Champions League: Does it Matter?

Tuesday night marked the opening of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal version for the 2009/2010 season.  What was once 24 teams is now 8, as the top regional sides competing for the right to represent CONCACAF in the Club World Cup.  This is the second season for the competition in its current iteration.  The play-in portion of the tournament started in RFK in July  before a paltry crowd typical of the tournament. The quarters opened up before friends and family in Columbus on a termperate night in Ohio.

In Europe, the Champions League competition is the most prominent of club events. Even during the broadcast of the Crew match, FSC was actively promoting its upcoming HD broadcasts of future Champions League games.   Club teams throughout the continent claw for the money, exposure and glamor of a spot in Europe.  In CONCACAF, the tournament barely registers a blip on the radar screen of the region’s soccer fans, especially in the US.  Teams must invest time, money and energy to compete in the event without the substantial rewards offered in the European version of the event.  The teams face extensive travel and generate limited revenue from ticket sales.  So from a business perspective, is it worth it?

We say yes.  As the tournament gains traction (especially in some of the newer markets), the exposure to international competition creates an enormous opportunity for exporting the League to the rest of the region. This will get a great test this year as US Open Cup Champ Seattle dips a toe into international play.  At the same time,  the elusive American soccer fan who watches only European football gets a chance to see more MLS on FSC in a tournament that makes perfect sense to them.

At the same time, players within MLS have the opportunity to show their wares to an array of potential suitors.  Ultimately, this creates transfer opportunities which can generate revenue for the teams and the League.  Similarly, front offices in MLS have an opportunity to evaluate talent from around the region, as they watch potential transfer targets play against MLS competition.

This process will take time, and likely will be a money loser for some time.  Yet the Champions League is an important business opportunity for Major League Soccer.  Ticket sales will come, as will television revenue and popularity over time.  Of course, it would help of MLS teams show well in the event.

Soccer Business Bits: Pimping Europe, Red Bulls Seats and More

espnWe’re back from our travels and one thing is clear: America loves UEFA (or at least ESPN does).  In a truly remarkable ad blitz, ESPN promoted its broadcast of the Champions League final across all of its airwaves.  During the broadcast of the NBA playoffs, pop up ads hyping the Barca/Man U match were omni-present, ESPN.Com offered live coverage of the match and extensive pre and post analysis and Sportscenter anchors devoted substantial time to discussing the merits of Ronaldo and Messi.  This was the type of coverage that MLS fans have been begging for and yet it was bestowed upon a foreign final (for the record, ESPN is replaying the game as I type this, at 9:00 Eastern on Thursday).

ESPN has long recognized the enormous market for soccer in the United States (remember the 10 million that watched the USA v. Mexico qualifier a few months back?), yet the Worldwide Leader also has seen disappointing ratings for MLS.  As we have blogged on many occassions, MLS has struggled to attract the “hard core” fan  that loves soccer, but not MLS.  From ESPN,  the disparity in coverage is shocking.  Finding MLS coverage on ESPN.com is a challenge, while EPL and La Liga are front and center.  The “Bottom Line”  regularly scrolls European results while MLS  often appears only during soccer coverage.

There definitely appears to be a “chicken or egg” issue.  Does MLS need better ratings and a better product before ESPN will actively promote the League, or does ESPN need to hype MLS to generate the interest the League needs to grow?

In other news, according to the Sports Business Journal, the Red Bulls have announced prices for the 30 luxury suites in Red Bull Arena.  According to reporting by Tripp Mickle, prices will range from 65k-75k per season.  The boxes include food and beverage (not alcohol) and seat at least 13 people.  It will be fascinating to watch sales of these boxes in this economy, especially with the Red Bulls hoping to sell multi-year leases.

Finally, in DC, Steve Goff is reporting that Real Madrid and DC United have reached an agreement for an August 9 friendly at Fed Ex Field in Maryland.  The matches will not play in RFK, in part, to tap into the Redskin fan base at FedEx.  This will be one of two MLS friendlies for Real this summer. united