A Tale of Two Expansion Cities

The 2017 MLS season is up and running and as expected, the two expansion teams are dominating league headlines, yet the two sides are off to vastly different starts.  On one hand, Atlanta United FC has opened its inaugural season with tremendous success both on and off the pitch, but on the other hand, Minnesota United FC is experiencing the growing pains of transitioning from the NASL to a major league level.

From the start it looks like Atlanta United has struck gold by acquiring Josef Martinez from Torino, Italy who already has the first hat trick in club history as well as providing exciting celebrations for the fans.  The opening loss to the NY Red Bulls drew a sell-out crowd of 55,297 to Bobby Dodd Stadium and the club reportedly sold out tickets for its second straight match against Chicago as well, a 4-0 victory.  With two wins in its first three games, and reason to believe more wins are coming, fans of Atlanta United have every reason to be happy.

On the flip side, Minnesota United FC seems to have struck nothing but coal with its current lineup.  While a promising start is not expected for any expansion side, starting off the season with 5-1 and 6-1 losses arguably fall below the already low expectations needed to be considered an inaugural season success.  The home opener of 35,043 was the largest crowd for a soccer game in Minnesota since May 1984, and the snow in the forecast made for an interesting optic on television.  However the result left a lot to be desired from the expansion side that is sadly showing why it finished in 8th place out of 12 teams in the minor league NASL last season.

Intriguingly, Minnesota has acquired a much bigger brand name as a shirt sponsor in Target, and the public opinion of the team’s new logo and kits has been extremely positive overall.  While financial details were not disclosed for the deals, Atlanta’s shirt sponsor American Family Insurance is nothing to sneeze at either.  In addition, the red and black striped jerseys are a kit combination that has not been used in MLS for years.

As it is only Week 4 of MLS action, it is still early to speculate which team will finish its inaugural season with more success, but for now, give the advantage to Atlanta.

REFERENCES

https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2017/03/16/wiebe-too-early-minnesota-united-panic-team-taking-long-view

https://www.atlutd.com/post/2017/03/17/atlanta-united-sells-out-second-straight-home-match

http://www.foxsports.com/soccer/story/atlanta-united-first-gam-crowd-sell-out-030317

http://mlsmultiplex.com/2017/03/13/minnesota-united-fc-vs-atlanta-united-fc-three-key-takeaways/

The Women’s World Cup: Where is the Buzz?

img_6177_original-croppedThe 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in Canada in less than 2 weeks.  Are you excited? If the answer is no, you probably fall in the majority of sports fans. But the marketing push leaves a lot to be desired. Women’s professional soccer has historically been a tough sell since the memorable U.S. Women’s National Team World Cup victory in 1999, and 2015 is no exception.

During last year’s FIFA Men’s World Cup, Nike and Adidas aggressively fought each other over ad space and staged media events to draw attention to new soccer jerseys and products.  It is very unlikely to expect this level of competition during this year’s event due to the lack of interest building around the competition.  Possibly the most publicity surrounding the tournament came from the controversial choice of colors to be worn by the U.S. Women’s National Team.  For the first time, the team will not be wearing a uniform that resembles the American flag.  Instead, the team will don white uniforms with hints of black, as well as neon green socks and cleats.  The topic was trending nationally for hours.

Fox Sports, the broadcast rights owner of this event has attempted to hype the games through a 100 day, $10 million dollar promotional push.  You can see the video that starts this push below.  The goal of the campaign is to convince viewers that the U.S. Men’s National Team has “passed the torch” to the U.S. Women’s National Team after their disappointing World Cup defeat to Belgium last year because “The U.S. has a score to settle.”

While a 6 venue tournament in Canada will almost definitely have a different feel on television to the surreal scenes we saw in Brazil during the Men’s World Cup, FOX Sports still sees the potential for great success.  5 out of the 16 matches to be aired on FOX will be aired during primetime, including the two group stage matches of the U.S. team.  29 games will be shown on FOX Sports 1.  Time will tell if viewers care about the tournament, and if the tournament can impact the success of the U.S. professional women’s league as expected.

According to SB Nation, the average attendance in 2014 for the National Women’s Soccer League (America’s top-tier women’s league) was 4,139.  If you subtract the exception to the rule, the Portland Thorns who average 13,362 fans per game, attendance decreases drastically to 2,986.  In fairness, the Seattle Sounders of MLS also help boost average attendance figures by acting as a clear outlier to the rest of the league.

Perhaps even worse news is that professional women’s soccer leagues in the United States have a history of folding after 3 years, first with the WUSA in 2003, followed by the WPS in 2011.  This year marks the fateful third year of operations for the NWSL.  As a result, success in this World Cup by the women’s team could be crucial for the existence of the league.  Star power from household names like Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach combined with a U.S. Women’s World Cup victory will need to equate to consistent attendance figures in NWSL games,  or the league might face the same repetitively grim fate of its predecessors.

REFERENCES

http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/fox-sports-gets-world-cup-fans-revved-round-2-163077

http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2015/04/womens_world_cup_should_have_i.html

http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/04/22/us-soccer-home-jersey-white-uniform-usmnt-uswnt-kit

http://www.ussoccer.com/stories/2015/05/20/09/54/150520-wnt-fox-wwc-tv-sched-rel

http://www.dynamotheory.com/2015/4/13/8392073/nwsl-looks-to-break-attendance-trend-set-by-failed-leagues-wusa-wps

Nike is releasing its US women’s soccer jerseys in men’s sizes for the first time ever

Shirt Sponsorships

galaxyPutting your company name front and center on a team’s jersey could arguably be seen as a wiser investment than placing your name on the team’s stadium.  In Europe, some teams are finding kit sponsorships even more profitable than stadium deals thanks to increased levels of investment.

According to the research firm Repucom, the British Premier League experienced a 20% increase in shirt sponsorships in the 2014/15 season following a 36% rise in shirt sponsorships the season before.   Chelsea AFC, one of the league’s biggest clubs, recently agreed to a deal with Yokohama Rubber Company worth $61.4 million per year.  Even greater, Manchester United is in the middle of a $70 million per year deal with Chevrolet.  According to CNN, Qatar Airways spends $181 million a year to be the jersey sponsor of Barcelona, arguably the most recognizable soccer team in the world.

Jersey sponsorships do not come without controversy.  In England, Newcastle United has been forced to remove the Wonga logo from its children’s replica jerseys starting in the 2016 season because the company is a payday lender.  In Spain 86% of all jersey sponsorships come form outside of Spain.  While this is excellent marketing for companies looking to increase their international reach, its one less avenue for companies within the country to push their own names.

Jersey sponsorship in MLS totaled $55.8 million, which is higher than the Netherland’s top league, the Eredivisie.  In 2012, 13 teams had kit sponsors and today, 18 out of the 20 teams have sponsors. The team with the greatest deal, the LA Galaxy still only makes $4.4 million per season from Herbalife.  As the league continues to grow in international prominence, time will tell if these jersey sponsorships grow in size and scope. Here is a promotional video hyping  the new Sporting Kansas City jersey, with sponsor Ivy Funds, introduced this past Wednesday.

REFERENCES

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/24/football/football-shirt-sponsorship-deals/

http://www.totalfootballmag.com/features/world-football/how-do-mls-kit-sponsorship-values-compare-to-europe/

http://www.businessofsoccer.com/2014/07/11/mls-jersey-sponsorship-tells-two-different-stories/

http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2014/03/03/jersey-week-2014-la-galaxy-unveil-new-primary-kit-updated-sash