The Monday After

Another big weekend in Major League Soccer with the ESPN game of the week capping off the proceedings.  While attendance was disappointing (for the much hyped SuperClassico), the match presented a rare opportunity to see 3 US National Team members from the 2010 World Cup Team and David Beckham in a prime time special.  Although matched against the NFL ratings juggernaut, the Sunday night match up could prove an interesting ratings test case for the league.

Perhaps the biggest attendance surprise of the weekend was the 18k plus at Gillette Stadium to see the Revs and RSL.  A combination of a promotional efforts directed to local high school teams and a breast cancer awareness event, led to the biggest stand alone crowd for the Revs this season.  However, the biggest business news out of New England was the report in multiple sources that the Revs’ ownership has decided to change course on its pursuit of a designated player.  The Revs had previously limited their DP search to players that would move the needle in the stands.  With the limited budget restraints placed on that search, there appeared little chance that the Revs would actually sign such a “big name” player.  However, the Revs appear to have now changed their requirements and are more focused on success on the field.

One final attendance note.  An impressive crowd of over 24k at Red Bull Arena.  While many of those numbers can be attributed to fans with “use them or lose” tickets, it will be intersting to see if the team can continue generating big numbers during playoffs.

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 Monday After: Week Four, Week Two & More

Before we get into our look at attendance in MLS and WPS from the weekend, a couple of other business thoughts.  It was a good weekend for MLS MatchDay Live as the online game server seems to have shaken most the problems that beset the new service over the past few weeks.  In DC, the United game was still not available on local television, as conflicts with hockey and basketball have created significant problems in making the games available.  Similar problems impacted the Revolution this weekend, as a conflict with the Celtics forced the Revs’ game onto a variety of different “alternate” channels that didn’t necessarily work as planned forcing many fans to miss portions of the game.

With respect to attendance, it was a fairly disappointing weekend for the league.  Things started well in newly expanded BMO Field where almost 22k saw TFC hold off Philadelphia.  In Houston, just under 15k saw Houston hold off Chivas USA.  More than 35k were in Seattle for the Sounders’ late victory over KC.  A solid 18,500 were in DC where United again failed to win.

In San Jose, less than a sellout (under 10k) saw the home team beat the Revs.  While on Sunday, less than 10k were at DSG for the Rapids win over TFC.  However, the most distressing result for MLS fans was the paltry 13k that were at Red Bull Arena for the New York/Chicago game.  Bad weather certainly didn’t help, but the Red Bulls (and the league) were certainly hoping for numbers closer to 20k for most of the season.  The next home game (involving rival Philly) will likely be better, but attendance for unheralded Western Conference opponents might be a problem for the rest of the season.

In WPS action, 3700 saw FC Gold Pride defeat NJ at Castron Valley Athletic Stadium.  We couldn’t find attendance for the other two games.

Soccer Stadium & Expansion Update

With Red Bull Arena (rightly) garnering all of the attention lately, some of the other stadium projects around the league are also moving forward.  In anticipation of the upcoming season, we thought it worthwhile to take a look at some of the other arenas coming through the pipeline.  Before we get there, we recommend checking this story about a possible Montreal expansion announcement on the near horizon.

The big stadium news of the day was a report that efforts to construct a stadium in Houston are moving forward thanks to a recent agreement between the City of Houston and Harris County to construct $20 million in infrastructure improvements.  The team will foot the bill for the additional cost of stadium construction.  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.   Another round of voting is required to move the project forward.

In San Jose it was announced last week that the city counsel has approved the re-zoning of 90+ acres near the airport to allow stadium construction to begin.  Referring to the plan as a “soccer stimulus package” a varied group supported the proposal before the board. The stadium is planned near the San Jose Airport and will reportedly required two years to construct from the date of the ground breaking.  The funding for the planned stadium has always been a bit fuzzy.  The city of San Jose had previously agreed to chop $40 million off the purchase price of a 75 acre parcel that will include the Stadium and additional mixed use development. We reported a while back that based on a request by owner Lew Wolff, Mr. Wolff will now pay $89 million for the site (purchased by the City for $81 million). The stadium will seat 15,000 (with additional seating for 3,000 more on a berm at the stadium’s open end) and will use 14 acres of the site.

Finally, in Philly stadium construction continues with PPL Park set to open in the Summer.  For construction images, click here.  Over the next few days, we will provide stadium updates from Kansas City, Portland and Vancouver

Soccer Business Bits: US Soccer Bonuses, WPS Schedule & More

Great stuff from Steve Goff on bonuses for members of the USMNT.  Using data from the last cycle, Goff states that in 2006 players were awarded $37,500 for making the final world cup roster, $3,750 for each cup match played by the team and more money for each friendly.  The article discusses bonuses for moving through the tournament and the importance of these bonuses to the players, especially those on limited salaries in MLS.  This is an informative an intersting piece that is definitely worth a read.  Fans have long discussed the paltry bonuses in MLS.  It will be interesting to see if the new CBA changes the bonus structure to really put a premium on making the game day 18 and winning matches in the regular season.

In WPS news, the full 2010 schedule has been announced along with FSC nationally televised events.  Each team will play 24 regular season games and the season will extend from April to September. FSC will televise Sunday games including the Atlanta home opener on May 9, in a soccer specific stadium built for the team.

The Red Bulls got a sizable turnout for their Red Bull Arena job fair.  The stadium will offer 500 part time jobs.

We recommend you check out Soccerlaw.net, a new blog focused on legal issues in soccer both in the US and abroad.

MLS Stadium Update

There are stadium updates aplenty as we look around Major League Soccer this week.  Here are a couple of quick hits from the world of soccer specific stadium construction.

In Vancouver, the Whitecaps have announced that they will play the first half of their inaugural season in a temporary stadium while BC place (their permanent home) is completed.  The temporary stadium (which is actually quite nice looking) will seat 27,500 and will cost only 14 million to build.  Given the  low cost of the structure, this seems like an outstanding temporary solution.

In Portland, the team has announced the re-design of PGE Park to accomodate the Timbers in 2011.  The $31 million renovation incorporates the existing structure to create a cozy urban stadium.   The renovation will add seats to all four sides of the structure and will include the addition of a 1,500 restaurant.  The stadium will also include an artificial playing surface.

In Kansas, heavy machines are on site to begin construction of the Wizards’ new home.  Kansas and the local county have offered $230 million in incentives to lure Cerner and the Wizards to Kansas. The stadium is set to open in mid-2011, which promises to be quite a year for soccer specfic stadiums in MLS.

In New York, Red Bull Arena is progressing well and promises to open in time for the season opener.  In Philly, the new Union stadium is moving more slowly, but still seems on target for a summer opening.

The next two years certainly promise to be exciting times in MLS construction.  We will continue to monitor the progress.

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.

Soccer Business Bits: NASL/USL Fight, ESPN Loves Soccer & More

We have not actively covered the NASL/USL/TOA dispute over the second division of American Soccer.  However, we do believe that it is definitely a subject of significant interest to American Soccer fans.  Lower division soccer aids in the development of American players, provides more exposure to the game in communities without MLS teams and provides the backdrop to Open Cup.  The ongoing dispute between the parties (which is now a lawsuit in Florida), will have a significant impact on the business of American soccer if the issues are not resolved.  We recommend MatchFit USA’s excellent coverage of this issue.   Also, check out this interview that I did with the good folks at the American Soccer Show about the legal issues involved in the dispute (once again putting on my lawyer hat for a few minutes).

In their most recent issue, the Sports Business Journal is reporting on ESPN’s substantial coverage of the World Cup.  According to SBJ, ESPN is actively working not only to interest viewers in the World Cup, but also its employees.  The World Wide Leader is assigning its employees a specific team to follow in order to raise interest among the mainstream sports fans that populate the company.  The article also describes the substantial commitment that ESPN has made to soccer, but also raises the fairly disappointing EPL TV ratings so far this year.  The article also noted that ESPN has sold 4 of its 8 major advertising slots for the Cup already.  Those 8 advertisers will account for 75% of the advertising during the ESPN broadcasts.

Finally, in a story that broke last week while we were out of action, it was announced that the Big East Conference has announced a three year deal to play the Big East Soccer Championship at Red Bull Arena.  It is great to see MLS teams partnering in this way with established college programs.  This quote from Erik Stover (courtesy of the Jersey Journal) suggests that the new Managing Director understands the importance of college soccer and of establishing relationships with non-MLS soccer organizations. “The Red Bulls organization is excited to bring the Big East Men’s Soccer Championship to Red Bull Arena.  One of our goals is to help elevate the sport of soccer in the United States and our partnership with the Big East Conference is an important step in that process.”

Soccer Business Bits: Expansion and Stadium Updates

With the MLS offseason in full swing, we thought we would take a quick look at the state of expansion and stadiums around the league.  In New Jersey, Red Bull Arena continues to edge towards completion.  Click here for a look at the lastest interior and exterior webcams.  As we reported recently, Red Bulls have already renewed in excess of 85% of their season ticket sales for 2010.  As always, we recommend the outstanding virtual stadium tour provided by the Red Bull.  For our thoughts on the business impact of Red Bull Arena, click here.

In Chester, the new Philly stadium continues to rise.  Check here for their webcam. As we reported previously, multiple reports have pegged Union season ticket sales in excess 10k.  This is a great number and would slide Philly into third place among MLS teams in season ticket sales.  With an 18k capacity stadium to fill, and 4 months to do it, the Union should be close to a sell-out all year once they move to their new digs.

We neglected to comment last week on the Whitecaps’ hiring of Tottenham Hottspurs’ executive director Paul Barber as team CEO.  Barber will start in March and will have a year to get ready for Vancouver’s first MLS  season.  Barber is certainly a high profile hire, but it remains to be seen what a foreign executive can do in the wild, weird world of MLS

There are also multiple reports that BMO field will have more than 1,200 additional seats in 2010. Given that every game is a sell out, this represents a nice, incremental addition to seating capacity.  If demand continues to remain steady, TFC can explore further additions or expansions of capacity.

Red Bull Arena: Will it Matter?

red-bulls2We have repeatedly posted about the excitement surrounding Red Bull Arena and all that it could mean for the franchise and MLS.  The stadium is beautiful, is intended to help revitalize Harrison, NJ and will be a showpiece for soccer in the United States.  However, the questions remains; will the new stadium impact Red Bull attendance or the team’s profile in the New York media market?  Based on our experience Saturday night in Newark, the answer is still very much in question.

For those who don’t know, in October 2007, the Prudential Center opened in Newark, NJ as the home of NJ Devils of the NHL, Seton Hall basketball and more.  The stadium is state of the art, cost more than $375 million to build and was intended as part of a downtown revitalization for the City of Newark that included retail, residential units and more.  The Devils are a perennially good team, and have won three Stanley Cups over the last 15 years.  Newark and Harrison are essentially neighbors, so the Prudential Center represents an interesting comparison for Red Bull Arena.

On Saturday Night, I took in my first game at the “Pru” as the Devils hosted the team formerly known as the Hartford Whalers. I had dinner with 5 friends in downtown Newark and then walked to the Arena among a sea of red jerseys.  We had purchased tickets on Stub Hub for essentially 60 cents on the dollar.  The facility was beautiful, yet remarkably, only about half full.  And this is the issue.  Just starting its third year, the bloom is already off the rose.

Our seats were 15 rows from the ice and we could have walked down much further and found 6 seats together.  The most expensive seats were essentially empty (although many are reportedly sold).  The upper level was more crowded, but whole sections were largely unoccupied.  Attendance was reported as 15k, but the sense from those around me was that the number was closer to 10k.  In sum, a beautiful new New Jersey Arena in its third year, with a powerhouse team as a tenant, was half empty on a Saturday night in October.  It is also worth noting that the New York Mets couldn’t generate sell-outs for their new stadium in year one in Queens.

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.

Many American soccer fans think that the stadium will be a savior for a franchise that sits dead last in MLS.  Others believe that Red Bull management has been playing opossum, saving resources for the big opening.  The latter may be correct, but the former seems a bit of a strectch.  Stadiums generate revenue, but they are no guarantee of long term attendance increases (hello FC Dallas).  My experience at the Devils game was oustanding (even if the Whalers went down to defeat), but shocking in the emptiness of the building.

So the question remains; will it matter?  Will Red Bull Arena take the franchise to new levels and elevate soccer in New York, keep interest at the same level or something different?  We take a middle view…if the team does well in its new digs, interest will increase, but a middling team will continue to receive middling interest in any venue.