The Business of Playing Soccer: Interview with Carey Talley

TalleyThe life of a professional athlete is a mystery to many fans.  We thought it would be interesting to chat with some former MLS stars to find out about life as a player from a business perspective.  Here is part I of our chat with former MLS stalwart Carey Talley.  Mr. Talley made more than 300 MLS appearances and won an MLS Cup with DC United.  Thanks to Carey Talley. 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?

Carey Talley: Good question. Unfortunately there was not much, if any, formal education provided to the players regarding financial planning. There were occasions where financial advisors were brought in to talk to the players, but that was usually done at the request of one of the players who had a friend in the financial field. These discussions were certainly helpful but occurred infrequently. Looking back I realize now the value of such conversations and I hope the league can take a greater interest in assisting players with this type of forward thinking.

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?

CT: There were always opportunities to do team appearances on behalf of the club and you could earn an extra $250 for an hour’s worth of work. Also, people in the area were always trying to get you to come out and train their youth teams. There were lots of opportunities to pick up some extra coaching contracts, since many of the ticket guys in the front office were frequently dealing with the youth teams. In most of the teams that I played with, doing youth coaching was actually frowned upon by the coaching staff. And rightfully so, since the coach’s job depended on your ability to play at a maximum level and if you were exhausted because you were coaching then you might be drained at team training, especially during those hot summer days. So yes, there was additional money to be made, but I typically shied away from it most of the time, or at least the coaching opportunities. I figured I had a limited time frame for being a player and that I would have plenty of time after retirement to focus on coaching.

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

CT: There were plenty of opportunities for endorsements, especially in the smaller markets for which I played such as Kansas City and Salt Lake. I was sponsored by adidas for 11 years and had a great relationship with that organization. Times have changed some since my playing days and it seems like there are even more sponsorship opportunities for players, which helps drive even more name recognition and awareness with the public. This then allows for even more sponsorship opportunities for the players. So it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling cycle, and its great for the current and future generations of players.

La Roja: An Interview with Jimmy Burns

Euro 2012 is moving to the quarterfinal stage and Spain has booked its entry into the quarterfinals.  The national team is arguably the best in the world, home to some of the top clubs in the world and home base for Messi, Ronaldo and a host of top players.  Today, Footiebusiness is pleased to provide our chat with Jimmy Burns, author of La Roja, a fascinating book about Spanish soccer.  Mr. Burns looks at the rise of the game in Spain through the context of history and politics, a unique approach befitting the Spanish team.

Mr. Burns spent thirty years as a senior writer at the Financial Times. He has also reported for the BBC, CNN, National Public Radio, and other outlets. The winner of the Somerset Maughan prize for nonfiction, Burns is the author of, among other titles, When Beckham Went to Spain; Maradona: The Hand of God; Barca: A People’s Passion; Papa Spy: Love, Faith and Betrayal in Wartime Spain; and most recently La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World.

Thanks to Mr. Burns. In  La Roja you look at the history of Spanish soccer through the lens of the historical and political events that were forming the nation of Spain.  Do you think that Spanish soccer is more interwoven with national history than other soccer nations?  If so why is Spain unique in this regard?

Jimmy Burns:  You can’ t really explain or understand the development of Spanish soccer without looking at the impact politics has had on it over the years.

And what makes the story of Spanish soccer particularly fascinating is the fact that its  coincides with a period during which Spain has evolved from being one of the most backward countries in European to being a modern democratic state with all its channels and complexities. Politics gives Spanish soccer its particular narrative and its dynamic.

FB: Barcelona and Real Madrid are the most recognizable clubs in Spain and its most significant rivals.  How did culture and regionalism help form that rivalry?  Are those factors still relevant today?

JB: This rivalry, which is probably the  most intense and enduring rivalry in the history of sport, had its early beginnings at the start of the 20th century- a post-imperial period for Spain when  the centralized nation-state based in the Spanish capital Madrid faced challenges from Catalonia, and other regions with a growing sense of its own cultural and social identity, including flags and language, different from the rest of Spain.

During the long dictatorship of General Franco-1939-1975-Real Madrid came to be identified by its enemies as the team of the regime, while Barca became what its motto says- mes que en club– more than a club in the sense that it became equated with a whole cultural and political movement unique to Catalonia. Denied political freedoms, the Catalans found expression for the frustrated demands in supporting their soccer club. 

While it would be unfair and unrealistic to say that Real Madrid remains Franco’s team so long after his death, the tensions between central government and Spain’s most powerful region Catalonia remains as intense as ever as does the rivalry between two great soccer clubs.

FB: The Spanish national team has risen to the top of the world soccer powers.  Has the cultural divide between Catalonia and the rest of Spain been a significant factor in the nation’s rise to soccer superiority?

JB: I think the flair and brilliance one identifies with Spanish soccer is the result of  a convergence of foreign influences- English, Latin American and Dutch in particular-  and native talent in a system of play which has been developed almost to perfection at club level by FC Barcelona where the spirited physical soccer taught by the early British pioneers in Spain has given way to a much more creative, technical game. The Spanish national team has been fortunate in recent years to have had coaches like Luis Aragones and Vicente Del Bosque who have managed to bring together the best players from Spanish clubs and got them to play with the style of Barca, and the spirit of Real Madrid.

FB: Has the increasing amount of money in the game of soccer changed the dynamics of Spanish club soccer?  Are traditional rivalries fading because of player movement and foreign involvement?

JB: I think that more money has translated in the case of Spanish club soccer into a virtual  duopoly where  FC Barcelona and Real Madrid tend to dominate La Liga by the privileged  access they have to the bulk of TV revenues, and major sponsorship.  I believe this makes the rivalry even more exciting with clubs fielding great foreign stars like Messi and Ronaldo while investing in the development of their youth teams.

FB: Given the rather unique combination of history and sports in the book, who is your intended audience?

JB: I hope that my book La Roja will appear not just to people interest in soccer, but also to people interested in Spanish history and politics- as I’ve said it’s what gives then narrative its uniqueness.

FB: What efforts are being made to promote the book?

JB: On Google and twitter its getting some great promo.  It’s getting a good airing across all media platforms on both sides of the Atlantic-TV and radio interviews, newspaper and magazine reviews, websites, blogs, podcasts, twitters and others social networks.

All the commentary  has been positive and much of it hugely enthusiastic- I’ve picked this up on both of what I’ve read and what I have experienced directly from my growing army of fans at the speaking events I have been doing in Ireland,Britain, and Spain.

I am really looking forward to doing a couple of events in New York in the last week of June.

FB: Finally, do you have a pick for Euro 2012?

  JB: I suppose you have guessed it already- Spain-although it’s going to have to play even better than it did in the World Cup of 2010 if it is to win the tournament. I think Germany remains an important rival but generally the quality of this Euro competition is very high. I would like Spain to win the championship on its own merit.

Business Snapshot

After an exciting and remarkably popular (in the US) month of World Cup soccer, we thought it worthwhile to take a quick look at the business of American soccer moving forward from July 12, 2010.  The World Cup was a business success in the States, with ESPN’s significant investment of resources validated by the ratings earned both over the air and online.  Sponsors who invested in ad time were rewarded with viewership often 50% greater than pre tournament expectations.

In MLS, action has restarted after the World Cup break with strong attendance around the league.  An array of international friendlies will draw big crowds to MLS parks across the country as will the All-Star game at Reliant Stadium against Manchester United.  We also saw the opening the opening of PPL Park in Philadelphia.  Starting with the expected reveal of Thierry Henry of July 14, this coming week will see the formal introduction of Designated Players in DC, Seattle and elsewhere.  MLS fans will also be interested to see what what surprise players make the trip to MLS. At the same time, it will be interesting to watch MLS ratings and whether ESPN can continue its devotion to televised soccer.

American soccer fans will also be casting a business eye to Europe to follow the transfer market for American players based in Europe.  Following the World Cup, a number of American athletes will likely be on the move, parlaying their South African adventure into big contracts and impressive transfers.

WPS is settling into its second season with a new stadium in Atlanta, a successful All Star game and additional jersey sponsors entering the league.  WPS is now part of the American sports landscape and looking to grow.

Bringing the Fans to MLS: Part V-Video Games

video gameAt about the same time I was wrapping up high school in the early 1990’s, SEGA was the premier video game system.  Arguably the most popular game of that period was the EA Sports  hockey.  Whether in high school, college or elsewhere, boys around the country were gathering in basements and dorm rooms for tournaments of NHL hockey.  Although most knew little about the sport, regular game play brought names like Pavel Bure, Mike Richter and Ray Borque to the forefront of sports culture in the United States.  Soon thereafter, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup and the popularity of hockey exploded.  Video games weren’t the only factor, but the NHL had achieved an enormous amount of brand recognition through video games and created life long fans of the sport because of that first connection.  Can MLS achieve a similar success?

This is part five of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here, part III here and part IV here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, families, store owners and acquaintances in an effort to determine what will bring more fans to MLS. We have asked these questions at soccer matches of all levels, dinner parties, social gatherings and board meetings.  We have been asking these questions since February with an eye towards seeking out trends about MLS fandom and what brings people to Major League Soccer League stadiums.

EA Sports recently unveiled the cover of the 2010 version of “FIFA“.  Alongside Chelsea star Frank Lampard are American  (and Chivas USA midfielder) Sacha Kljestan and Mexian (and Chicago Fire forward) Cuauhtémoc Blanco.  Soccer has long been one of the easier sports to translate into video games (along with hockey and football), and thus millions of American males will dutifully purchase the game regardless of whether they know anything about soccer.  And from our interviews, it is readily apparent; the less they know about soccer, the more likely they are to play with teams from Major League Soccer (many soccer fans migrate to the EPL). As a result, it is these fans that may embrace the teams and players from MLS.

From  our interviews and discussions, it appears that video games are having this effect. I’ve spoken with a number of folks (adults and teens) who started to become soccer fans because of their video game experiences.  They caught some of the Confederations Cup and recognized players from their game.  Many have since seen MLS matches and have kept an eye on their favorite team. Will it continue?  Can MLS keep these  fans?  Are video games a legitimate method for attracting fans?  Let us know your thoughts.

Bringing the Fans to MLS: Part IV-The Soccer Hater

jim rome“Soccer is a girl’s game”  “There are no goals, it is boring” “It will never succeed”  “Why do they roll around on the ground all the time”

All soccer fans have heard these statements.  We all know people who feel this way about the “beautiful game”.  This is part four of our MLS attendance series.  You can see part I here,  part II here and part III here. We have collected anecdotes from hundreds of friends, coworkers, fans, familes, store owners and acquaintainces in an effort to determine what will bring more fans to MLS. We have asked these questions at soccer matches of all levels, dinner parties, social gatherings and board meetings.  We have been asking these questions since February with an eye towards seeking out trends about MLS fandom and what brings people to Major League Soccer League stadiums.

Should MLS attempt to bring “soccer haters” to the game?  Are they worth converting?  During our interviews, the sentiments set forth at the top of this page were repeated over and over.  Most of the people who fit in this category would rather watch anything other than soccer.  They are annoyed that ESPN even bothers to carry the games and cannot believe that the game gets “so much attention.”  Most think it is a kids’ game or sport for girls.  They decry the lack of content, lack of scoring and lack of commercials.

Yet, among the people we spoke with, there were a couple of passionate MLS supporters that say they started as soccer haters.   All remember getting dragged to a soccer event and having a surpisingly good time.  All of these converts are more dedicated to their local MLS side than many season ticket holders.

However, these folks are the significant minority.  Most of these soccer haters detest the game and have no inclination to give it a chance.  Overwhelmingly, these folks describe the NFL as their favorite sport.  They typically like sports radio and turn it off if there is a soccer conversation.  They told me they believe just about every negative soccer stereotype, and many related that they disliked the guys that played soccer in high school or college.  They don’t want to be “won over” or sold the game.

So the question is, should MLS try?  Is it worth devoting marketing dollars and efforts to convince these potential fans to come to MLS?

Stadium Fun: Downtown in Houston

houstonWhen the San Jose Earthquakes became the Houston Dynamo in 2005, part of the understanding was that a soccer specific stadium was just around the corner.  After years of playing in Robertson Stadium (home of the Houston Cougars), it appears that the dream of a downtown Houston stadium is closer to a reality.  The downtown location of the proposed stadium is right near Minute Maid Park (home of the Astros) and situated in a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone.

According to the City of Houston website, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones are:

special districts created by City Council to attract new investment to an area. TIRZs help finance the cost of redeveloping or encouraging infill development in an area that would otherwise not attract sufficient market development in a timely manner. Taxes attributable to new improvements (tax increment) are set-aside in a fund to finance public improvements in the zone. Zones in the City of Houston have been created for one of three reasons:

  • to address inner city deterioration
  • to develop raw land in suburban fringe areas
  • to proactively address the decline of major activity centers

Total cost of the 21k 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 TIZ money and from some of the stiumulus money floating around.  The TIZ 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 contruction project.  As we have noted previously, this is a great time for construction, with the cost of materials and labor way down.  Also, these are the type of projects that can bring jobs and income into the economy.  The economic benefit of stadium projects is also debatable, but during a downturn there is a definite economic upside.

The renderings are out and design firm Populous has been selected for the project (also did Citi Field).  An important aspect of the agreement as far as obtaining city approval is the participation of Texas Southern University.  Although negotiations are ongoing, it is expected that Texas Southern football will also use the stadium for at least 30 years and a $2.5 million investment.

Importantly, this is not the first time Houston has gotten close to a stadium deal.  However, the pieces appear to be slowly clicking into place for a 2011 opening.  A downtown stadium in Houston will continue the trend that has been successful in Toronto and Seattle by placing the Team within close proximity to public transportation and population centers.  With Philly and New York set to open new stadiums in 2010 and other projects on the way in Portland, San Jose and Kansas City, this is a great time to be an MLS fan.

Superliga 2009: Fierce International Competition or Big Waste of Time?

superligaWe are just days away from the third iteration of the now annual Superliga tournament.  The 8 team event features 4 teams from MLS and 4 teams from Mexico’s Primera Division.  Placed into groups of four (consisting of two MLS teams and two Mexican teams), the teams play one game against each team in their group before a semi-final and final.  The New England Revolution are the defending champions after a penalty kick victory over Houston last year in an all MLS final.

Last year the event tried to build off the success of year one, when David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy lost in penalty kicks to Mexican champion Pachuca and Superliga 2008 drew consistently good television ratings, surpassing local Major League Baseball numbers.  All matches will  be televised in the United States on the Telefutura Network and by Televisa and TV Azteca in Mexico; english language broadcasts are carried by Fox Sports Canada.

In addition to declaring a US/Mexican champion, Superliga provides a unique marketing opportunity for both MLS and its Mexican counterpart.  The Mexican teams get an opportunity to play meaningful games in the U.S. before Mexican ex-pats, while MLS gets to showcase its teams before a Latino fan-base still warming to American Soccer.  Last year the event was somewhat marred by tension between the MLS Players Union and the League.  The union announced that the $1,000,000 championship bonus – in a league where the salary cap does not exceed $3,000,000 – was a bit of mirage.  As a result, there was a bit of a protest when the Revs won the trophy.

Attendance at the 2008 version dipped a bit and this year the big time Mexican clubs will be absent with no Chivas, America or Pachuca involved.  Chivas and America are the teams with the biggest followings in the States, and thus attendance may suffer this year as well.  However, with the Chicago Fire involved, it does mean that Blanco will be part of the proceedings.  Blanco is always a big draw in the Mexican community.  Add in a Chivas USA/Chicago Fire game in Los Angeles and Group A may have some significant draws at the gate. The tournament will feature a couple of doubleheaders and a game in St. Louis (KC match).

Coming mid-season, the event is a bit controversial as it forces teams to take a break from League play.  MLS teams are then forced to make up games with some additional mid-week games during the rest of the season.  In addition, SuperLiga does detract from the Champions League that also pits teams from MLS, Mexico and other CONCACAF countries.  However, as a business model, SuperLiga is a fantastic idea.  We have repeatedly discussed how there are enumerable soccer fans in the United States, many of whom do not pay attention to MLS.  Many of these fans are far more interested in Mexican Soccer and Superliga does serve as an entre to MLS.  Ultimately, we view the tournament as neither a fierce competition or a waste of time, but a golden business opportunity.  Whether that is a proper use of the teams’ time is a different issue

Soccer Business Bits: RSL Revenue, Attendance Review and More

rslWe neglected to comment on a story from last weekend about RSL’s Rio Tinto attendance and its impact on revnue.  According to this story from the SL Trib, attendance in Salt Lake City is down this year, but revenue is way up.  Despite the lowest attendance in Team history, revenues are up more than 25%, a clear indicator of the importance of controlling your own stadium.  While the weather has been miserable in RSL this year, the Team is still bringing in the money thanks to controlled revenue streams and the absence of rent payments.

Just as interesting, was the discussion of the dreaded free ticket.  According to the article, RSL is giving away about 1k seats this year as compared to 3-5k in past seasons.  The great debate about the value of handing out free seats.  Does it create interest?  Does it devalue the seats so that people expect free seats and won’t pay for the privilege of coming to the stadium?  The Team seems to believe it is in a good place, but only summer attendance will tell.  The last two games (including the tie on Saturday) were sell-outs, so for now things seem to be moving in the right direction (special thanks to a certain American Idol runner-up)

For the rest of the League, attendance was something of a mixed bag.  Toronto brought the usual sell-out.  For all of the numbers, check here.  It was a strange slate of games for MLS this week, with a Thursday, Friday and two Sunday games.  True to form, these games were not well attended with only Chicago breaking the 13k barrier.  Most distressing was Dallas, were less than 6k announced were in attendance at Pizza Hut Park.  We have addressed the Dallas problems repeatedly, so we won’t do it again today.  Suffice to say, things are getting bad fast.

Soccer Business Bits: The Morning After

mlsAnother full slate of games in MLS and WPS this weekend and a world cup qualifier on the horizon.  This week represented the return of the ESPN game of the week, and the Worldwide Leader got a good one with the Thursday night Chivas/Blanco match-up.  Please see our live business blog of that match here.  Chivas USA got the attendance week off to a good start with a reported 20k+ in attendance the day after less than 9k were in Columbus for a mid-week game.

Strong attendance continued with almost 16k in New England on Saturday night (this is what passes for good attendance at Gillette these days), 16k in Houston, about 20k in Los Angeles and almost 30k in Seattle.  These are solid numbers for all of these franchises and may represent a Spring upswing for some of these teams.  Los Angeles is nowhere near the numbers of the past years, but the ability to draw a solid 20k without Beckham is a good sign for the club. Dallas and New York also deserve recognition for pulling solid numbers, with 13k in Dallas for a Sunday afternoon match and a reported 12k at Giants Stadium.

There were three weekend games in WPS, with action in Los Angeles, Washington and New Jersey.  6200 saw Marta and the Sol defeat St. Louis 2-0.  In Washington, the League continued its tradition of not reporting attendance, while in New Jersey less than 3500 were in attendance.

More than 30k were in attendance to see Jamaica and El Salvador in  World Cup warm-up at RFK.  This is a big number in a stadium that has become a familiar ground for El Salvador.  As noted above, the US Men get back into action this week.  We will post a business blog of that game to touch on the ads, production and more of the match from Cost Rica.

Soccer Business Bits: The Morning After

mlsAnother week of American soccer is in the books, with a full slate of games in MLS and WPS and the annoucement of a new U.S. National Team Camp for the upcoming World Cup Qualifier.  As has been a theme in MLS this season, there were more ties than actual results, with four games ending in a draw.  This was another week without an ESPN game, but national telecasts on Fox Soccer for the WPS and MLS and Telefutura for MLS.  Advertisers such as Panasonic and Dick’s stayed as a consistent presence in these telecasts.

Attendance wise, Toronto led the way with a sellout, while KC followed suit.  Just over 16k saw a scoreless draw at RFK, while a suprising 16,500 made their way to Colorado to watch Seattle and the Rapids.  This is a big number for the Rapids.  New York and Dallas struggled again at the gate, with just over 10k at Giants Stadium and FC Dallas bringing in less than 10k for a match up against the Galaxy.  What would the attendance have been with a Beckham appearance? The big shock of the week was 12,500 in Houston.  The Dynamo generally do a great job with promotions for every game, yet, this was a small draw in a game against their shadow selves in San Jose.

In WPS action, 4,400 were in attendance when Chicago hosted St. Louis.  More than 6200 were in attendance when FC Gold Pride hosted Marta and Los Angeles.  The DC match was part of doubleheader for the United Game.  The WPS kicked off first, and reports indicate that many of the United supporters stayed in the parking lot during the WPS match.  Attendance for the two games were joined, so the WPS gets the benefit of the 16k.

Next week, MLS has a full slate with two midweek games and the return of ESPN, smartly televising the Los Angeles super classico.  We will be traveling again this week and will check back at the end of the week, perhaps live blogging some of the business aspects of the ESPN2 broadcast.