The Cascadia Debate

vancouverI have been extremely hesitant to cover the “controversy” over the league’s attempt to trademark the Cascadia Cup in Canada.  Yet with Commissioner taking time on Monday to address the issue, I thought it timely to provide some thoughts on the dispute.  By way of background, some supporters groups have reacted with outrage over the league’s alleged usurping of a fan created event for purposes of profit or business.   The Cascadia Cup tracks the matches between Vancouver, Portland and Seattle and crowns an annual winner based on total points in the series.  The Cup was created by supporters’ groups in 2004 and has been a publicized part of the MLS season since 2011.  For more on the background, click here.

In  late 2012, the league, which heavily promotes the Cup through its website and television partners, took steps to trademark the term “Cascadia Cup” in Canada. In the face of complaints from supporters, the league issued multiple statements indicating that the intent behind the trademark application was simply to prevent exploitation from outside groups and retain the intellectual property associated with the event within the league family.  The statement did little to mollify supporters who were concerned the league would take steps to attach a title sponsor to the event (a la the Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup), somehow cheapening the Cup.

There is no dispute that the Cascadia Cup competition was a supporter event.  These supporters are among the league’s most devoted fans and are highly invested in the success of their team and their league.  However, it is that level of devotion that makes the level of outrage curious.  I have frequently written about how American soccer fans are far more interested in the success of their fledgling league than fans of the other major sports.  Thus, even if the league’s plan (which it has not stated, but which is one of the big concerns stated by supporters) is to monetize the Cascadia Cup, these same invested fans should be supportive of such a relatively benign effort to improve the business of the league.  If monetizing the Cup allows the league to generate revenue and utilize that revenue to improve the league, this is a win-win.  Because of the passion of the supporters, the Cascadia Cup is one of the most marketable rivalries the league has.  In a year in which the league is emphasizing rivalries, the Cascadia Cup is especially valuable.  This should be viewed as an opportunity, not a controversy.

The Monday After

Busy week in Major League Soccer with Champions League group stage matches, important jockeying for playoff position and the opening of Bell Pitch Downtown in Vancouver.  Before we  get to attendance, here are a couple of thoughts on the inagural match at the league’s newest showpiece.  First, it is unfortunate that the game was not part of a national telecast.  It is always fun to open stadiums to broader audience.  The new field looked great on television, but the curtains used to close off the upper levels looked odd and fairly low rent.   It is expected that a new title sponsor for BC Place will be announced within 2 weeks.  That will make the official name of the venue for soccer Bell Pitch at ____.

Now on to attendance, where a pair of midweek games started the count in a very positive direction.  Sporting drew its usual 17,800+ on Wednesday night while RSL boasted a sellout (and a 3-0 loss) for their midweek tilt against Chicago (20,700+).  Philly followed those number with almost 18k for their match against DC on Thursday night.

The weekend games started on Saturday afternoon with more than 17,500 in Houston for a Fire/Dynamo draw.  The Revs rode a college/youth soccer night promotion to a staggering 21k while TFC gave up a lead late in front of more than 20k against the Red Bulls.  Colorado managed almost 14k for their MLS Cup rematch against Dallas, while San Jose eclipsed 10,500 in one of the late night games while the Galaxy sold all 27k tickets in the other MLS nightcap.  In Sunday action, Vancouver sold out their new arena with 21k, while Columbus managed a respectable 15,500 plus for their Sunday game.

MLS Expansion Update: 2011

Vancouver and Portland will necessarily engender comparisons during the lead-up to their 2011 opener and thereafter.  We thought we would check in on the progress of both franchises from a business perspective, starting with their stadiums and websites.

In Portland, the Timbers site has a countdown clock until opening kick and prominently features opportunities to purchase tickets for the game.  The ticket link brings users to a TicketMaster page that is available simply for deposits of $50 per seat.  A second link provides season ticket pricing and benefits and explains ticket priority for current Timbers’ season ticket holders.  Tickets range from $216-$432 per seat for the season and include 3 bonus matches.  Interestingly, season ticket holders will get discounts at stadium concession stands, an offer not typically made by MLS teams.  The rest of the website provides a stadium renovation update, history of the franchise and other general information.  The site is easy to use but is not frequently updated.

In Vancouver, the Whitecaps’ web page also focuses on tickets sales but the Whitecaps are only offering season tickets to current Whitecap season ticket holders.  Deposits have already been taken (and exhausted) for the first round of seats. Others are invited to place their name on a waiting list.  Unlike the Timbers’ deposit list, the Whitecaps’ waiting list remains internal and asks questions about the prospective purchaser for research purposes.

In Portland, the team has announced the re-design of PGE Park to accommodate 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 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.

Expansion Update: Vancouver 2011

bc-placeWith all the tumolt surrounding Portland’s 2011 expansion effort, its cousin in MLS expansion, Vancouver, has quietly slid under the radar.  With opening kick for Vancouver just 86 weeks away, thinks are quietly moving towards a successful opening.   Vancouver is well set up for success.  The ownership group seems solid.  Billionaire Greg  Kerfoot has long been a friend of soccer and Steve Nash adds glamor and splash to the ownership.  The Whitecaps have done well at the gate and the market is hungry for higher level soccer.   BC Place is well situated and funding is in place for a substantial renovation (well over $200 million U.S.) that will add a retractable roof.  Soccer capacity will be limited to 20k.

The team has set-up a slick website, that is unfortunately updated infrequently.  The site contains links to BC Place renovations, and a brief discussion of the hoped for waterfront stadium.   There were reports soon after the announcement of the franchise that more than 5k season ticket deposits had been received.

In the three months since the franchise was awarded, it has been very quiet in Vancouver.  However, with almost two years until Vancouver first kicks off in MLS, that is probably a good thing.  Portland’s bid has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, while stadium renovations in Vancouver are continuing without dispute.  Promoting a team that won’t play a game for two years is a delicate balance.  The Sounders did an outstanding job of building momentum up to their 2009 debut and avoided peaking too early.  Vancouver can quitely promote their MLS squad through the current Whitecaps, while quietly putting together the support system necessary to maintain and succeed in MLS.  We will continue to monitor developments in Vancouver.