Building in Kansas City: The Future of the Wizards

wozardsIn September, 2006, On-Goal, LLC purchased the Kansas City Wizards from Hunt Sports Group.  Led by Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, the purchase brought a local ownership group to MLS and started a new wave of MLS franchise sales that included Houston and DC United.  At the time, Kansas City was playing to small crowds in massive Arrowhead Stadium and was one of three MLS teams in the Hunt stable.  OnGoal brought limited sports expertise to the transaction, but expressed its desire to build a “world class” soccer specific stadium by April, 2009 and a refreshing entusiasm to the League.

It is now April 1, 2009 and The Wizards are playing in tiny Community America Ballpark to crowds of around 10,000.   OnGoal still plans to construct a stadium as part of a larger development at the site of the former Bannister Mall, but the project has a long way to go.  Demolition has started, but financing remains in question for the project as a whole and the retail components are struggling.   Nevertheless, the Team is shooting for an April 2011 opening.

To the ownership group’s credit, they have not let the pace of construction impact their willingness to spend on the team.  Last year, the Wizards brought in Claudio Lopez as a Designated Player.  The seating capacity of Community America Ballpark was increased and fixed seating was added in multiple places.   At the same time, OnGoal has continued to maintain corporate sponsorships and has continued strong ticket sales in 10,000 capacity stadium.

To many MLS fans, Kansas City has long been considered a “weak” franchise and a prime candidate to relocation to St. Louis or elsewhere.  In a market saturated with other sports teams like the Royals and Chiefs, the Wizards struggle for recognition from the local media.  Yet the team has endured, and the transition to Community America Ballpark has created a level of ticket scarcity not available at Arrowhead.  The team has been moderately successful on the field and has developed a loyal following.

As an original franchise in the under represented center of the country, Kansas City is important to MLS.  The new ownership group was a necessary infusion of new blood for MLS at a time prior to David Beckham’s arrival.  The decision to move to the smaller park during construction was savvy and should sustain the franchise during construction.  However, construction of the new ballpark will ultimately be the determining factor in whether the Wizards survive and thrive.

Business Bits: MLS Live is Back

computerMLS has announced its online  games package for 2009.  The product will cost $19.95 for the season and will include 150 games.  The video quality will double and fans will be able to edit and create their own highlight packages.  Read more about MLSLive and other new MLS digital initiatives in our interview with MLS Director of Digital Strategy Chris Schlosser.

MLS has also announced its national televison package for 2009.   Mark Cuban’s HDnet is noticably absent, but games will continue on ESPN, Fox Soccer and Telefutura.  Also absent, are any games on ABC.  As previously discusses, ESPN’s two year “Thursday Night Soccer” experiment has also been abandoned.   However, a quick look at the schedule shows that the League definitely put a premium on games that will show will in the stands.  Plenty of home games in Seattle, L.A. Derby games and Blanco dates.  Interestingly, RSL only hosts one home game and Gillette will never be featured.revs

This is probabaly the second smartest way to do it.  The best way would be to schedule the “big draw” games for Thursday night to keep “appointment viewing” for fans.   For the casual fan, it will be hard to find these games.

MLS Sponsorships: The Name on the Front of the Jersey

san-joseOn January 29, 2009 the San Jose Earthquakes announced a three year deal with Amway, for a reported $2-3 million per season.  According to reports, all San Jose apparel, including game jerseys, would immediately begin carrying a prominently placed Amway logo.  With the deal, San Jose became the 11th MLS side to announce a primary jersey sponsorship.

We’ve previously discussed Seattle’s $4,000,000 per year deal with Microsoft. In 2008, DC United inked a long term deal with Volkswagen for a reported $3.7 million annually and the Chicago Fire announced a three year deal with Best Buy.  Best Buy, Volkswagen and Microsoft are well known commercial entities with an international footprint and an established pedigree.  MLS fans were elated when such prominent companies invested in the League.

Despite its long history, soccer fans reacted differently to Amway’s entry into U.S. soccer.  In the minds of some, the Amway deal joined Herbalife’s five year sponsorship of the Galaxy and RSL’s groundbreaking deal with Xango by adding another multi-level-marketing enterprise to the League’s list of sponsors.  These critics believe that such sponsors besmirch the reputation of MLS and give fodder to mainstream media critics.

I take the view that sponsorship money is a hot commodity right now and fans should be ecstatic that an internationally recognized company is investing in the League.  Amway has deals with the Orlando Magic and AC Milan.  Given some of the sponsors of teams around the world, Amway is no better or no worse.  xboxMicrosoft, Glidden and Comex are fine, but be grateful for the investment, and go buy so makeup!

Business Bits: Bye Bye Barca

barcaMLS and FC Barcelona announced today that the storied Spanish Club is withdrawing its bid to enter the League in 2010.  Citing the economy and market conditions, the parties mutually agreed to walk away from the proposed Miami franchise.  We have previously posted about the viability of the South Florida market. With Barcelona out of the way, things are definitely looking up for Vancouver, St. Louis and Portland. According to this post at the 24th minute, Vancouver and Portland have wrapped up the slots for the next round of expansion.

In other news, tickets for the June World Cup Qualifier against Honduras have gone on sale.   The game is scheduled for Soldier Field, and interestingly, will be shown on ESPN Classic and Galavision.  ESPN seems to be playing games here.  There is no good reason this game isn’t on ESPN or ESPN2, other than using Classic as a pseudo pay per view.  Based on the ratings from the last qualifier, the Sports Leader is counting on a big increase in subscribers for Classic because of the game.

Finally, according to a story in the Daily Free Press, the Revs seem to be weathering the economic slowdown quite well.  The paper interviewed Liz Summers, the Revs’ director of communication:

“[Soccer] have not been affected as you may have seen others,” she said. “It’s an entirely different season ticket pack, discounted regardless of the economy. We’re a different entity because our value point, our price point, is at a much different level.”

Individual ticket prices range from about 15 to 20 dollars Summers said, and the Revolution also offers free parking, which helps keep them “a little bit of a different entity.”

“Season ticket sales are on par, if not ahead,” she said. “In ticket sales we’re doing very well. Soccer is still growing. There’s a line of cities trying to get into the door to get teams.”

Summers also said the Revolution has long-term deals for advertising and are increasing their advertising to online, adjusting to where the marketing deals are. That specific move has nothing to do with the economic issues, she said.revs

MLS Expansion: Vancouver in 2011?

vancouverAs part of our ongoing examination of MLS expansion targets, it is now time to explore Vancouver’s bid for 2011.  Jeff Mallet, Greg Kerfoot, Stev Luczo and Steve Nash (yes that Steve Nash), are the men leading the charge to bring MLS to Vancouver in 2011.  The proposed team would play at BC Place Stadium following a renovation and in a Soccer Specific Stadium sometime thereafter.   Vancouver is already home to the Whitecaps of the USL and would add a second Canadian team to MLS.

The ownership group seems solid.  Mr. Kerfoot has long been a friend of soccer and Steve Nash adds glamour and splash to the ownership.  The owners have the money; Kerfoot is a billionare.  The Whitecaps have done well at the gate and the market is hungry for higher level soccer.   BC Place is well situated and the proposed soccer stadium is also in a solid location.

All that said, color me unconvinced.  The stadium situation is murky (there is no guarantee the sss wil be built), and BC place is not an ideal soccer venue.  More importantly, I question how much the League really wants a second Canadian franchise.  Montreal was a unique creature; both because of its rivalry with Toronto and high level support (just see the massive support Montreal got for its Champions League game).  Vancouver is way off the typical sports beaten path (just ask the Grizzilies of the NBA), and would add even more lengthy travel to the MLS season.

All that said, I think the Vancouver bid is attractive for many of the same reasons I support Portland.  The money is there, the support is there and as a “mid-size city” (for sports purposes), I think it is a good fit for MLS.  With the target date for announcing new franchises approaches, we will continue to monitor Vancouver and the rest of the bids.bc-place

MLS Portland Heating Up?

portlandLast week, we  posted about Portland’s efforts to land a Major League Soccer Franchise in 2011.  On Tuesday, Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Portland Timbers and driving force behind the Portland bid, took his pitch to the Oregon Legislature.  Paulson is asking the Legislature to revisit a 2003 bill that would use Major League Baseball player salaries to pay for stadium construction (remember when Portland was chasing an MLB franchise?).

Giving the economic climate, Paulson wisely couched his message in terms of jobs creation.  Because his project includes the renovation of PGE Park and the construction of a new home for his minor league baseball team, Paulson can pitch his project as a two-for-one.

Action is also taking place on the city level, because Paulson is seeking funding on all fronts.  In a remarkable display of chutzpah, Paulson took his argument directly to the people, through a commentary piece in the Oregonian.  In his article, Paulson states that he is seeking $35-38 million from the City to improve PGE Park, and trumpets his willingness to pony up the $40 million franchise fee.  Of Course, it is only a few paragraphs later when he notes the need to build a new home for his baseball team.

As I have stated before, I think Portland would be a great venue for MLS.  With limited competition for sports dollars and media coverage, and a strong repuation as a hotbed for soccer, Portland seems like perfect destination for the League.  The deadline for City action is March 15.  Footiebusiness.com will keep tracking all of the expansion bids.  We of course welcome your comments on the viability of this bid as well.  mls

MLS announces deal with Brand Thunder

mlsMajor League Soccer recently announced a new relationship with Brand Thunder to provide fans with a customized a browsing experience, “tailored specifically to them.”   The high tech browsing “booms” will allow MLS fans to access video, news, blogs and more for whatever team or teams they choose. Patrick Murphy, the founder and CEO of Brand Thunder was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with footiebusiness.com prior to the scheduled launch of the first MLS team site at the end of this month.

According to Mr. Murphy, the “beauty”  of Brand Thunder, “is that you are always connected… you can create a feed that is always updated, driving traffic back to the site.”  Traditionally, once a web user leaves mlsnet.com or a team site, they must click back to the site to view more content. Mr. Murphy said that when using Brand Thunder, the teams/League, “become part of the browser; who cares where your fan goes…you are always connected.”

Mr. Murphy would not disclose the terms of the deal between Brand Thunder and MLS, however  when asked about individual team readiness for the Brand Thunder experience,  he stated that “because some teams are more advanced than others, you are a going to see a mix.”  As of now, Brand Thunder works only with Firefox, but according to Mr. Murphy, “we are working on an IE solution.”  However, he feels that the target demographic for Brand Thunder and MLS, “is a higher percentage Firefox user.”

Over the next couple of weeks, footiebusiness.com will be taking a look at the League’s efforts to connect with hardcore supporters.  The relationship with Brand Thunder seems like an important step in that direction.  In recent years the League has made a push towards younger demographics (and away from families), and this is typically a tech savvy group.  Moreover, because soccer struggles for coverage from mainstream media outlets, a fully integrated web experience provides a a nice opportunity for the League to connect with its fans.  computer