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.

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Promotions, Promotions Promotions

As we do every so often, here is our quick look around MLS and the individual game promotions for the coming weeks.  Typically the leader in game promotions, Chivas USA is back in the game with a “Come One Come All” campaign targeting families for their April 24 match. Packages include 4 tickets, 4 hats and 4 hot dogs for as little as $58.  The most expensive seats go for $130 for the package and the 4 packs are available for multiple dates during the season.

Chicago announced a “Fire Goes Green” campaign for its April 24th match against Chicago.  As part of the initiative, the Fire will plant 40 trees,  provide re-usable grocery bags to their fans, purchase energy credits to set-off carbon use at the game and distribute recycling bins around the stadium.  The effort is part of the Fire’s Earth Day celebration and will also include special foot menus and other “green” distributions during the match.

Finally, while we typically discuss promotions in this space, we are struck by the apparent absence of any game day promotions in advance of the “MLS Game of the Week” slated for Thursday night in Dallas.  As the league’s primetime showcase, it is important to show vibrant atmosphere during these national broadcasts.  It is surprising that FC Dallas is not offering incentives to fans to attend this game.  While some teams choose not to offer promotions becauses it might “devalue” their product, given the importance of the game for the league and Dallas’ attendance struggles, it appears that this would be an appropriate time to try something new.

Promotions, Promotions, Promotions

With First Kick on the horizon, we thought we would offer our first look around the world of MLS promotions for the new season.  But first, a quick criticism of the league.  We know that the transition to MLSsoccer.com is underway, but the league has seriously ignored mlsnet.com.  Last year’s standings are still featured and no schedule of opening weekend is on the front page (in fact the front page still features the 2009 championship). The fantasy game hasn’t been updated and last season’s goal scorers are still on the front page.

On to the promotions!  Chivas is promoting its Friday night opener by offering mini-soccer balls to the first 7,500 fans through the gate.  Perhaps more impressively, Chivas is offering a 4 ticket pack to the opener that includes 4 hot dogs, 4 hats and 4 tickets to the second home game of the season…all for $58.  Chivas was one of the most aggressive teams with respect to promotions last year and it appears they are moving in the same direction in 2010.

In Colorado, the Rapids are promoting their annual Rapids week, a 10 day series of public events leading to the home opener.  The events include an extremely creative idea, “a weeklong city-wide scavenger hunt, as the Rapids hide adidas Jabulani Rapids soccer balls in secret locations around the Denver metro area. Fans will be given clues to the balls’ location through the Rapids’ social media sites as to where to find them. Fans who discover the balls will not only get to keep their Jabulani but also find a note attached with a secret code to be able to redeem online for the chance to win tickets to Opening Day and have their ball signed by the Man of the Match down on the field!”

In Columbus, the Crew are promoting a first kick package that includes opening day tickets and a free scarf.

Soccer Business Bits: Stadium News in Houston, Seattle Ticket Update & More

According to the Houston Chronicle, Dynamo President Oliver Luck is in talks with a developer about the construction of a soccer stadium on private land in Southwest Houston.  Although the article cites Luck as continuing to affirm his desire to build a stadium on City owned land, the discussions with a private developer represent a significant change from the earlier plan to build in conjunction as part of a Tax Increment Re-Investment Zone. As recently as November, we wrote the following about the City/team partnership:

“Total cost of the projected 21k seat stadium is expected to be about $80 million with the Dynamo ownership (primarily AEG and Golden Boy Promotions) funding about $60 million.  The rest of the funds could come from tax credits,  the TIRZ money and from some of the stiumulus money floating around.  The TIRZ program will also provide the property for the stadium.  According to Houston President Oliver Luck, multiple banks are lining up to provide financing for the construction project.”  We will certainly follow this story as it develops.

In Seattle, the Sounders have announced plans to cap season ticket sales at 32,000.  To date, the team has sold 31,000 season tickets with two months until opening day.  The team has also announced renewal rates in excess of 95% and this represents a 10k increase in the cap on season ticket sales as compared to last year.

Finally, ESPN has announced more elements of its World Cup broadcast package.  All 64 matches will be in HD and broadcast live.  ESPN360 will also have the games as well as ESPN MobilTV.  ESPN Classic and ESPN2 will re-air games each night.  There will also be significant pre-match, halftime and post-match shows.  This level of coverage shows ESPN’s continued devotion to soccer and its willingness to invest significant resources in broadcasting the games.

More MLS Holiday Promotions

As we said in our post on Monday, we will continue to look at MLS Holiday promotional efforts this week.  Below are some additional promotions.  For more, click here.

In Houston, the Dynamo have added a wrinkle to the typical holiday deal by offering two seats to their home opener and one Dynamo “tailgating” chair for $59.  The purchaser must also pay $9.50 for shipping.

In New York, the Red Bulls are offering a four game holiday pack that includes a Red Bulls T-Shirt for everyone package ordered.  The packages start as low $64 and permit the purchaser to select the game of their choice.  The inclusion of apparel is a great approach to these deals because it increases exposure to the team in the community every time the shirt is worn in public.  Contrast this with the Revs who are offering a wall calendar with their package.  The Red Bulls seem to be taking the smarter approach.

In Salt Lake City, the defending champs are offering an array of holiday packages that include 2 or 10 game packages.  The 2 game pack includes a mini-RSL ball, home opener ticket and ticket to one of the next two games.  RSL struggled to draw fans for the early season games last year, and this seems like a good way to encourage attendance early in the season.  The two game pack starts at $65.

If you locate any additional deals, please let us know.

MLS Promotions: Holiday Deals

As we did during the regular season, we will also look at MLS promotional efforts during the Winter.  We start with some holiday deals offered around the league.

The Revs are offering a “holiday four pack” that includes tickets to four games (of your choice), first choice of seat location before general sale, a wall calendar and holiday card all for $68.  The most expensive packages sell for $260.  The calendar and card have typically been part of typical season ticket packages.

In Columbus, the Crew are offering a “five pack” which is five games of your choice for the price of four.  Purchasers also receive an autographed ball from Frankie Hejduk.  The package includes the opening match and four other games.

The Fire holiday package is a one game deal that includes four tickets and four scarves to the home opener.  Packages range from $99-$149 dollars.

Finally, the Galaxy are offering four tickets to their home opener for as little as $76.  The package also includes 4 beanies and one team holiday card.

We will hit some of the other team promotions over the next few days.

MLS Season Ticket Renewals Up for 2010

Tripp Mickle of the Sports Business Journal is out with a hard look at MLS season ticket renewals for 2010.  Although three teams (Dallas, Kansas City and San Jose), didn’t provide numbers, the rest of the franchises did report their rates of renewal for 2010.  Not surprisingly, Seattle and TFC lead the pack with more than 90% renewal rates.  Perhaps also not surprisingly, New England trails the pack as the only reporting team below 50% at a dismal 30%.  With the Red Bull Arena ready to open, New York posted an impressive 85%

The biggest suprise was Colorado, where at least 70% of season ticket holders have renewed.  This compares very favorably with the rest of the League, where most teams hover in between 50-65%.  These numbers will obviously rise as the season nears, but according to Mickle, renewals rates are ahead of last year and are averaging just over 60% league wide.  Mickle also reported that teams are offering new incentives to attract fans and keep their hard care base.

New England and Dallas remain enormous disappointments (in fairness, we are making a bit of an assumption on Dallas, as their numbers aren’t available).  Attendance is declining in both cities as is interest.  Both teams seem to need a re-boot and re-brand.  New England’s playoff attendance was embarrassing for MLS, a fact that didn’t escape Don Garber in his State of the League address who in referenced the success in Seattle and the playoff attencance success in the Conference Finals.  “That was an important lesson to our clubs, particularly some of the clubs that have been around for a while and are struggling in their markets.”

This report is a great sign for MLS.  In the current economy, convincing fans to re-up months before the start of the season provides a level of economic stability for the League and shows that the biggest fans remain interested in MLS.  Moreover, the evident success of the newest franchises speaks volumes about the ability of the expansion teams to learn from the mistakes of those that went before.  If the numbers continue to climb until March 2010, with the entrance of Philadelphia and opening of Red Bull Arena, 2010 promises to be a great year for the League

QUICK UPDATE:  According to the Revs official online community forums, per COO Brian Bilello:

“Just wanted to clarify around the Season Ticket Renewal numbers in SBJ today. While it is true that we were near the 30% mark a few weeks go when they pulled their numbers, we are now north of 50% and are ahead of last year at this time. Part of the reason that we lagged behind is due to the fact that our early renewal deadline is later than most teams so our renewals come in a little later. We give our fans until11/30 to renew and get the early renewal discount. We feel it gives our STH more flexibility and let’s them hold onto their money a little longer rather than making them renew in August or September.”