The Business of Playing in MLS: Chat with Richard Mulrooney

rmulrooneyIn January we posted a two part chat with MLS veteran Carey Talley about some of the financial realities of playing in Major League Soccer.  Today we are pleased to continue our series on the business of playing in MLS with  our chat with former MLS All-Star and USMNT player Richard Mulrooney.  Mr. Mulrooney is currently the head soccer coach at the University of Memphis.  During his playing days, he earned 14 Caps with the full national team and made more than 260 appearances in MLS. You played more than a decade in Major League Soccer.  During that time, did the League or any of your teams provide any guidance or pointers on post-career financial planning?

Richard Mulrooney: Not until the end of my career did we even have a 401k set up and there was very little talk regarding financial advising.  I had followed my dad’s advice and got the IRA’s and other retirement savings all set up on my own from the first year in the league in ’99.  But in terms of the league setting up classes or really trying to educate us as a whole on financial planning it didn’t happen.

FB: What opportunities were there during your career for players to earn money outside of their regular salaries? Were these options made available by the team?

RM: The options I recall were coaching club on your off days or in the evenings which didn’t interfere with your MLS club schedule.  I knew a few guys who actually got other part time jobs to help make a little extra money but it was difficult because of the odd hours we had as players and the unknown of the daily schedule from week to week.  The team made appearances available to the guys and they gave a bit of money but other than that the team didn’t offer any other ways to make money available to the players that I recall.

FB: Similarly, what type of sponsorship/commercial opportunities were available to you during your career?

RM: There weren’t a lot of commercial sponsorships made to us as individuals so much as there were for the team.  If your team was sponsored by Honda then your team would occasionally set up an appearance at a dealership to sign autographs but that wasn’t an individual deal.  Personally, I was with Adidas and they would ask me to help market their product and I would be taken care of through the contract I had signed with them.  The bigger players in the league possibly had more opportunity for these types of deals but with MLS just starting out it didn’t have the power of like an NBA or MLB player.

FB: Other than the increase in the salary cap, were there changes in the League during your career that made it easier for players financially (e.g. per diem increases, better hotels, etc…)?

RM: After we got our Players Union set up that is when I saw the biggest help financially for me and other teammates.  The raise in per diem made a big difference as well as the 401K being set up. Obviously, the salaries were increased but you had that already if you were a player that played big minutes and your club wanted to reward you for that.  But the overall the Players Union was the biggest help in helping players earn a bit more coin.

FB: You also had experience with the national team, including 14 caps with the full national side.  Does US Soccer provide any thoughts to its players about life after soccer?

RM: Not so much help came from the US team in regards to life after soccer.  And to be honest I don’t believe it’s their job to do that.  They have a job to fill seats in stadiums which helped pay us when we played in front of Mexico or Jamaica. But we had such little time with them outside a week here or there that if it wasn’t spent on the field practicing it was in our rooms resting for games like the ones I just mentioned.  And that left no time to really have talks about our future outside of the game.  I was okay with that and understand it.

FB: Finally, even though your playing career has only recently ended, with the benefit of hindsight, what guidance would you give to players now entering the League about how to plan about their post-career world?

RM: The two biggest things I believe would help any player post career would be to start saving on your own from Day 1 as it really can be good money if spent and saved on the right things.  And the next thing would be still work towards your degree.  You can find work without it but you don’t want to be limited in what you can do because you don’t have the piece of paper.  Take a couple classes each year and by the end of your career you will be that much closer in earning it or that might just be all you needed to have it ready for post career soccer!

The Monday After: A look at MLS Attendance

We haven’t taken a hard look at attendance in a number of weeks, but this past slate of games provides some food for thought.  The “weekend” started with a small Wednesday night crowd in Chicago, where approximately 13k saw a scoreless draw at Toyota Park.  The mid-week games continued on Thursday night with the usual 36k at Qwest.  On Friday night, just over 10k saw Chivas USA shut-out New England at the Home Depot Center.

TFC’s loss to DC United was before the usual 20k plus crowd at BMO Field.  In Harrison, a reported crowd in excess of 19k saw an impressive performance by the Red Bulls on a beautiful afternoon.  As has been the case for many Red Bulls games, attendance appeared to be less than the reported number.  Whether no-shows, poor scalper re-sales or fudged numbers account for the discrepancy, New York is one of many franchises where visible attendance doesn’t necessarily square with reality.

Just under 20k were at the Home Depot Center, a low number given David Beckham’s season debut.  In San Jose, the usual 10k plus were on hand for one of many scoreless draws plaguing the league.  Philly brought 18,500 to the stadium for their upset victory over playoff hopeful Chicago.

Going back to the Red Bulls, this is what we wrote last Fall when comparing the prospects at Red Bull Arena to the low attendance at the newly constructed Prudential Center that houses Devils Hockey.  This is the nightmare scenario for the the Red Bulls.  Build a sparkling new stadium with all the amenities, public transportation accessibility, natural grass and fill it with star players.  Pack in crowds for all 25k seats for a few games and then slowly watch attendance drop off.  Sure, the new revenue streams will be outstanding (recall that Rio Tinto has raised RSL’s revenue 42%).  But will Red Bull be happy with 13k on a Saturday night in August? Many in the New Jersey/New York area have no idea the new stadium exists and thus there is limited excitement about its debut.

Things certainly haven’t reached this stage yet. New York attendance has been solid all year with an average of 18k.  That said, given the new stadium and the star power imported this season, New York fans could have rightfully exepected higher numbers.  With a handful of remaning home dates and a likely playoff match, we will continue to monitor attendance at RBA.

The Adidas Deal: Inside the Numbers

The big business story in American soccer over the last 24 hours was the announcement that league sponsor adidas has significantly increased its committment to MLS with a new 8 year, $200 million that runs through 2018.  The deal replaces the previously signed 10 year, $150 million deal signed between the parties in 2004.  With four years remaining on the original deal, adidas has increased its annual committment to Major League Soccer by $10 million per year.

In addition to supplying the clubs and league with merchandise and balls, adidas will remain the the official supplier of uniforms and equipment to MLS youth academies and will increase its advertising presence during MLS broadcasts.  The increase in MLS youth academy presence in affluent and urban areas gives Adidas significant opportunities to reach younger players and familes with an entire line of merchandise.  Moreover, the 8 year deal allows MLS to develop and plan its strategies with the knowledge that these funds are coming through 2018.

According to the Sports Business Journal, adidas’ decision to extend the deal,is based, in part, on the 600% increase (over the last five years) in annual MLS merchandise sales to $300 million per year.

With its FSC contract up this year, the Adidas deal may provide a background for further broadcast negotiations.  With promises from adidas to become a greater presence in television advertising, FSC, and potentially Versus,  may have more reasons to consider signing with MLS.  ESPN may also recognize greater return on its long term investment in the league.

This is obviously a great moment for the league, as it ensures a significant commitment from one of the great merchandise and marketing powers in the world of sports.  At the same time, adidas is shrewdly increasing its participation in MLS at a time when the league is devoting increasing resources to youth development.  We

We’ll let Don Garber have the last word:  “One of the major reasons Major League Soccer has become one of the top soccer leagues in the world is due to the support and commitment of adidas. “They have a clear vision for the sport in North America, and they see MLS as a cornerstone of that vision. Our extension with adidas is a major statement by an internationally respected brand that MLS is increasing in value and that our commitments to stadium construction, strategic expansion, player development and improvement in the overall quality of play are playing dividends.”

Soccer Business Bits: MLS Merchandise Sales, Posing in Briefs & More

The Sports Business Journal is reporting on MLS first quarter merchandise sales.  The article includes a number of interesting tidbits, including that the Union has already sold seven figures worth of merchandise this year and it is expected to reach eight figures.  The article also reports that MLS has tripled its reach into soccer speciality stores while adding to its footprint with big box retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart.  The article also reports that 1,000 MLS fans have purchased $249 Zune MP3 players with MLS logos.

We often discuss on this site that any exposure for soccer is good exposure, but this recent Vanity Fair spread stretches that argument.  Calling to mind a number of previous unfortunate soccer photos spreads that include American soccer players. More importantly, the magazine includes a number of features on the World Cup that will bring the beautiful game to the American mainstream.

Finally, MLS’s annual mini-tourney Futbolito is kicking off.  The 13 event tournament, presented by league sponsor Panasonic, attracted 50,000 players of all ages last year.  The competition is now eight years old.  Associate level partners include adidas, Degree Deodorant, Fox Sports en Español, Glidden Paints, Makita, NAPA Auto Parts, Pepsi, The Home Depot, Visa, Volkswagen and Xbox 360