Turnkey Sports: MLS Fans on Top

at&TThe Sports Business Journal is once again reporting on the fans of Major League Soccer’s remarkable connection to the corporate partners that support the league.  In reporting the results of the latest Turnkey sports poll, SBJ states that, “MLS sponsors were correctly identified as such by the league’s fans at a higher rate than the companies’ rival brands across all categories, according to the results of this year’s MLS Sponsor Loyalty survey conducted for SportsBusiness Journal/Daily by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment”

MLS fans’ track record of brand loyalty is a recurring theme.  Because of MLS’ relative newness to the sports scene, MLS fans have more “ownership” in the league’s success.  Unlike fans of the NFL, MLB and other mainstream sports, fans of Major League Soccer have real concern about their league and its place on the sports landscape.  Fans work hard to bring friends to games, introduce family to the sport and cheer for MLS teams in international competitions.  This personalized relationship to the sport lends itself to these same fans taking an interest in the corporate entities that keep the league solvent.  Moreover, because the relationships are promoted through means other than commercials (jerseys, signage, etc…), the names of these companies are always prominently displayed.panasonic

Some telling numbers from the survey (as reported by SBJ).   League sponsors such as VW, Gatorade, Pepsi and Allstate generally earned recognition scores in excess of 30%.  One major partner that fell below 30% was VW, at 28.5% .  However, among all sports/leagues, that 28.5% was second to only Chevy’s affiliation to NASCAR in the auto category.  AT&T”s relationship with the league was the biggest mover among all brands in the survey with almost a 16% year over year increase in fan recognition through its MLS partnership.   One final note, Visa’s brand recognition; “more than 44 percent of avid fans recognized the relationship, the highest rate of any of the league’s sponsors among avid fans.”

We will have more on this survey over the next few days.


Legal Update: The Courts and American Soccer – Vermes and VW

Its been a while since we took a look at some of the ongoing civil litigation and criminal actions involving American soccer personalities, clubs and leagues.  However, with the recent news of Peter Vermes arrest on a DUI, we thought we would take a look at some of the cases that have been prominent over the last year.

We’ll start with Mr. Vermes, who was recently arrested on suspicion of DUI 30 miles Southwest of Kansas City.  The arrest occurred in the early morning hours of August 24.  He spent about six hours in jail, posted a $750 bond and was released.  He will be arraigned on November 9.  Fortunately for Mr. Vermes, harsher penalties recently recommended by a commission in Kansas have not yet taken effect.  Currently, jail time is an uncommon sentence, even after multiple offenses.  To date, there has been noevidence that he has previously been found guilty on a DUI charge.  While the criminal proceeding likely has months until it reaches a resolution, it is unclear what steps the Wizards will take with their coach.  We will update this post as the matter moves forward.

We’ve posted a couple of times over the last few months about the litigation involving DC United.  The gist of the lawsuit is that the plaintiffs (Jones and Mair) are alleging that DC United (Macfarlane Chang DC Soccer, LLC) breached a contract with the plaintiffs regarding the location of potential DC United Sponsors.  Specifically, the plaintiffs allege they were entitled to a 22-25% commission on the deal to make VW the presenting sponsor of DC United.

The case was dismissed (by agreement), in early Summer.  The defendants had filed for Summary Judgment in the Spring and the Court had granted that motion.  As such, the defendants essentially won without having to take the matter to trial. A review of the Motion for Summary Judgment suggests that the plaintiff’s claim was essentially baseless.   There was a 14 month gap between the plaintiff’s effforts to contact VW as a sponsor and the actually signing of the deal.

From a business perspective, the case is interesting because it details United’s efforts (through Kevin Payne), to secure VW as a sponsor.  The relationship began over a search for property in Virgina and ultimate became a presenting sponsorship.  VW’s move to Virginia included a wish to get involved with local properties and with the Honda deal expiring, VW made a perfect target for MLS and DC United.  The courtship included dinners, phone calls, meetings and live games.  United personnel traveled extensively to close the deal and did so in the Spring of 2008.  There is no suggestion the plaintiff’s were involved.

Business Bits: United Stadium, TV Rights and More

unitedDC United’s efforts to get a stadium built in Prince George’s County took a small step forward with the Maryland House Appropriations Committee approving a bill to fund a study about the project.  United is seeking State and County funds to build a new soccer specific stadium near the Metro in Maryland.  With RFK crumbling and a stadium near the Anacostia River, PG County is likely the best option for United.  The vote is positive, but the 17-7 vote tally is concerning for such a minor measure.  Stadium projects are not popular in this economy and United may find itself without a home if it alienates the District.

UPDATE:  According to this note in the Washington Post, the Study may not go forward after all.  Because of an apparent misunderstanding of the separation of powers, the Legislature has over-stepped its authority and will have to reconsider the bill. 

According to this AP story, Fox Soccer has won the rights to televise Champions League games for the next three years.  FSC beat out ESPN for the rights: a large coup for the soccer-only channel.  At the same time, ESPN is apparently offering cable companies and other distributors the opportunity to accept an ESPN Classic for ESPNU switch. The proposal would move Classic to a sports tier, thereby significantly decreasing its availability.  In recent years, Classic was regularly used to show non-marquee USMNT games.  This switch may either force ESPN to keep soccer on ESPN/ESPN2 or significantly reduce the available viewing audience.

As we have previously reported, MLS has shown a  surprising ability to retain major sponsors in tough economic time.  According to this latest report from the Sports Business Journal, Pepsi is now part of the list of retained companies.  Interestingly, the deal will switch the sponsorship focus from Sierra Mist (which was omnipresent as an MLS marketer), to Pepsi and Gatorade.  MLS has continued to show remarkable resilience with its sponsorships on both a League and Team Level with sponsors like Panasonic and VW staying with the League.