Blogging the Broadcast: Chivas USA vs. Chicago Fire

mlsIt has become fashionable to live blog sporting events, and we thought we would give it a try for the MLS game of the week (as long as we can stay up).  However, our focus will be on the business aspects of the broadcast.

As an initial matter, the lead in from the re-broadcast of the Champions League final was smart; the lack of advertising during the game was not.  Nevertheless, the broadcast started on time (something of a problem for ESPN MLS broadcasts).  After a brief intro, the booth team of Harkes and Delacamera passed the baton to the “Espnsoccernet.com pregame show, presented by VW” where Rob Stone and Alexi Lalas provided some insight and discussion.

VW was the initial advertiser during the first break, followed by the Marines (a longtime sponsor of MLS) and then the ever present Home Depot (advertising Behr Paint).  AT&T continued its increased presence with a spot, before the parade of local commercials began.

A couple of other notes, it is unfortunate that the Chivas/Blanco matchup is up against the Mexican final.  This is probably the one game that Mexican soccer fans might be interested in watching.  That said, the 10:50 start time is rough for us East-coasters (a 7:00 start time in L.A. would be much better and would probably draw stronger ratings).

Second break started with a “Round Up” spot (new), followed by a 30 second ad for Mike’s Hard and a return of the 15 second Round-up ad and then back to the local commercials and PSAs.

Once back to the booth, we get a dose of ESPN Axis (neat technology) before some insight from Allen Hopkins. Crowd looks good behind the goals, but not so much in the middle levels (but filling in)…and it is game time.

The sign boards are active early, with adidas, Bud, Dick’s and Frazee Paint making early appearances. It takes about 12 minutes for the spots to repeat themselves.

At the 7:20 mark, a VW logo appeared in the top left corner for a brief second.  The sound quality of the broadcast is pretty good and the stadium sounds alive on TV.  A couple of additional microphones in the stands might be nice.

The Philly Union got a mention in the 22nd minute, including the 7k plus in season ticket deposits.

Minute 28 brought Hopkins back in and then minute 31 brought some colorful language that probably should have been edited since the replay was 5 minutes old. Good to see some cross marketing for FSC and Telefutura.

Taco Bell popped up as a sponsor at the death of the half along with VW.

That is one half in the books…we will call it a night.

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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

Business Bits: United Stadium, TV Rights and More

unitedDC United’s efforts to get a stadium built in Prince George’s County took a small step forward with the Maryland House Appropriations Committee approving a bill to fund a study about the project.  United is seeking State and County funds to build a new soccer specific stadium near the Metro in Maryland.  With RFK crumbling and a stadium near the Anacostia River, PG County is likely the best option for United.  The vote is positive, but the 17-7 vote tally is concerning for such a minor measure.  Stadium projects are not popular in this economy and United may find itself without a home if it alienates the District.

UPDATE:  According to this note in the Washington Post, the Study may not go forward after all.  Because of an apparent misunderstanding of the separation of powers, the Legislature has over-stepped its authority and will have to reconsider the bill. 

According to this AP story, Fox Soccer has won the rights to televise Champions League games for the next three years.  FSC beat out ESPN for the rights: a large coup for the soccer-only channel.  At the same time, ESPN is apparently offering cable companies and other distributors the opportunity to accept an ESPN Classic for ESPNU switch. The proposal would move Classic to a sports tier, thereby significantly decreasing its availability.  In recent years, Classic was regularly used to show non-marquee USMNT games.  This switch may either force ESPN to keep soccer on ESPN/ESPN2 or significantly reduce the available viewing audience.

As we have previously reported, MLS has shown a  surprising ability to retain major sponsors in tough economic time.  According to this latest report from the Sports Business Journal, Pepsi is now part of the list of retained companies.  Interestingly, the deal will switch the sponsorship focus from Sierra Mist (which was omnipresent as an MLS marketer), to Pepsi and Gatorade.  MLS has continued to show remarkable resilience with its sponsorships on both a League and Team Level with sponsors like Panasonic and VW staying with the League.