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.

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Soccer Business Bits: Henry Rolls Out, ESPN Gears Up & More

The biggest story in MLS remains the introduction of Theirry Henry to American sports fans and mainstream media.  In addition to the official press conference, Henry made appearances on the Univision morning show, “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, and “Late Night” on NBC.  He also provided a print interview to the AP.  Henry’s ability to speak in French, Spanish and English makes him an extremely marketable commodity and he impressed in the interview.  The signing generated headlines, even here in Hartford where the local radio news program commented on Henry during AM drive. At the same time, many of the New York area sportscasts studiously ignored the signing. Sportsradio WFAN paid little mind to Henry and SNY (the home of the Mets) followed suit. Despite pushing some great marketing buttons (that included some fun guerrilla marketing both on the ground and online), the Red Bulls couldn’t push Henry into the mainstream in the New York area.

ESPN’s impressive commitment to soccer (did anyone notice Landon Donovan’s John Skipper reference at the ESPYs?), continues with broadcasts of multiple friendlies over the next few weeks.  Games involving MLS teams and world powers like Tottenham, Manchester United and Celtic are part of those broadcasts, as is the MLS All Star game and the USA/Brazil match in August.  In combination with their usual MLS broadcasts and the start of the European club season, it will continue to be an exciting Summer of Soccer on the Worldwide leader.

Some quick hits…In Kansas City, the Wizards are aggressively selling tickets for their May 25 match against Manchester United.  According to this interview, ticket sales are near 60,000.  Most of the remaining available tickets range from $40-60.  Elsewhere, Commissioner Garber gave some strong statements indicating that MLS is not entertaining transfer offers for Landon Donovan.  At the same time, there are more rumblings about the possibility of MLS expanding to New York City.

The Morning After: The Weekend in Review

mlsFull slate of games in Major League soccer with teams jockeying for position in the final weeks of the season.  Attendance was fairly strong league wide.  In Toronto, a sellout crowd of 20, 500 saw the hometown team hang on for a 3-2 win.  In DC, 19,500 were at RFK to see a rematch of the US Open Cup final.  Once again, Seattle was the victorious side.  In Salt Lake City, 17,600 saw RSL play to a draw with the Chicago Fire.  Crowds were fairly disappointing in Los Angeles, with less than 19k at the Home Depot Center to see the Galaxy fall to Dallas. Just over 10k were at Giants Stadium to see the Reb Bulls fall to Kansas City.

There were two Sunday games.  11,300 were at the Home Depot Center for the Revs/Chivas match.  Finally, there was in impressive 14,300 in attendance for Crew/Dynamo match-up in Columbus for a battle between two first place teams.

Two final business notes.  US International Heath Pearce has signed with FC Dallas.  Per the MLS Allocation order, FC Dallas had first dibs on the American left back.  Because Pearce is out of contract, he is coming on a free transfer.  Multiple reports are suggesting that the contract is for this season only, freeing Pearce to shop his wares in the January transfer season.  Finally, Ives is reporting that the Red Bulls have signed their first Academy prospect, Giorgi Chirgadzi.  The 18 year-old Chirgadzi will join the Red Bulls Developmental roster.

Soccer Business Bits: More Deals

red-bulls2Teams across the League continue to offer creative promotions and deals to entice fans into the stadiums.  In New York, the Red Bulls are offering a 4 tickets and 4 T-shirts for $90 deal.  Given some of the options we have discussed previously, this one doesn’t seem like much of a bargain.  The Red Bulls are not drawing well and appear to be simply biding their time until Red Bull Arena opens in 2010.  The latest on the stadium is here.

In Houston, the Dynamo are offering a Fireworks night for their next home  match.  The first 5,000 fans will also get a rally towel as part of Houston’s promotion for every game schedule.  As we noted yesterday, the upcoming Houston/Dallas match on May 9th is also an ESPN game of the week.  By combining fireworks, rally towels and the Dallas/Houston rivalry, the Dynamo are certainly working to fill Robertson Stadium.

Finally, the good folks at Chivas USA (one of the quiet MLS success stories on the field and at the gate this year), are offering a $50 5 game “stiumulus plan”  The package includes a seat to five games and a “free” ticket to a match against the Galaxy.  Chivas has certainly found ways to build up its brand at a time when many teams are struggling to pull fans.

T.V. Tidbits: US/Mexico TV Ratings & Red Bull Rights Deal

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MLS ratings may be flat, but the U.S. National Team continues to draw well on TV.  In televising the  US/Mexico clash on Wednesday,  ESPN2 logged a .8 rating (over a million viewers) setting a new record for a World Cup Qualfier.  Add in the more than 5.5 million viewers on Spanish Language TV and close to 7 million people in the States watched the 2-0 US win on television.  As we have said before, there is a big audience for soccer in this country, MLS just needs to find a way to capture those eyeballs.

msg Meanwhile, according to reports, the NY Rebulls have signed a three year rights deal to televise Red Bull games on the MSG network.  While financial terms were not announced, New York fans will be pleased to have a destination for local broadcast of at least 20 games.  The deal also includes a studio show and Shep Messing!red-bulls2