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.

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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.

The MLS Playoffs: Business Blogging the ESPN Broadcast

houstonWith the first game of the MLS playoffs upon us, we thought we would follow the ESPN2 broadcast of the Seattle/Houston playoff opener.  The game is up against the World Series, NBA Basketball and various NHL games.  Despite the ratings for MLS during the regular season, the playoff game faces series competition.

Before we discuss the broadcast, it is worthwhile to address ESPN efforts to promote the match through its various platforms.  On ESPN.com, the game got little mention on the home page.  There was substantial coverage on Soccernet, but the lack of prominence of the home page is fairly disappointing.  There was similarly limited discussion of the playoffs on the ESPN networks in the lead up to the game.

Importantly, the broadcast was preceded by an ESPN 30/30 special.  As a result, there were no concerns about missing parts of the match.  The broadcast begin with a well produced opening highlighting MLS fans and a focus on the Dynamo and Sounders.  The producers made an interesting decision to start with Harkes and JP Dellecamera on the field and followed with shots of Allen Hopkins participating in the “March to the Match”.  The pre-game show was sponsored by VW

VW also got the first spot of the broadcast and was followed Pepsi Max (who has been active in MLS ads recently), Rent-a-Center, Wendy’s and Chevy.  The studio show included usual suspects, Stone, Lalas and Foudy.  The pre-game provided analysis of the Seattle game and provided some promotion of the Sunday broacast.   There were also spots for Gatorade, Adidas (that strange MLS ad), and a series of local spots.  The pregame concluded with a second VW ad, a return of the Pepsi Max spot  (which was amusing the first five times it ran this year), Best Buy and Axe.

The ESPN Axis technology is always outtanding, and is something ESPN should make more use of during the broadcast.  Budweiser presented the starting lineups.  The X-Box tarps were very visible throughout.  VW had space on the screen near the scoreboard early in the match.  It only took 5 mintues to bring Hopkins into the game as a sideline reporter.  Gatorade also grabbed some upper left screen time, as did adidas and Axe. Full credit to ESPN for early camera work.  There were great shots of the shoving between Onstad and Montero and the rest of the melee.  The booth did manage a plug for the weekend EPL broadcasts.  A note to ESPN; the Seattle attendance is a great story, but not every three minutes.  If you have to keep telling us, it isn’t that impressive.

At halftime, there were ads for Gatorade, Penzoil, local ads and lots of ESPN sports.   The halftime show was preented by Axe and thier commercials were apparent.  There were also spots for Best Buy, the Marines, Budweiser and Best Buy

This is just a taste.  We will stop here in the second half.  If something dramatic happens in a business sense, we will add it tomorrow. xbox

Soccer Business Bits: Stadium News in DC, Playoff Broadcasts and Revs Make a Change

unitedSome quick hits from around American soccer, starting with DC United, where efforts are ongoing to find a permanent home for the team.  We have previously written about efforts to build in various parts of Virginia, DC proper or Maryland.  Now, Steve Goff is reporting that DCU is now in talks with another Virginia municipality about a possible stadium.  According to Goff’s article, United is not  yet ready to reveal its new potential partner.

Despite these efforts, we continue to believe that RFK (whether a new stadium or a renovation), is the best option.  The stadium is located directly on the Metro, within the district and reachable by fans both in VA and MD.  We will continue to monitor this situation.

ESPN2 will broadcast two matches from the first round of the MLS playoffs, including a primetime match in Seattle on Thursday, which will certainly show well on televsion.  That theme will continue on Sunday when ESPN2 will show the first leg of the LA playoff Derby, which seems a certainty to sell out.   In the second leg, ESPN2 will put the Columbus/RSL match on in prime time on Thursday and follow with the return leg in Los Angeles on Sunday.   FSC will get both legs of the Revs/Chicago and Telefutura will get the return leg from Houston.

Speaking of the Revs/Chicago, New England made the interesting choice to change their home date against Chicago from Saturday to Sunday.  There are many possible motivations for this move, but from a business standpoint, it makes perfect sense.  The prior late afternoon start on Halloween was guaranteed to limit attendance by precluding both families and adults with kids from attending.  Given the Revs typical difficulty in drawing for playoff games, any effort that can bring fans to the game is worth pursuing.

The Monday After: Attendance Numbers and How The Playoff Clinchers Were Not What MLS Wanted.

mlsThe MLS regular season came to a conclusion on Sunday after a weekend of exciting games, miserable weather and varied attendance.  The final “weekend” got started on Thursday night in Chicago where an announced crwod of 17k plus braved monsoon like conditions to see the home team clinch a playoff birth.  Similar weather conditions greeted Toronto and New York as they closed Giants Stadium before 21k.

The action continued in Kansas City, where 10,300 were at Community America Ballpark to see the Wizards draw DC United.  In Salt Lake City, more than18k filled Rio Tinto to see RSL clinch an improbable spot in the MLS playoffs.  In Seattle, a record crowd of more than 33k celebrated the expansion side’s run into the playoffs with a dramatic come from behind victory over desperate Dallas.  In Los Angeles a reported sell out of 27k were in attendance to see Beckham, Donovan and Co. close out the regular season with a clean sheet against San Jose.

On Sunday, Columbus celebrated their Supporters Shield victory before at Crew Stadium as they fell to the Revs before 17,500 and back in Los Angeles, 14,500 saw the final regular season game at the Home Depot Center as Houston beat Chivas 3-2.  Overall, it was a very nice weekend at MLS stadiums and the fans were treated to some dramatic and exciting games.  A final attendance report from MLS is here.

So the playoffs are set, with RSL and New England holding down the final spots. Fans of these teams are obviously excited, but what about the League? If MLS could handpick its playoff teams, who would they be? If we were MLS, we would hope for:  Galaxy, Sounders, Dynamo, RSL, Fire, TFC, United and the Crew. These are teams that  typically draw well and/or are recognizable to sports media outside the somewhat insular world of MLS.

All in all, MLS is probably pretty happy. Beckham and Blanco are still big draws, while Seattle guarantees at least one big crowd.  Houston typically draws well for playoff games.  The League manages to avoid cavernous Giants Stadium and and its two smallest venues in San Jose and Kansas City. The glaring omission is TFC where the great support continues to go unrequited by the team on the field.  At some point the support will wane if the team continues to falter and quit as they appeared to do on Saturday.

Over the week, we will do a series of stories on the playoffs, playoff attendance and playoff fans.

The Monday After: Great Attendance and Mass Confusion

mlsAn enormous weekend of games in MLS with playoff spots, Champions League entry and the Supporters Shield all up for grabs.  Every game was frought with tension and meaning as teams scrambled for points on the pennultimate weekend of the regular season.  The weekend got started in Toronto where a sell out crowd of more than 20k saw the home side hold off RSL and move into the last playoff spot.  In New England, more than 18k braved a blustery night to watch the Revs tie Chicago.

Despite similar bad weather in the District, more than 16k saw United pull off an important 1-0 win over the East leading Crew.  Later that night, more than 15k packed Pizza Hut Park to watch the in form home team win yet again, over teetering Colorado.  In Los Angeles, 12k saw Chivas tie San Jose, while a sell-out crowd saw Kansas City fall to the visitors from Seattle.  In the weekend finale on Sunday, just about 30k saw the Galaxy and Dynamo play to a scoreless draw.

These are across the board great numbers for the League.  Whether the great attendance stems from the playoff race, a desire to use package tickets, or something else, it was great to see such solid crowds on some bad weather nights.  With one more weekend left in the regular season, it will be interesting to see if the crowds continue.

The other big story from MLS this weekend is the seeming impossibility of determining who will clinch the last playoff spot.  With the possibilit of five teams tied for the last spot after next weeks games, the analysis will like devolve to the fourth or fifth level of tiebreakers.  Among the teams clinging to the playoff dream, it appears that TFC is closest to controlling  its own destiny and has an away date at bottom feeder RBNY.  Everything else might not be solved until Sunday afternoon.