Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Expansion of Soccer Coverage

With the introduction of Fox Soccer Channel Plus (FSC+) on March 1st, Americans will have 3 soccer-only channels to choose from, FSC, FSC+ and GolTV. In addition, there are several channels that show soccer on a regular basis: ESPN , ESPN Deportes, Telemundo, Galavision and Univision. With these channels, American footy fans can get a taste of what several leagues from around the world have to offer.

Currently, the EPL, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga have the soccer market on lock here in the U.S., and with good reason. Most would place these 4 leagues in the top 4 in the entire world in any particular order, and there are several games in each league on TV here each week. There are also several Mexican League games on TV as well here, mostly on Spanish-speaking channels like Telemundo, Galavision and Univision. However, MLS only gets 2 national games of the week, one on ESPN or ESPN2 (simulcast in Spanish on ESPN Deportes) and on FSC. There is only one game a week with the USSF 2nd Division soccer a week and one WPS game each week. In other leagues, it’s possible right now to see games in the English Coca-Cola Championship (with premium subscription), A-League, Brasiliero, the Argentine League, the Columbian League as well as the Uruguayan League. Yet, it would be great to see more of other leagues on TV here in the United States.

While U.S. leagues are hard to find on TV if you don’t live in a MLS market, there are other great leagues from around the world, along with leagues that are usually compared in terms talent and quality of play to MLS, that are not broadcast on TV here or are not viewable by a mass audience. Maybe we can start to see more of the following leagues on our television screens as opposed to our internet streams:

Scottish Premier League – The Old Firm (Rangers v. Celtic) is one of the biggest rivalries in all of sport, and it’s a very competitive league among the other teams as well. Rangers has a couple American players, and there are lots of great players that hone their craft in this league.

Ligue 1 (France) – The French league is probably the 5th best league in the world, in my opinion. Lots of excellent teams from the French league routinely make noise on the European stage, including Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, and Paris Saint-Germain. Ligue 1 also has a few American players, including the USMNT captain Carlos Bocanegra and rising star Charlie Davies.

Eredivisie (Netherlands) – This league has a lot of great teams, including traditional powerhouses PSV Eindhoven and Ajax. The Dutch have a great style of play that is very popular, and a lot of their great talent is playing on teams within this excellent Top-10 league.

Coca-Cola Championship (England) – A lot of people have problems with supporting the EPL powerhouses like Chelsea or Manchester United or Liverpool. The Championship has a combination of the Premiership teams of yesterday as well as the Premiership teams of tomorrow. Lots of passion in this league, with each team playing with aspirations to join the big boys.

Portuguese Liga – Teams like Porto and Benfica are teams that most European footy lovers know and appreciate. It would be great to see teams like Sporting Lisbon and Nacional also on a weekly basis.

Turkcell Super Lig – I love the passion in this league. The teams are good, the fans are excellent, and the atmosphere at each game is like they’re playing for the championship. Teams like Besiktas, Fenerbache and Galatasaray are teams that have done very well on the European stage.

Russian Premier League – This league is probably one of the fastest growing in terms of quality of play and talent level, with tons of money being poured into the resident teams by local oil tycoons and other billionaires. We’ve already seen Zenit St. Petersburg win the UEFA Cup a couple years ago, and other teams like CSKA Moscow and Dynamo Moscow routinely make noise in football circles.

J-League (Japan) – This is a league that has been compared to MLS. Has a weekly review show currently, but would be great to actually see a game each week to see how teams in this league compare. Easy to play it in the middle of the night due to the time difference.

K-League (Korea) – Another league that has been compared to MLS, and very similar to the J-League. They have had teams that have proven they can play on the international stage, and would be good to see a different style of football. Again, with the time difference, it would be easy to show a live game each week along with the J-League and A-League (Australia)

MLS – It’s the top tier domestic league here, we absolutely should have more MLS games made available…and I’m not talking about through a subscription service like Direct Kick. There will be, at most, 8 games a weekend played in MLS. More games can be shown on national channels like FSC or ESPN or GolTV. More TV means more exposure means more money, money that they can use to invest in talent upgrade that will bring more fans out and, overall, grow the popularity of the league.

USL/NASL – Over the next year, as this league forms, hopefully they will be able to expand from one game a week to multiple.

There are obviously many more leagues out there that are either broadcast on TV here in the United States or maybe should be. But, expanding to more coverage of these leagues will really help bring some new faces into American homes, and it will help feed the growing appetite the American public is starting to have for soccer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Finding A Sponsor For Sponsorless MLS Teams

Currently, with the introduction of the Philadelphia Union, MLS currently has 5 teams that are currently do not bear a sponsor on their jerseys. Philly appears to be close to naming their sponsor, which would bring the number back down to 4: Colorado, New England, Dallas and Kansas City. Colorado, while they search for a sponsor, did the right thing and removed the “Colorado” from their jerseys, leaving a blank, crisp look to their team. However, New England, Dallas and Kansas City continue to have their team name on the chest of their jerseys. Most people would agree that in soccer, while some may hate the corporate nature of putting a sponsor on your team’s jersey, it is the most valuable piece of real estate for a team to be sponsored, with thousands and sometimes millions of jerseys being sold with your corporate logo on it provides infinite public exposure.

So, let’s have a little fun and pick some sponsors that would look good across the chests of the Rapids, FCD, the Revs and the Wizards. I’ve listed out some possibilities of local companies or companies that have a big local presence and, in the end, select a best pick for a sponsor for each team.

Coors – Liquor sponsors are not allowed in MLS, but beer sponsors are. Nothing says Colorado like Coors, but Budweiser (MLS sponsor) may balk at this
Continental – started out in Denver, still has a big presence
Frontier – another airline based in Denver
Lockheed-Martin – huge presence in Denver
Chipotle – headquarters in Denver, national brand that would be recognizable worldwide
Qwest – already have naming rights with field where Seattle Sounders play, but lots of Denver offices
Pepsi – Already a MLS sponsor and have naming rights to Pepsi Center in Denver. Would be a good match
Invesco – local company, naming rights at Broncos’ stadium

Best Fit: Pepsi. This would be a match made in heaven for MLS, as a league-wide sponsor adorns the chest of a team in a locale where they already have a great presence in sports.

New England
Samuel Adams – local brewery whose popularity can go up even more with a Revs partnership
Fidelity – huge investment firm, but with the bailouts, may not be able to sponsor a team
Kraft – Robert Kraft is team owner, very confusing that this hasn’t happened already
New Balance – Adidas would probably flip out with this
Gillette – already adorn the field that the Revs play at, would be good to continue the partnership
TD Bank – adorn the Celtics and Bruins’ stadium, a bank name that has become popular nationwide
Liberty Mutual – Everyone knows Liberty Mutual, but probably not in a position to sponsor a team
Bain Capital – Another I-bank that may not be in a position to sponsor

Best Fit: Kraft. Owner owns the team, #1 in its market, of course has the money to invest and is already invested in soccer… as perfect a fit as there can be.

Compuware – moved their headquarters to Dallas from Detroit, founder owns 2 hockey teams; could make the move to soccer
Exxon – Definitely have the money to invest, could be great for FCD
Chevron – See Exxon.
AT&T – MLS sponsor, based in Texas, national brand
Texas Instruments – based in Texas, national brand, could be a chance to expand their exposure
Blockbuster – on rough times right now, but could be a chance to grow their brand again
Chili’s – based in Dallas, instantly recognizable
American – based in Dallas, would be great to partner with team especially with discounts for FCD fans to travel to away games
Southwest – based in Dallas, low-budget airline that fans would love to use to travel to away games

Best Fit: AT&T. FC Dallas has a ton of great fits, but another league sponsor could be the one to help the Hoops as well.

Garmin – runs the GPS market in America, would grow their brand
H&R Block – would be interesting to partner with the Wizards; likely could not use their trademark green block on jersey
AMC Theaters – interesting combination that would be good for team and league
Crayola – likely not a possibility, but Crayola is based in KC
SprintNextel – most of their sponsorship is in NASCAR, but is based in KC and would be great to have a huge partner like SprintNextel helping the team.

Best Fit: Garmin. A surprise pick from this bunch, but Garmin would be great to help themselves as well as the Wizards grow their brand in the U.S. Garmin has a lot of momentum and could see their market grow internationally should the Wizards improve.

So, there you have it. Pepsi, Kraft, AT&T and Garmin. The Rapids, Revs, Hoops and Wizards should get on the discussions immediately. It would be good to have these teams have an extra source of revenue as well as have more corporate partners investing in the beautiful game.

Increase MLS TV Exposure

On BigSoccer, one of the most popular soccer forums on the internet, there has been debate over whether the time has come for MLS to institute a MLS Network channel similar to that of NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB. There are definitely pros and cons of having a MLS Network channel, and while I would love to see a MLS Network, there’s a huge reason why it’s probably not in serious discussion at this time: as of March 1, there will be 3 channels completely dedicated to soccer: Fox Soccer Channel (FSC), GolTV and Fox Soccer Channel Plus (FSC+). All of these channels are showing nothing but soccer and soccer-related programming 24 hours a day. However, what is clear is that a MLS Network would allow MLS to grow with more expanded programming. While the other major sports have channels on various cable programming platforms, what is clear is that they are able to show more of their product 24 hours a day.

MLS can do a lot to increase the exposure of their product to the American soccer fans as well as the casual sports fans. It starts with having more MLS games televised. Sure, just about every MLS game is televised, and having them all televised is great. However, if you don’t live in a MLS market, then you’re only seeing 2 games a week: the ESPN2 Game of the Week (usually on Thursdays) and the FSC Game of the Week on Saturdays. Direct Kick does not cut it…that should be a last resort for people who want to follow a particular team in another market, not just to follow all the games. To increase the exposure of MLS in those markets that may not have a team, especially those who are close enough to teams for fans from those locals to travel (like Detroit, the Carolinas, Cleveland, Nebraska, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Sacramento, etc.), you want to be able to have those fans see as many games as possible. Expanding coverage is possible with a MLS Network; they can show as many games live as they want. However, for now, it’s better to work with FSC or ESPN to show more games or even expand coverage to GolTV. Currently, you can get more than 2 games a week of EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Mexican League and even sometimes the A-League (Australia). MLS should step up their efforts to have more games reach more Americans on TV.

MLS should also have a wrap-up show. This is usually an hour-long show that recaps all the games played over the course of a particular weekend or week that shows all the highlights of all the games. It’s incredibly easy to put together and cheap to produce – just a hour-long clip of highlights that are probably already batched together from individual games. Currently, you can find highlight shows for the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Brasiliero, the A-League, the J-League (Japan) and the Argentine League on TV. Having a prime-time slot for an MLS highlight show, perhaps on Monday nights, would be great for fans to see the goals and highlights from all the games they missed. It’s also good to showcase those players that played well on a particular week and really highlight the quality of play.

Finally, MLS should have a hour-long show that breaks down the week in MLS, with further analysis from MLS commentators. Right now, most, if not all, of the soccer analyst shows focus on the EPL. It would be great for MLS to have its own show to analyze the week that was and highlight the next week’s matches that are can’t-miss.

So, regardless of whether a MLS Network gets beyond the BigSoccer brainstorming stage, it’s clear that MLS needs to step up its programming to get more MLS soccer on TV. More games on TV to be broadcast to those soccer fanatics in areas that don’t have MLS soccer will allow for the domestic product to be showcased to a new set of fans, and perhaps it will help grow the popularity of the domestic league even further. Maybe then, we will see more people following MLS and attending matches, which will only help grow the game here in the United States.