Monday After

nbcIt was a big weekend for Major League Soccer and national television.  Games on NBCSN, ESPN and of course the NBC Mothership. The NBC went up against football on multiple networks, so it will be interesting to see if the ratings improve over prior network disappointments.  The soccer was also somewhat lacking from an attractiveness standpoint, but these games are important for MLS and the expansion of its brand.

On to attendance.   The week started in Kansas City on Friday night from Kansas City, KansasSporting hosted Philadelphia in a match with significant implications for the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.  In the stands, it was yet another sellout for Kansas City, with more than 19k in the stands.    Just under 16k in Toronto at BMO Field, as the poor numbers continue for the League’s first MLS franchise.

On the West Coast, Vancouver managed a fantastic 21k sellout despite a disappointing performance on the field.   The Revs also came off the field unhappy, but their remarkable attendance swings continue as there were more than 20k in the stands on Saturday night in Foxboro.  The team’s annual college promotion brought big numbers out to Gillette.    Chicago also fell short on the field, but there was a solid 18k plus in the stands at Toyota Park.  Portland managed yet another sellout, this time on national television.

There were two late games on Sunday, on in Dallas and the other in Seattle.

 

 

Monday After

big-seattleAnother weekend and another full serving of soccer.  MLS also supplied a host of mid-week games from both the league and Champions League, NBC offered another MLS 36 and the league’s two English language television partners both offered prime matches including Sunday  night’s Cascadia Cup match from Seattle.  If you are looking for a worthwhile business read, check Brian Straus’ piece on cnnsi.com.

On to attendance, where weak sister Chivas USA barely cracked the 7k mark for their Wednesday night match-up. With the team’s ongoing struggles on and off the field, shouts for moving the franchise continue to mount.   On Friday night, Chicago fell to Sporting before a sizable crowd of more than 17k at Toyota Park.   On Saturday, the Impact entertained a 20k plus sellout with a total shellacking of the Dynamo.  At the same time, the two worst teams in the East played to a 1-1 draw before just under 14k at RFK.

The numbers got better as the night wore on, with Vancouver hosting 21k fans for their match against surging Los Angeles.  Dallas fell just shy of 15k at home, as their gate numbers continue to rise.  RSL pummeled the Crew before almost 19k at Rio Tinto.  Chivas’ second home date of the week was played before only 8k at the StubHub.

Of course the big attendance story of the week came courtesy of the Seattle Sounders.  Clint Dempsey’s home debut and a visit from rivals Portland Timbers combined to generate a 70k plus crowd at Century Link.  Seattle’s remarkable story continues as the team has become the most impressive business story in the league.

Monday After

ivyBefore we get to attendance, there a few major business stories over the weekend that deserve mention.  First, was the transfer and introduction of Clint Dempsey.  When this site started, the intention was to focus on the business of transfers, but over the last four plus years, the scope has greatly expanded and there has been little  focus on the transfer market and MLS rules surrounding player movement.  However, a $9 million transfer and a (reported) $32 million salary certainly rate a mention.  We will look at the business implications of this in greater detail during the week, but the transfer certainly confirms a point made by MLS VP Todd Durbin during a press roundtable in KC:  there are no budgets/caps on transfer fees.

Another big story involved the reboot of the Cosmos on Saturday.  Before a festive crowd of more than 10k and a live television broadcast on SNY (the home of the NY Mets), the team came off as a professional outfit and an opening night success.  Much work remains to be done, but the tv deal and the pomp and circumstance of opening night certainly left a favorable first impression.

On to attendance, with another full slate of games around the league.  The weekend started with a record crowd in KC in excess of 21k.  DC posted an small crowd of just over 12k in weather that was both wet and stormy.   Fans in Philly were treated to an exciting match at PPL Park with more than 18k on hand for the game.   Despite some terrible weather, Colorado managed almost 17k, while the Dynamo moved into playoff position before a crowd of more than 20k at BBVA Compass.

San Jose saw its usual 10k plus, while Seattle entertained more than 39k while the Timbers hosted yet another 20k plus crowd.

Monday After

fox soccerThe big soccer story of the weekend was the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final televised live on Fox.  This was the third and final match of the tournament  televised on the main FOX network.  While the quarterfinal game managed a solid 1.2 rating, the Sunday afternoon Final will likely eclipse that number.  While Mexico would have been the dream opponent from a ratings standpoint, the Final should have a fairly impressive number.  The attendance for the match was just under 58k in Chicago.  The broadcast was presented by Chevy.   Grant Wahl completed his new role as sideline reporter for FOX.  Johnson and Wynalda were on the call.

Elsewhere, the MLS week started at BMO Field with a solid crowd of just under 18k.  The 18k+ at Red Bull Arena was treated to a cracking 4-3 match on a gorgeous day in Harrison.  The Impact manged more than 20k at Stade Saputo, continuing a solid Canadian attendance weekend.   The Rapids fell just short of 16k at DSG in Commerce City.

United’s disappointing season at the field and at the gate continued with less than 15k at RFK for their match with the Revs. Even the news of a new stadium coming to the District was not enough to lift the gate for the Black and Red.   Vancouver completed the Canadian hat trick of good attendance with a 21k sellout at BC Place.  Perhaps the best attendance news of the weekend came courtesy of the Dynamo, who managed a crowd in excess of 22k at BBVA Compass Stadium.  The team’s attendance had slipped into the teens this year, but this was a great number for Houston.  San Jose managed its usual 10k plus in the cozy Buck Shaw confines.

Monday After

us-soccerIt was a big weekend of soccer in the United States with the National Team taking center stage in Baltimore.  The weekend match against El Salvador drew more than 70k (although the crowd leaned heavily towards the visitors), and the US Men did not disappoint with a 5-1 throttling of their quarterfinal opponent.  The game was televised on the primary FOX network carrying the match.  Once again Gus Johnson was on the call and he continues preparing for his World Cup role beginning in 2018.

Despite all of the action in Baltimore, there was also a full slate of matches in Major League Soccer.  There were two mid-week games, and the Rapids drew almost 14k for their Wednesday night match against the Revs.  On the same night, Chivas USA saw a crowd of less than 8k at the Home Depot Center.

On Saturday, almost 19,500 were in attendance at BMO for a clash between the Red Bulls and TFC that ended in a surprising draw.  More than 39k were at Century Link for a tie between the Sounders and the Rapids.  The draws continued with a scoreless affair between Montreal and Dallas .  There were almost 21k fans at Saputo Stadium.   The Crew/Revs match-up in Columbus also almost ended scoreless before a large 19k plus crowd, but two stoppage time goals saved the game.  However, the Eastern heat struck again, as a crowd of ___ saw another scoreless draw at PPL Park.

More than 17k packed Toyota Park, and the home fans were not disappointed as the Fire won 4-1.  RSL managed a crowd of more than 19k at Rio Tinto, while the Galaxy played host to more than 20k at the Home Depot Center.

Monday After

FIFABefore we get to the attendance picture, a quick note on the doings of FIFA partner McDonald’s in advance of Brazil in 2014.  The official restaurant of FIFA World Cup is running a promotion that provides entrants with a chance to win trips to the World Cup, trips to USA/Mexico in Columbus, t-shirts, video games and more.  You can enter via MCDONEGOAL.com and the promotion ends no July 7, 2013.  The promotion is offered in conjunction with EA Sports and is being advertised in conjunction with the provision of McDonald’s nutrition information.

On to attendance, wheres the weekend started in Toronto.  The struggling Reds managed more than 19k, while the Red Bulls pulled a crowd of just over 19,500 for their home loss at Red Bull Arena. Columbus barely crossed the 10k mark, as the attendance difficulties continue at the League’s original soccer specific stadium.  The attendance uptick at DSG Park continued with more than 17,500 in attendance on Saturday night, while Sporting continued its solid numbers with more than 19k.

RSL also crossed the 19k threshold as some of the League’s middle attendance teams put up solid numbers during a toasty and storm filled weekend.   Chivas actually progressed to 9k plus for their home loss to Seattle, as the nightmare in LA continues to be on display.   The Revs showed very well for their nationally televised date with the Galaxy, with more than 19k at Gillette on a warm Sunday evening.  The Revs game was preceded on NBCSN by the season debut of MLS36 focusing on Omar Gonzales.The struggles in Bridgeview continued, as the Fire manged less than 15k at Toyota Park on Sunday night.

The Sunday crowd at RFK for the USMNT match against Germany was just shy of 50k.

Part II: Chat With MLS Chief Marketing Officer Howard Handler

celebrationHoward Handler was named Chief Marketing Officer of Major League Soccer in early 2o12.  In that capacity, Mr. Handler oversees marketing, strategy, communications, digital, events and club services for the League.  Prior to joining MLS, Mr. Handler served as executive vice president, marketing and sales at The Madison Square Garden Company.  He has also worked for Virgin Mobile, The National Football League, MTV, Saturday Night Live and The Quaker Oats Company.

Earlier in the week we posted Part I of our interview with Mr. Handler.  Part II looks at the league’s decision to move the MLS Cup Final to the home ground of the highest remaining seed.

Footiebusiness.com For the first time, MLS Cup was held at the home ground of the highest remaining seed rather than a long planned neutral site.  What logistical challenges did the league face in implementing this change?  What types of items/events cannot be organized until the site is known?

Howard Handler: In the early days, a neutral site gave us more time to plan and sell more tickets.  Having a competitively determined site is a statement to the confidence we have in the size and intensity of our fan base, truly one of the distinguishing aspects of MLS today.

FB: Similarly, MLS Cup is a showcase event for the league. How does the new format impact the league’s ability to promote the league to sponsors, potential sponsors and potential investors?

HH: In 2012, we learned that a competitively determined destination for MLS Cup was the best possible experience for fans. The electricity and noise were amazing, and you could cut through it with a knife at the Home Depot Center. It was unbelievable, and I know the players, fans and partners felt it.

 There are certainly challenges with people having only two weeks to plan around the final destination, and everybody has very busy schedules, especially at that time of year. But, ultimately we are putting our fans and our Clubs first. We think that’s the best thing we can do to ensure that it’s the best environment for the players and clubs. Commercially, it’s also the smartest thing we can do to drive the best possible rating. fireworks

FB: Does the new format increase the importance of the All-Star Game as an annual event with respect to creating an opportunity for league officials, sponsors, media, team officials and fans to gather?  Will the MLS Cup still play a role as a central event off the field?

HH: There is no doubt that MLS Cup is the crowning event of the season. Everybody is gunning to be the champion, so we think that MLS Cup will continue to grow over time.  We’ve got one of the best Special Events teams in the industry and we will get even better at the logistics.  As our popularity and fan base continue to grow, it’s just one of those things that becomes a given. It definitely creates the opportunity to make All-Star a much bigger deal, but we have been doing a pretty good job over the past several years of making All-Star special. We have been able to find ways to layer on more content, more promotion, more surprises and more value for everyone involved.

 The real headline I think relates to March to Soccer, our new season launch platform. March to Soccer is a bigger, multi-faceted event. It stretches over a five week period and there are plenty of ways for everyone to get involved. Our partners acknowledged that, even when it was a concept on the drawing board. The calendar is always a great source of leverage for our league. We have those three big anchor events — March to Soccer, All-Star and MLS Cup —  but we also have rivalries and other exciting matches that exist within the schedule. Over time the big rivalries and some of the international friendlies will all take on greater importance.

FB: How will the new format impact promotion and coverage in the market where the game is held?  What efforts will the league make to connect with mainstream and sports media in the host city? How did that go with Los Angeles this year.

HH: The host markets have done a great job with MLS Cup.  Media today is built to react to the breaking story with the “got to see it now” mentality. With competitively determined places, as in the World Series, journalists know that they will be spending time in both places, and with us, it’s one or the other. I think the experience in Los Angeles was amazing actually. We had a little extra sizzle from David Beckham’s last game and the repeat potential that Los Angeles fulfilled. We had a lot of support from AEG, which is an amazing supporter and a great owner.

galaxyFB: Finally, does the league believe the new format will have an impact on match attendance?  Does that question depend on the city?

HH: The new format in part was adopted based on our confidence that attendance would be one of the real highlights.  What was interesting this year is that you had a couple thousand people travel from Houston. It’s not inexpensive and not uncomplicated, but they wanted to be there. It made for an even better environment. When you looked into the stadium, you saw an entire sea of orange next to the gigantic LA Supporters section.

Monday After

portlandHere it is!  The first “Monday After” of the new season.  Every Monday through the end of the MLS season we will take a look at some of the weekend business stories, including attendance, broadcast and more.  Today we will start with the televising of the league’s first round of games.  Fans were treated to the annual free preview of Direct Kick which offered a number of matches including the tilt between Sporting and the Union.  With the familiar tones of JP DellaCamera and the improving analysis of Alejandro Moreno, the broadcast had a national feel despite its local flavor.  Direct Kick froze for about 8 minutes mid-game, but the telecast was otherwise well done.  The picture quality of MLS Live remains outstanding, although the game was running about one minute behind the television version.  In a world where people are following soccer and Twitter at the same time, the delay can negatively impact the viewing experience.

The first national telecast came courtesy of the NBCSN from BBVA Compass in Houston.  Because of a long running Ivy League basketball game, the broadcast started late, although fans didn’t miss out on any o the action.  The network didn’t offer a scroll explaining the delay (as has been ESPN’s custom), which left viewers wondering what would happen if the game went into overtime.  That said, the NBCSN production was outstanding, with  the entire team providing great commentary and analysis. the Kyle Martino “between the benches” continues to serve viewers well.

ESPN joined the party on Sunday night with the Portland Timbers playing host to the Red Bulls. Twellman and Healy manned the broadcast booth while Lalas reported from the midst of the Timbers Army.   Twellman continues to improve and seems set to become a fixture in the soccer broadcast booth for years to come.  ESPN really focused on the Portland atmosphere during the game and showed live coverage of the fans signing the national anthem before the game.   Also, full credit to ESPN to addressing the Chivas USA, Adu and Donovan as part of the halftime.

Before we get to the attendance picture league-wide, a quick note about Chivas.  Longtime readers of this site know that I have long applauded the promotional efforts of the Chivas Front Office. Using an array of game day attractions, deals and more the, the team managed to keep its gate reasonable, despite playing second fiddle in its own stadium with a roster devoid of star power. That has started to slip over the last couple of years, and the embarrassing attendance numbers (under 7,500) on opening night became a national story.  It may not be time to write obituary just yet, but time is running short for that franchise rebound.

On to attendance.  The Philly game drew an announced 18k plus despite the appearance of some empty seats on a cold day in the City of Brotherly Love.  Vancouver followed with a 21k sellout that saw the home team hold serve against their Canadian rivals.  Dallas impressively managed to seat more than 18k for their home opener. Across the State of Texas, the Dynamo played host to a crowd in excess of 20k.  Seattle closed the night with a crowd of almost 39k. On Sunday, the Galaxy routed Chicago before a crowd of 20k.

The Monday After

An exciting weekend of games in the MLS Conference Finals.  We’ll start in Colorado, where the Rapids turned out a big attendance number despite limited mainstream marketing and a lack of promotional offerings.  With temperatures falling under 30 degrees, more almost 18k fans braved the weather at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

For a team that has struggled at the gate since its move to the new stadium, the big number is contrary to typical MLS attendance patterns.  For much of MLS’s history, teams relied heavily on group sales and family friendly offerings struggled with the short lead times required in the playoffs.  Yet over the last couple of years, this paradigm has changed.  Just this year, there were big first round crowds in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City and San Jose (given capacity) and expected crowds in Dallas and Colorado.  Only Columbus was particularly disappointing the first round.  Whether this represents a change as MLS moves forward remains to be seen, but Colorado’s ability to generate such a big crowd with less than one week’s notice was an especially significant feat.

The other second round game pitted the Galaxy against Dallas.  The Home Depot Center produced its ususal strong crowd.  After a strong showing in the TV Ratings from the prior two Sunday night matchups, it will be interesting to see if ESPN’s Galaxy-centric broadcast strategy continues to pay off.

The Monday After: The Business of the Playoffs

The MLS Playoffs are here and the eight teams entering the post season have been decided.  Under MLS’  much criticized playoff format, there will be 6 representatives from the Western Conference and 2 representatives from the Eastern Conference.  As we did last year at this time, we thought it worth taking a business look at the playoff teams.

Seattle, Los Angeles and RSL are the big attendance draws in the round of 8.  All three teams will be big home draws with Seattle and and RSL likely to be sell outs and Los Angeles likely to have a crowd in excess of 20k.  Given the league’s reliance on group sales in many markets, big crowds are never a certainty in the playoffs.  However, these three teams are almost certain to draw well and will provide focal point of national broadcasts.

On the other side of the coin sit Dallas, Colorado and Columbus were big crowds are not expected for the playoffs.  Both Colorado and Dallas may be helped by visits from Designated Players, but none of these teams are anticipated sell outs.  Because it plays in such a small stadium, San Jose is a bit of an outlier.  The team has done a solid job generating enthusiasm for soccer in the Bay Area, and it will be interesting to see if that enthusiasm continues into the playoffs.  Their attendance will likely be aided by a visit from Thierry Henry.

That leaves with perhaps the biggest attendance mystery in the playoffs, the New York Red Bulls.  Armed with a new stadium, big stars and a two week lead on selling the game.  The game will be set for 8:00 on November 4, 2010 at Red Bull Arena.  The match will be nationally televised on a Thursday night and will provide a very interesting test of the Red Bulls’ ability to sell tickets to fans for a big match.   The league is certainly hoping that the Red Bulls will get more than 20k at the game in order to ensure a visual spectacle.