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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Media Musings

The  introduction of Thierry Henry drew plenty of media coverage both in the New York ara and nationally.  Articles in mainstream publications, interviews on local and national media outlets and discussion on ESPN and elsewhere.  The introduction was well managed by the Red Bulls, and other than a much maligned in studio interview with Good Day New York, Henry’s appearances were impressive and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the FSC broadcast if Henry’s debut was decidedly unimpressive.  The booth team of Rogadino and Caliguri was below par (in contrast to the Bretos/Twellman pairing from ESPN2 the night before) and Caliguri was especially disappointing.  Stadium microphones were seemingly non-existent and picked up little of the Red Bull Arena crowd.  Replays were poorly managed, with the slow to develop Barclays graphic forcing viewers to miss live action. Cut away shots also cost viewers game action, with the FSC producers electing to show individual shots of players running rather than the ball.  FSC has experienced crews working these games, but the production showed little of that experienced.  So close to the World Cup, the poor quality of the broadcast was readily apparent.

In contrast, the ESPN broadcasts since the World Cup suggest that the World Wide Leader learned something about soccer telecasts from the month in South Africa.  Coverage has been smooth and the new pairing of Max Bretos and Taylor Twellman was solid. ESPN has definitely been heavy on the soccer in the weeks since the World Cup and they have made good use of their various booth teams.  Kyle Martino has become a rising star doing color for the games.

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.