More Miami & Trivia

bobby vRemember when Barcelona combined with Marcelo Claure and Florida International University to submit a bid to bring MLS back to South Florid?  As MLS fans well know, the Miami Fusion entered the League as an expansion team in 1998 and were contracted just four years later.  That background, combined with South Florida’s rather weak history of supporting its teams (Florida Marlins anyone?), has lead many to scoff at any move back to the Miami area.  Add in the lack of a Soccer Specific Stadium (the team would share with the FIU Football team) and the idea once seemed dead in the water.  Yet now there seems to be increasing momentum towards MLS in Miami, and the reemergence of Claure as possible player is definitely interesting.  Claure has risen “to the top of Hispanic Business 500 with revenues over $3.6 billion and earning the title of the largest Hispanic-owned business in the United States.”

Of course the big story is the apparent competition for a Miami team.  According to the Miami Herald, a London-based investment group led by Italian financier Alessandro Butini made its pitch for MLS-to-Miami official on Tuesday, partnering with the University of Miami School of Architecture to develop ideas for a viable soccer-specific stadium, and launching a website — MIA4MLS.com — to drum up fan interest.  It has long been understood that Beckham has  a contractual option to purchase a franchise at a discounted rate.  Does this mean that option is near expiration or that Butini is potential Beckham partner?  The move towards 24 teams will definitely provide fodder for MLS fans over the next couple of years.

Now on to trivia:

Who was the U.S. Open Cup Tournament trophy renamed in honor of in 1999?

The tournament has been around since 1914, almost as long as Lamar Hunt has been investing in professional soccer in the U.S.  Likely nobody has spent so much money on soccer in the United States.  Hunt, better known as the owner of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs (and the man who coined the term Super Bowl), owned the NASL’s Dallas Tornado, which was the league’s longest operating franchise in one city, lasting from 1967 until 1981.  When Major League Soccer began its organizational phase, Hunt was there again, becoming the lead investor in teams in Columbus and Kansas City.  He later bought into MLS’s team in Dallas and led the effort to build a soccer specific stadium for the Columbus Crew and F.C. Dallas.  For all that effort, USSF put Hunt’s name on the trophy awarded to the winner of the U.S. Open Cup.

Excerpt from The First American Soccer Trivia Book by Jamie Clary; Copyright 2007 FreeFalling Graffiti. www.soccerprofessor.com

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MLS Expansion Update: 2011

Vancouver and Portland will necessarily engender comparisons during the lead-up to their 2011 opener and thereafter.  We thought we would check in on the progress of both franchises from a business perspective, starting with their stadiums and websites.

In Portland, the Timbers site has a countdown clock until opening kick and prominently features opportunities to purchase tickets for the game.  The ticket link brings users to a TicketMaster page that is available simply for deposits of $50 per seat.  A second link provides season ticket pricing and benefits and explains ticket priority for current Timbers’ season ticket holders.  Tickets range from $216-$432 per seat for the season and include 3 bonus matches.  Interestingly, season ticket holders will get discounts at stadium concession stands, an offer not typically made by MLS teams.  The rest of the website provides a stadium renovation update, history of the franchise and other general information.  The site is easy to use but is not frequently updated.

In Vancouver, the Whitecaps’ web page also focuses on tickets sales but the Whitecaps are only offering season tickets to current Whitecap season ticket holders.  Deposits have already been taken (and exhausted) for the first round of seats. Others are invited to place their name on a waiting list.  Unlike the Timbers’ deposit list, the Whitecaps’ waiting list remains internal and asks questions about the prospective purchaser for research purposes.

In Portland, the team has announced the re-design of PGE Park to accommodate the Timbers in 2011.  The $31 million renovation incorporates the existing structure to create a cozy urban stadium.   The renovation will add seats to all four sides of the structure and will include the addition of a 1,500 restaurant.  The stadium will also include an artificial playing surface.

In Vancouver, the Whitecaps have announced that they will play the first half of their inaugural season in a temporary stadium while BC place (their permanent home) is completed.  The temporary stadium (which is actually quite nice looking) will seat 27,500 and will cost only 14 million to build.  Given the  low cost of the structure, this seems like an outstanding temporary solution.

Expansion Update: Philly 2010

philly

Yesterday we took a look at  the expansion situation in Vancouver.  Today we thought we would take a look at how things are progressing in the City of Brother Love.  Click here for our previous post on the Union. The team website is up and running and established ticket prices and season ticket benefits.  The Union also have a name, a coach and sharp crest.  According to reports, the Team has sold just under 10k season tickets and will cap tickets at around 15k seats in its inaugural season in its 18,500 seat home in Chester.

The Union has a strong supporters group in the Sons of Ben, who have been omnipresent over the last couple of years at an array of soccer events including the announcement of the Team, MLS Cup 2007 and even at a US Open Cup game in Connecticut between the Revs and Harrisburg, PA (about 2 hours from Philly).  Its location between DC and New York should make for some good rivalry games that will bring supporters from out of town.

Yet there are doubts.  Last weekend, the US National Team drew just over 31k at “the Linc” for a Gold Cup Quarterfinal.  This was the first major soccer event in 4 decades in Philly and just months before the Union first kick.  While some are lauding the attendance, there is a good argument that the number was disappointing.  If soccer demand was so pent up in Philly, why weren’t more in attendance?  Efforts to sell the game to Eagles season ticket holders were generally unsuccessful.

At the same time, progress on the Chester stadium is progressing slowly, and there was a recent statement from team officials that the Team might need to start its 2010 season on the road in order to ensure completion. Will people be willing to travel to Chester to see the games?  There are also questions about how receptive Philly will be to a new soccer team.  Philly is a crowded sports city and the best team in town happens to play in the summer. There is some major mainstream media opposition to soccer in the City of Brotherly Love.

Ultimately, we think Philly will succeed, especially in year one.  However, we think it will be difficult for the Union to keep demand for season tickets in excess of 10k for long. A special confluence of factors have helped Seattle and Toronto succeed, none of which are present in Philly.  We hope for the best, and do believe that Philly will be a relatively strong franchise over time.  What do you think?  Vote in our poll.

Soccer Business Bits: New MLS Expansion?

barcaOvernight English language broadcast numbers are out for the USA/Brazil match, and the numbers are instructive.  Of the top 10 markets, only three are MLS cities, and two of the top five (Miami and West Palm Beach) were home to one of the League’s failed franchises.  Other  top markets like Hartford/New Haven and Richmond scored very well, despite only a passing association with exisiting franchises.  Las Vegas was a solid #2, perhaps suggesting heavy betting action on the game.

Regardless, the real story here is the South Florida market.  Remember Barcelona’s efforts to bring a team to Miami?  Remember the short lived Miami Fusion?  We admit, we were against the idea of MLS expanding back into Florida.  South Floridians are notoriously fickle sports fans; Exhibits A-C are the Heat, Panthers and Marlins.  But as these TV numbers suggest, soccer is definitely a premier attraction in the Sunshine State (this will likely be even more evident in the Spanish language numbers).

The question for MLS is can a franchise (with or without Barca) survive in South Florida.  As we have said before, the idea of 9,000 fans snoozing through Sunday afternoon game in 110 degree Miami August heat, is a nightmare scenario for supporters of the League.  Would the popularity of top-level international football translate into numbers for MLS?  As the US marched through the Confederations Cup, it became clear that soccer is plenty popular, just not MLS.

There are three levels of soccer fans in the US.  There are the MLS fans who cheer on their local team and their national team.  There are the “Euro” fans who follow the big European teams (or South American teams) and their national teams, but have little interest in MLS.  Finally, there are the “event” fans, who get caught up in the hype of a big event and/or will follow the US in any sporting event. The first group is small (but growing), and these are the fans that MLS needs to capture, especially in a market like South Florida, where soccer is king, but MLS is not.

One final expansion note, there was a story out recently that the Saputos are again announcing an effort to bring an MLS team to Montreal. Montreal has shown an ability to support soccer (remember that big Canada Cup crowd) and is close to securing a 21k soccer specific stadium. A third Canadian team would create a nice rivalry and Saputo is solid potential owner.  However, with Philly, Vancouver and Portland right around the corrner, there is a question whether the League can handle another franchise so quickly.  The dilution of the talent pool is a big concern.  That said, Montreal would be a great venue for MLS.

Expansion Notebook

bc-placeWith an alleged announcement about expansion on the near horizon, some of the remaining candidate cities have been making news in the last few days.  In Portland, Merritt Paulson has reportedly reached a tenative agreement with city leaders on $60 million in loans to renovate PGE Park and build a new stadium for his AAA baseball team.  In making the deal, Paulson has made the loans virtually risk free by agreeing to make rent payments even if the teams fold. At the end of the loan term, ownership of the stadiums remains with the City.

Remarkably, the loan package is still not guaranteed safe passage through the City Council.  Some City money is still required, even with Paulson contributing 80% of the funds.  A vote may go forward as early as March 11.  Additional details of the Portland expansion bid can be found here and here.

Paulson is definitely putting his money on the line in this deal.  Ultimately, this comes down to needing one more vote on the 5 member City Council.  Two votes are confirmed for the franchise, but three others remain uncommitted.  As supporters of the Portland bid, we think that the City should move forward.  This is a much better deal than some other cities have secured and the City seems primed for a second major league franchise.

In Canada, the Globe and Mail is reporting that Vancouver will likely receive one of the two 2011 bids. The bid spearheaded by billionare Greg Kerfoot would follow the Sounders’ model, by moving a successful USL franchise into MLS.  Kerfoot has supported Canadian soccer for years and  has the dough to support a franchise.  While the idea of a renovated BC Place is not ideal, its proximity to downtown and public transportation are ideal.  The 24th Minute makes the case for BC Place here.  We  discussed the Vancouver bid here.

Amazingly, Jeffrey Cooper’s St. Louis bid seems to be lagging behind the Pacific Northwest.  Despite an in place stadium deal, the League has repeatedly expressed worries about Cooper’s finances.  With an announcement expected before the end of March, it appears that the Gateway City might find itself on the outside looking in: again.

As we have repeatedly stated, we strongly believe that the “mid size” model is a great one and both Portland and Vancover fit the bill.  An MLS franchise will immediately become part of the sports landscape in those cities, wherease a St. Louis team would quickly fall to fourth in the sports pecking order.  Add in St. Louis’ reputation as a baseball hotbed in the summer, and Portland and Vancouver may be the best choices .portland