Digital MLS: Chatting with Chris Schlosser

mlsDevotees of Major League Soccer know Chris Schlosser as the Dean of MLS Digital Programs and a regular presence on Twitter.  Official he is the Vice President of Digital Media.  Before joining MLS he held various positions at MSN and is a graduate of Columbia University Business School and Colby College.

Mr. Schlosser was kind enough to respond to some questions from Footiebusiness about MLS Live, including the Stream of the Week promotion, problems with streaming speed and popularity of the service.  Mr. Schlosser also answered some questions about Direct Kick, league blackouts and MLS Digital.  Thanks to Mr. Schlosser; his thoughts are below.

MLS Digital has seen significant growth since it’s creation in 2010, with 2013 poised to become another great year of growth across the digital business. MLSsoccer is setting records for audience growth, revenue and engagement. Our product team has been busy over the 12 months with the release of a new MLSsoccer homepage, upgraded match center, enhanced mobile applications, new Apple TV application and continued upgrades to our video and streaming products. Similarly, our content teams have provided deeper, more in-depth coverage with the launch of long for series like “The Word”, new premium video programming and continued innovation in social media.
 
Stream of the week is a way for MLS to engage with our young digitally savvy fans; each week my team works to select a compelling match for the fans to watch free of charge. The free stream helped bring live soccer to new fans, generated sponsor revenue and provided a great platform to up-sell fans on our full subscription offering.
 
MLS Live and Direct Kick are roughly the same size from an audience size, however, our digital offerings have been growing faster over the last several years which is a trend I would expect to continue as bandwidth continues to increase and the number of devices that allow for easy streaming of content across a range of screen size proliferate.
 
Social media is a key focus across all of MLS. Amanda Vandervort who leads social media for the League is working across our organization to drive innovation and to find new ways to ingrate social tools into our events, sponsorships, digital experiences and office culture. We love that social media allows for a direct connection between the League, Clubs, Players, Executives and Fans. One key element of social media is speed and we are working across the digital product suite to find ways to speed up our operations. This includes match center updates, game data availability, highlights, articles, etc. 
 
MLS Live is a great value for fans, for $60 per season fans get access to over 230 live games, plus access to every game from the last four years in our archive. We are also working with our streaming partners to constantly improve and optimize our streaming experiences. Mark McClure who joined my team earlier this year after several years at DC United is leading this charge for us. You can already see the fruits of his efforts with the release of the new Apple TV application earlier this fall.
computerWhile we are working to optimize our products there will always be some lag in our streams given the need to manage satellite & fiber connections, encoding and delivery across multiple devices. Similarly, given our television contracts we will likely see blackouts for national and local games continue into the future. One big change however, is that our tv partners are starting to provide digital access to their games. MLS fans can currently watch national broadcasts on ESPN3 and NBC Sports Extra. We are also working to create tools to make blackouts easier to understand for fans, on the MLS Live website the schedule page will show you which games are blacked out specifically for your location.
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Soccer Business Bits: Season Ticket Numbers, Digital Success & More

timbers ticketsThe most recent edition of the Sports Business Journal presented its annual in-depth look in advance of the 2013 season.  One article in the section included interviews with a number of MLS Presidents and front office personnel.  Among the questions asked of the panel was direct inquiry about season ticket sales.  Although the question didn’t make a distinction between season tickets and season ticket equivalents, the numbers were instructive.  Among the numbers shared in the report:  New England, 4-5k, Chivas USA, 2,500, Houston 12k, RSL at 10k and Colorado at 4k.  San Jose is also at 5k, but they expect to double that number when they move to their new stadium.  Some other notes from the ticket figures, include a note that RSL has gone from 4k before Rio Tinto, to 8,700 last year to the 10k now.  One other impressive increase comes courtesy of Houston which doubled its numbers with the move to BBVA Compass.

Chris Scholsser is the czar of MLS media and provided some interesting numbers about the league’s digital success over the weekend.  Perhaps most impressive is the numbers that suggest MLS Live Subscriptions are up 131% over last year.  While the percentages can be misleading without the hard numbers, it is certainly true that MLS Live is a great product and an invaluable tool for fans of the league.

One final business note comes from Miami, from where rumors have been circulating over the last couple of days about the possibility of expansion.  The league recently dispelled the rumors while keeping the window open a crack about the possibility of a team in the long term.  At this point in the world of MLS expansion, Orlando seems like the more likely Florida expansion candidate.

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.