world, the game also got prominent attention. The New York Times gave the match front page space as did the Washington Post.  The Yahoo! home page put the game front and center.  Even Slate got into the act with an article that we highly recommend (it has some interesting information about the ESPN.com poll about the game).  Foxnews and CNN also gave the game a prominent place on their respective web pages.

Americans love an underdog, especially when the underdog wins.  There will be a fair amount of attention on the US Men on
Sunday, a weekend game for the title will definitely generate some eyeballs.  The last time this Team garnered this much attention, it was before the 2006 World Cup; the team promply got washed 3-0 in the opening game.

In Friendly news, TFC has announced that all tickets for the Real Madrid match this summer are sold.  Given the size of the stadium and the demand for soccer, this news is not surprising. In DC, the Real Madrid friendly with United has already reached the 35k tickets sold number.  It seems that Kaka and Ronaldo are a great draw, and with 6 weeks until this game, a large crowd can be expected.

Finally, in WPS news, the DC/Boston game was “nationally” televised on Comcast Sports as part of the four game regional television package that was recently announced.This deal will provide the League with additional exposure in big sports markets and will include interviews, highlights, game replays and other coverage.

Soccer Business Bits: Confederations Cup, MLS and More

us-soccerIt has been a very busy last few days in American Soccer.  The Confederations Cup has moved through the group stage, MLS is reaching the halfway point, Superliga is under way and the WPS is moving forward in its inagural season.  The big soccer business controversy of the week occurred on Wednesday night when the highly anticipated Seattle/DC match from Qwest Field was bumped from ESPN2 for extra innings of a College World Series game. Despite a 30 minute pre-game show buffer, it was into the second half before the baseball was over and the soccer game on the screen.  Unfortunately for MLS fans, the 3-3 tie was one of the best of the season and could have served as a great showcase for the League. MLS fans were (wrongly) angry with ESPN for failing to switch off the baseball to show the start of the MLS match.

Unfortunately for soccer fans, ESPN has a policy of staying with live events until their conclusion.  The game was made available on ESPN360 and replayed later in the evening.  Moreover, soccer fans must realize that the College World Series generates better ratings than MLS on the ESPN networks.  Commissioner Garber addressed the situation in his latest “Commissioner Speaks”.  MLS has done the right thing by making the game available for free on its website.

ESPN made another interesting programming decision during broadcasts of the Confederations Cup.  On Sunday, the Italy/Brazil and USA/Egypt matches were played at the same time, yet interestingly, ESPN chose to put the USA game on ESPN2 while the other game was on ESPN (complete with a 30 minute pre-game show).  Italy and Brazil are certainly two of the most prominent soccer playing nations in the world, but we strongly disagree with the decision to  have the USA play second fiddle in its own country.  However, it does say something about the relative popularity of these teams within the United States.  ESPN made its decision based on what they believed would draw the most interest.

SuperLiga 2009 is underway with small crowds in Chicago, Los Angeles, New England and St. Louis for the first match day.  The “St. Louis experiement” was not particularly successful, with less than 6k in attendance for a Wizards “home match”.  League-wide, MLS attendance was fairly typical with a big number in Seattle on Wednesday night with 29k at Qwest.  By playing in Oakland, San Jose was able to draw 17k against Los Angeles, in a game that got a TV lead-in from the Confederations Cup.  Houston did well with about 17k and New York was a pleasant surprise with 14k in a rain storm. There were 11k in Colorado and 8k in Dallas.  As always, we reccomend MLS Daily for a great attendance break down.

Finally, in WPS action, just over 3k were in Boston for a Wednesday night game, while only 2500 were in attendance for a weeknight game in New Jersey.  Just over 2700 were in St. Louis for a match against Washington.  For a League that had been doing well at the gate, this was a fairly disappointing weekend.  wps

Kaka, Ratings and More

milanYes it is true that we focus on the business of American Soccer here at footiebusiness, but when a transfer is so prominent that non-soccer fans are asking about it, it deserves a mention.  Real Madrid set a record with its record transfer purchase of Kaka from Italian Club AC Milan.  The $90 million transfer is approximately $15 million  more than than the $75.1 million transfer of Zidane to Real Madrid from Juventus.  The record had stood for almost a decade and now it has been shattered by the 27 year old Brazilian (although not shattering the record in Euros because of exchange rates).  For purposes of comparison, recall that the record transfer for an American is the $10 million paid by Villareal to secure Jozy Altidore’s services from New York.

From a business perspective, what makes these huge transfers interesting is the ripple effect.  AC Milan now has plenty of money to spread around to smaller clubs to purchase their rising stars.  In turn, these clubs will spend some of that money and down the line we go.  Interestingly, part of Kaka’s motivation for agreeing to the transfer is to help the financial stability of its old club.  Kaka had turned down a mid-season transfer to Manchester City for $100 million because he wanted to stay at AC Milan.  Now, because of the economic climate, he felt he could help his old club by leaving.  Interesting.

ESPN’s broadcast of the US/Costa Rica broadcast did not crack the cable top 20 last week (getting beat by Sponge Bob and John & Kate Plus 8 among others).  This is disappointing because US Men’s games tend to do well and the Costa Rica match was in prime time.  At the same time, the Sports Business Journal is reporting that MLS ratings on ESPN have remained flat this year at the .2 level.  For reference, this generally means just over 200k homes.  These numbers are disappointing, yet it appears that the new ESPN policy of changing nights for the MLS game of the week has had no impact on ratings  .2 has been the MLS rating for a number of years.

Finally, Toronto has announced its plans for Real Madrid ticket sales.  First pre-sale opportunities are going to season ticket holders followed by fans on the season ticket waiting lists.  Tickets will range from $140-$215 (Canadian), a steep price in a League where season tickets go for not much more than that.  There will be a small discount for season ticket holders.tfc Kaka will likely play in Toronto before Spain.