Soccer Business Bits: Attendance, TV and More

mlsMLS wrapped up its fourth round with a full slate of Saturday games.   The weekend was a mixed-bag at the gate with Seattle, Toronto and Houston drawing well and Columbus, San Jose and Salt Lake City disappointing.  Los Angeles posted a solid number, but still below traditional “super classico” norms.  All attendances for the week (and month) are here.

Seattle and Toronto will continue to be strong all season and the big number in Houston is encouraging. On the down side, San Jose’s failure to sell out at smallish Buck Shaw stadium is troubling.  This is especially so in light of Lew Wolff’s ongoing efforts to build a stadium.   In Salt Lake City, RSL is in its first full season at Rio Tinto Stadium and through two games, they are averaging less than 12,000 per game.  The weather hasn’t helped, but with the League’s most attractive venue, fans were certainly hoping for bigger numbers.

ESPN’s new game of the week format debuted this past weekend featuring the battle of Los Angeles.  ESPN elected to add Alexi Lalas to the booth and did not open the broadcast with a pregame show.  Alan Hopkins handled sideline reporting duties.  As usual, VW featured prominently as did Dick’s and newly active advertiser Crown Royal.  In game advertisements were few and far between (we continue to wonder why ESPN/MLS doesn’t make better use of these ads) and there was limited interruption from SportsCenter.  Interestingly, halftime was handled from Bristol; there was no sponsored soccer halftime show.  This coming week, ESPN2 will air its first Friday night game of the year, with New England traveling to RKF to face United.

In WPS action, Boston opened its home slate at a rain soaked Harvard Stadium before just under 5k.  In the FSC game, just over 5k were in Maryland for the Freedom’s home opener.  In New Jersey, less than 3k watched a tie between FC Gold Pride and Sky Blue FC.   Next week, FSC will televise Chicago’s second home match of the season fron Toyota Park.  As we have repeatedly discussed, the WPS is shooting for 4-6k per game.  With the exception of the Sky Blue game, the teams have continued to hit that target. wps

The Business of Real Salt Lake

rslThe week of RSL’s big home opener at Rio Tinto stadium has brought a number of stories about how RSL is functioning as a business in its new digs.  From “Behind the Shield, RSL’s official blog, comes word of “ticket insurance” in case of precipation at the home opener.  Unlike traditional rain check policies (where a game is rained out), the RSL policy allows fans the option of coming back for a game in August even if the game goes forward.  If there is any rain or snow between 6-10 p.m. the night of the game, all scanned tickets get a second game.  This is a clever policy, but suggests that RSL is concerned about attendance for opening night.  Check below for the opening night attendance.

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting on the RSL’s elite “100 Lions Club“.  For a base fee of $15,000, admission to the Club provides VIP seating, food service, V.I.P. parking and more.  The program also includes additional up close  meetings with players, concierge service and first rights to non-soccer events at Rio Tinto.  These are the types of programs that teams in all major sports rely upon as  an important revenue source.  These are also the types of programs that are struggling in this economy.   It will be interesting to see if RSL can keep selling these seats and selling them out.

We recently wrote about RSL announcement of Jet Blue as an official sponsor.  The deal includes signage, promotions and special offers for RSL fans.  According to this article, RSL has also signed on with Burger King, Anheiser-Busch and more.  Rio Tinto stadium is a big draw for these advertisers, because the signage and stadium advertising includes events other than soccer.  The article also announces a new TV deal for the team.

During the broadcast, Crown Royal, Heineken, Pennzoil and McDonalds were among the national advertisers.   Sponsors such as Panasonic, Chase, and Gatorade were among the signage sponsors in front of another disappointing crowd.

Business Bits: US Qualifier and Big Apple Soccer

The United States continued its qualifying campaign in Nashville Tennessee with a match against Trinidad & Tobago.  ESPN2 televised the game in prime time on the East Coast and added a 30 minute pre-game show with Stone and Lalas (and an over-hyped cameo from Barack Obama).  There was a wide range of national advertisers for the game including Castrol, Cooper Tires, Dunkin Donuts, Irish Spring, AT&T  Bud and Heineken.  Captain Morgan, so present during the El Salvador game, was not featured.  ESPN2 also added Pedro Gomez as a sideline reporter which enabled a halftime interview with Bob Bradley.   Disappointingly, attendance was announced at just under 30k

SBI is reporting the formation of a USL-1 side in New York for 2010.  The team will play at Hofstra’s 13,000 seat football stadium. The ownership group is fronted by Doug Petersen and Jo-Ellen Treiber, longtime residents of the area.  In addition ot Hofstra, the team expects to play at additional locations in the New York City area.   However, Petersen has indicated an intent to construct a soccer specific stadium in Queens.

The addition of  a New York franchise is important for a USL that has been losing teams to MLS at an alarming rate.  Three of the most successful franchises: Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, are slated to join MLS by 2011.   However, this may also crush dreams of a second MLS franchise in New York.  There had long been rumors of interest by New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon; a USL franchise in Queens would certainly seem to preclude such an option.

In Portland, the Oregonian provided some detailed reporting on the newly granted Portland franchise.  Specifically, the article focuses on the apparent funding gap between Merritt Paulson’s proposal and the available funds.  According to the article, there is more than a $28 million funding gap to fill if the City is able to sell more than $35 million in bonds in a tough market (if not, the gap is much larger).  MLS has cast its lot in Portland and now must make it work.  The announcement of a Portland/Manchester United relationship could add some funds to the deal, but it is important for the League and ownership group must make this work.  pge

The Morning After: MLS, WPS, USMNT

wpsIt was a big weekend for U.S. soccer fans.  The National Team was in El Salvador for a qualifier, WPS kicked off in Los Angeles and the MLS completed its second week of games.   ESPN2 televised the National Team (after not showing an MLS game this week).  Captain Morgan’s featured prominently as an advertisor (I don’t remember them investing heavily in soccer previously) and there was otherwise a fairly typical mix of national and local advertising.  Heineken and Southwest also purchased ad time.  The crew was on site (as opposed to a booth in Bristol) and the production went fairly smoothly throughout.

FSC televised the WPS opener at 6:00 EST on Sunday.  Mark Rogondino manned the booth for play-by-play.  As a founding partner, Puma featured prominently throughout.  Super Eight Hotels, American Airlines were among the sponsors along with ususal suspects ProActiv and Soccer Shop.  Just under 15k attended the event at the Home Depot; a nice opening for the League’s first game.

League-wide, attendance in MLS was disappointing in week two despite another strong showing in Seattle.  The Rapids and RedBulls opened with less than 12,500 in New York and less than 12,000 in Commerce City.  Columbus raised its championship banner in front of less than 15k.  San Jose sold out for the second consecutive week and about 16k came to RFK for United’s home opener.  Sunday was the most distressing number, with less than 7k showing up at Pizza Hut Park.

It is not terribly surprising that a rainy night in New York for the Bulls’ last campaign at Giants Stadium drew poorly, but the numbers in Colorado and Columbus are fairly disappointing.  The weather wasn’t great in DC either, but for one of the League’s perennial attendance powerhouses, it is a low number.  We have previously discussed the attendance woes in Dallas, but this number is exceptionally bad.  Fans of the team have been clamoring for a change in the front office, and if the sub 10k numbers continue, changes might follow.

The FSC game had the usual mix of Home Depot and ProActiv commercials combined with a fair amount of MLS Works and PassBack spots.  RSL’s broadcast (of  its game against Seatle), was heavily sponsored by KFC, and a local bank.  In San Jose, Amway again featured prominently on stadium singage and a half time interview with the Quakes’ VP of Marketing touched on the new campaign and the addition of a new beer garden and other stadium improvements.  We touched on that campaign here.san-jose

T.V. Tidbits: US/Mexico TV Ratings & Red Bull Rights Deal

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MLS ratings may be flat, but the U.S. National Team continues to draw well on TV.  In televising the  US/Mexico clash on Wednesday,  ESPN2 logged a .8 rating (over a million viewers) setting a new record for a World Cup Qualfier.  Add in the more than 5.5 million viewers on Spanish Language TV and close to 7 million people in the States watched the 2-0 US win on television.  As we have said before, there is a big audience for soccer in this country, MLS just needs to find a way to capture those eyeballs.

msg Meanwhile, according to reports, the NY Rebulls have signed a three year rights deal to televise Red Bull games on the MSG network.  While financial terms were not announced, New York fans will be pleased to have a destination for local broadcast of at least 20 games.  The deal also includes a studio show and Shep Messing!red-bulls2