Soccer Business Bits: MLS Cup at a Neutral Site, Wizards Stadium Update & Interliga Attendance

In what we view as a  positive development, MLS has announced that MLS Cup 2010 will take place at a neutral site.  Many MLS fans support changing the format to having the hire seed host, but we think otherwise.  MLS Cup provides a big event that can accommodate plans months in advance.  The retail summit, supporter’s summit and all other sorts of League events can be scheduled well ahead of time.  Holders of MLS GSLs can plan their trips and MLS creates a destination event like the Super Bowl.

The Sports Business Journal is reporting that the Wizards have retained architectural firm Populous to design their new stadium.  According to Populous, owners OnGoal have requested that the 18,500 person stadium will be covered by a signature canopy that will be the “icon” of the stadium.  The stadium will also include a pub intended solely for members of the Wizards’ supporters group.  This facility will be modeled after a German Beer Hall.  There will be additional dining options throughout the stadium, including outdoor premium options.

Yesterday we wrote about ticket packages offered by MLS teams for Interliga games in Dallas and Los Angeles.  Like other foreign soccer showcases, these events provide a great opportunity for Mexican teams to continue to put their product in front of fans in the US that are geographically removed from their favorite teams.  So how did they draw?  DuNord has the numbers and to date they have been pretty disappointing.  4100 in Dallas is not impressive.

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Soccer Business Bits: More TV Ratings, Fight for the Wizards, Playoff Attendance and Scarves

wozardsWe wrote last week about the uptick in MLS attendance on both ESPN2 and Fox Soccer Channel.  Now comes a report that MLS viewership is up almost 90% from October 2008 to October 2009.  Total viewers for the FSC game of the week is just over 51k for the Saturday night match.  Perhaps most importantly, the increased viewership for FSC across all of its shows has allowed the network to add an array of new, higher end ad buys.  While ProActiv won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, higher end adds are an important sign of health for FSC, as they prepare to unveil HD broadcasts in the coming months.

In Kansas, the Wizards’ new stadium plan has news because of the job creation aspect of the deal.  According to this article from the AP, the Cerner-Wizards deal may create 9,000 jobs in Kansas and politicians on both sides of the aisle are eager to make the deal happen.  Kansas and the local county have offered $230 million in incentives to lure Cerner and the Wizards to Kansas.  According to the story, Kansas politicians are concerned that officials in Missouri are working to lure the deal back across the border.

Yesterday, we touched on playoff attendance.  For a more comprehensive look at post season attendance, click on this chart from Major League Soccer Talk.

Finally, Ruffneck Scarves has announced a furtherance of its partnership with MLS and its clubs.  According to this press release, Ruffneck will produce five unique scarves for each team.

Building in Kansas City: The Future of the Wizards

wozardsIn September, 2006, On-Goal, LLC purchased the Kansas City Wizards from Hunt Sports Group.  Led by Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, the purchase brought a local ownership group to MLS and started a new wave of MLS franchise sales that included Houston and DC United.  At the time, Kansas City was playing to small crowds in massive Arrowhead Stadium and was one of three MLS teams in the Hunt stable.  OnGoal brought limited sports expertise to the transaction, but expressed its desire to build a “world class” soccer specific stadium by April, 2009 and a refreshing entusiasm to the League.

It is now April 1, 2009 and The Wizards are playing in tiny Community America Ballpark to crowds of around 10,000.   OnGoal still plans to construct a stadium as part of a larger development at the site of the former Bannister Mall, but the project has a long way to go.  Demolition has started, but financing remains in question for the project as a whole and the retail components are struggling.   Nevertheless, the Team is shooting for an April 2011 opening.

To the ownership group’s credit, they have not let the pace of construction impact their willingness to spend on the team.  Last year, the Wizards brought in Claudio Lopez as a Designated Player.  The seating capacity of Community America Ballpark was increased and fixed seating was added in multiple places.   At the same time, OnGoal has continued to maintain corporate sponsorships and has continued strong ticket sales in 10,000 capacity stadium.

To many MLS fans, Kansas City has long been considered a “weak” franchise and a prime candidate to relocation to St. Louis or elsewhere.  In a market saturated with other sports teams like the Royals and Chiefs, the Wizards struggle for recognition from the local media.  Yet the team has endured, and the transition to Community America Ballpark has created a level of ticket scarcity not available at Arrowhead.  The team has been moderately successful on the field and has developed a loyal following.

As an original franchise in the under represented center of the country, Kansas City is important to MLS.  The new ownership group was a necessary infusion of new blood for MLS at a time prior to David Beckham’s arrival.  The decision to move to the smaller park during construction was savvy and should sustain the franchise during construction.  However, construction of the new ballpark will ultimately be the determining factor in whether the Wizards survive and thrive.