Empty Seats at Copa America


This month, soccer is available to the average American soccer fan virtually all parts of the day with three European Cup games on in the morning and afternoon capped off by two Copa America games at night. It’s beautiful isn’t it? It makes you appreciate the ‘worldly’ aspect of the game. But does it provide too much convenience to the average fan? So much so that he or she would not get up off the couch and see a game in person?

As the first round of Copa America comes to a close tonight, and as the first round of Euro 2016 begins, a bit of an alarming trend has become apparent in the stands on this side of the pond. A significant number of seats are empty.

The story lines of the first round were not the problem. We witnessed a United States team with little expectations finish at the top of Group A. Colombia was handed a stunning 3-2 loss to Costa Rica setting up a potential matchup with a Brazil team that was even more stunned by a controversial goal at the hands of upstart Peru to be sent home after one measly round. We saw the spirited frustration of Luis Suarez as he could only watch from the sidelines as his countrymen from Uruguay would exit this tournament early as well. And of course, we saw Lionel Messi dazzle in the limelight with a hat trick despite entering the game as a second half substitute. In most of these cases, you could not ask for a better sequence of events.

The real problem could be a combination of factors. One could be the low expectations for this US team. In the past quarter century, the US has given the nation pride with spirited performances in the World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, possibly reaching a plateau with the heartfelt performance of Tim Howard against Belgium in the World Cup knockout round in 2014. But since 2014 most of the news surrounding the national team has been negative. They finished in fourth place on their home turf in the 2015 Gold Cup, a tournament they usually dominate. Small Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Haiti were no longer easy matchups; the island nations were highly competitive, sometimes even better. The US had gradually ascended into a North American juggernaut from 1990 to 2014. Suddenly, all progress appeared to be lost. But here we are in 2016, and as usual, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has somehow lit a fire under this team again at the most unexpected moment.

Another factor could be the lack of star power. Before Brazil flamed out of the tournament in spectacular fashion, they were playing without the face of the squad, Neymar. Talented striker, and habitual opposition biter, Luis Suarez was injured or listed as injured in all three matches for Uruguay. Even Argentine sensation Lionel Messi was used as a substitute rather than a starter due to an injury he sustained before the tournament. You could call it bad timing, but without the stars to advertise, smaller nations like Panama, Haiti, and Venezuela have never been crowd pleasers. Unfortunately, Brazil and Uruguay’s eliminations in the group stages could continue to have an adverse attendance in the more meaningful knockout round matches.

A third factor could be these over-sized stadiums hosting games. The last Copa America in Chile averaged around 25,000 fans per game, and the previous Copa America in Argentina averaged just under 35,000 fans per game. After 20 games in this year’s tournament, the US average is significantly higher at just above 40,000, with some clear outliers. Despite statistically better turnouts, hosting games in 70,000 to 80,000 seat stadiums makes for a poor aesthetic.

And finally, the biggest factor could be TV coverage. Univision is reportedy averaging 2.8 million viewers per game while Fox Sports 1 is averaging just over 800,000 viewers per game. According to Nielsen Media Research, over 2 million viewers watched the US defeat Paraguay 1-0 to advance to the next round, the most watched men’s soccer match in Fox Sports One history. Yet on TV, you could see whole swathes of sections empty in the upper tiers of Lincoln Financial Field.

In all United States sporting events, going to the game has been marketed as an experience. An experience unlike sitting at home and watching on your TV. Instead of just seeing two century long rivals face off in a battle for glory, you could feel it. Live it. But at what cost?

The price of a TV subscription is relatively low compared to the price of a premium Copa America ticket. Currently on Stubhub, the cheapest ticket to the Copa America Centenario Final in East Rutherford, NJ two weeks from now is just over $300. For almost half that price, you could enjoy a month’s subscription to the cable provider of your choice with access to every game of the tournament on your TV, on your tablet, on your computer, and on your mobile phone at all times of day, alone or with friends and family in the comfortable confines of your home. With the right sound system, and with the right TV, the experience at home could be extravagant on its own. And with all the freedom available to you of watching the game anytime, anywhere, why on Earth would you trek through traffic and parking attendants to see Jamaica play Uruguay?

The organizers of this tournament have learned some unfortunate new realities about soccer in America. Just like with regular television, fans have choice now. The capacity crowds of the 1994 World Cup didn’t have a smartphone and live stream of the event in prime-time. The skeptical “wow me” fans of 2016 do. Unless Mexico plays the US in the final, the remaining tickets at MetLife Stadium have a poor chance of being sold at face value. Welcome to the new age of international soccer in America.


Univision leading the way in Copa America TV ratings with FOX Sports trailing behind



MLS to St. Louis?

USATSI_7274155Many consider it to be the historic soccer capital of America.  What some still consider the greatest game ever played by the U.S Men’s National Team, 5 of the 11 starting players on the 1950 FIFA World Cup team that stunned powerhouse England were from St. Louis.  Since that time, some of the greatest players in U.S. soccer history have either hailed from St. Louis are played college soccer in St. Louis such as Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan, Brian McBride, and Tim Ream.  When the U.S. Open Cup was in its infant stages, St. Louis teams generated the most success, starting with a team named Ben Millers winning the championship in 1920.  This city clearly has a rich soccer history.  But can it sustain an MLS team?

Since the news of the Rams moving to Los Angeles, and the NFL abandoning St. Louis a second time (see the Arizona Cardinals)  the MLS has declared a renewed interest in bringing an expansion franchise to the area.  Last week, Commissioner Don Garber met with St. Louis Sports Commission Chairman Dave Peacock to continue a dialogue. The two of them had reportedly met ten years ago to have the same conversation, but as we can see, there is currently no Major League Soccer team in St. Louis.

St. Louis has had many iterations of professional soccer in the past.  Besides the semi-pro teams that emerged victorious in the early years of the U.S. Open Cup during the ’20s and ’30s, perhaps the most prominent team was the St. Louis Stars of NASL fan during the ’70s.  Ironically, that team moved to LA too. There was also an indoor soccer team called the St. Louis Steamers that averaged almost 12,000 fans per game for the better part of the ’80s. While none of these franchises had a happy ending, the departure of an NFL team leaves a gaping hole to be filled in the sports landscape of the city.

As many news outlets have been reiterating, there are usually three factors for bringing an MLS team to a city.  1) An already present fanbase  2) A viable ownership group  3) A viable (preferably downtown) stadium site with easy access for fans.  One of the reasons that talks to bring a team to St. Louis in the past may have stalled could have been the issue of a viable stadium site.  But now that the Rams have flown away to the West Coast,  a beautiful, riverfront stadium site suddenly appears within grasp.  The MLS appears to be so interested in this site, that the St.Louis Dispatch has even reported that the league has begun gathering potential owners.  Other markets have already expressed their vehement interest in a franchise such as Sacramento, San Antonio, and San Diego, but if the MLS is truly planning to expand to 28 teams by 2020, perhaps all these markets can make their way into the fold.

Short of a definite answer, it appears MLS is coming to St. Louis within the next five years.  The NFL leaving AGAIN is the perfect opportunity for MLS to capitalize on a market that only has baseball to watch in the summer and hockey in the winter months.  The fanbase appears to already be in place, with 43,000 fans seeing a USMNT World Cup Qualifier in Busch Stadium, a minor league team starting play last year in the USL, and if the site deal can be closed soon (not like the catastrophe that happened with NYCFC in Flushing) this deal to move into the 21st largest media market in America is too good to pass up.







A Fresh Start

cropped-site_iconIn Spanish, “chivas” means goats.  Quite literally, Chivas USA was the goat of MLS during its brief existence.  Consistently last in attendance, the fledgling franchise was always the ugly stepbrother of the league’s crown jewel, centerpiece, and innovative pioneer, the LA Galaxy.  Now a new era begins for a replacement franchise that has already recaptured many members of the small but proud Chivas USA fanbase.  This past week, the new team, Los Angeles Football Club, unveiled its first ever logo and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.  The team even revealed a surprising co-owner with celebrity status when Will Ferrell crashed the stage.  On paper, things are looking very bright for the new LA team.  But when the team plays its first competitive game in 2017, will the atmosphere still be so rosy?

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Purple Reign: Opportunity in Orlando

073115-MLS-South-PI-CH.vadapt.955.high.0There is something spectacular happening in Orlando. It isn’t happening at Disney World, and it isn’t happening in Universal Studios’ Island of Adventure. It’s happening a couple miles away at the Citrus Bowl, where a successful soccer franchise has finally emerged in the Southeast. After the early MLS failures of the Miami Fusion, and Tampa Bay Mutiny, the best part about this experiment is that this technically isn’t year one of the project. If years spent in lower divisions of soccer have proven anything, it’s that Orlando City has a ravenous fan base that’s here to stay. Here are some other reasons why.

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If You Liked It, Then You Should’ve Put Your Name On It

bmofieldStadium naming rights are an impressively large revenue stream for teams in the “big four” sports in the United States as well as for soccer teams overseas. The teams benefit from these agreements by receiving aid to pay off construction costs of stadiums, hefty player salaries, and any other expense that their hearts desire.  In exchange, the companies that plaster their names on sports properties benefit from media exposure and a greater association with the team and its fan base. The lucrative nature of these naming rights over the years has grown enormous and more recently, Major League Soccer has seen an influx of shirt sponsorship and stadium sponsorship deals that has increased the corporate presence throughout the league.  From a positive perspective, the league is growing more European in its resemblance thanks to this new business activity.

Of the 20 franchises in Major League Soccer, 11 of them are benefiting from naming rights deals for their stadiums. Some teams are in stadiums with corporate names, but do not see any significant profit due to different circumstances (i.e. The New York Red Bulls in Red Bull Arena or the New England Revolution as tenants in Gillette Stadium).  Here are the available details regarding each of the current MLS stadium naming rights deals:

Sources: http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_26964867/san-jose-earthquakes-sign-naming-rights-deal-stadium http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2015/03/03/columbus-crew-sc-announce-new-stadium-naming-rights-partnership-mapfre-insur http://www.oregonlive.com/playbooks-profits/index.ssf/2014/02/providence_park_--_timbers_new.html http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2013/03/04/Facilities/StubHub.aspx http://prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com/2013/09/10/fc-dallas-and-toyota-agree-on-stadium-naming-rights/ http://m.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2011/12/14/Facilities/Dynamo.aspx http://www.forbes.com/pictures/emdm45efhif/ppl-park/ http://www.forbes.com/pictures/emdm45efhif/toyota-park/

A general pattern seems to be deals where the naming company pays around $2 million per year to have their name on the stadium.  While this figure definitely helps with costs, it is nothing compared to NFL stadiums.

The most colossal naming rights agreement in NFL history occurred in 2010 with the naming of MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.  Under the deal, MetLife pays the New York Giants and the New York Jets $400 million over 25 years.  Out of the 32 teams in the NFL, 25 teams play in branded stadiums, possibly 26 with the new Minnesota Vikings stadium set to open soon.  One of the least profitable naming rights deals in the NFL is  the agreement between the Jacksonville Jaguars to name EverBank Stadium for $16.5 million over 5 years (starting in 2010) averaging $3.3 million per year.   Considering the age and scope of the league,  MLS is not expected to rival the NFL in terms of corporate sponsorship.  However, these figures are a good measuring stick for the MLS to strive towards in the future.





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An In-Depth Look at Soccer Specific Stadiums


This season marked the grand opening of Major League Soccer’s latest venue, Avaya Stadium, built specifically for soccer in San Jose, California.  According to NBC Bay Area, the global tech firm Avaya agreed to pay $20 million over 10 years for the naming rights to the stadium and the construction of the stadium cost close to $100 million. In addition to the excitement around a having a new field to call home, Avaya Stadium is home to the largest outdoor bar in North America that will require 30 bartenders, and plans to test the limits of fan engagement by being the first ever cloud enabled stadium. These technological enhancements will make the stadium a testing ground for the future of sports.

This stadium is the latest in a line of “soccer specific stadiums” that have been built by MLS franchises to increase revenue.  Currently 15 of the 20 teams have one of these stadiums, with 2 more stadium plans approved and planned to open by 2017.  The teams make their money through increased profits in ticket sales, merchandise, food and beverage sales, and parking that they might not have achieved as tenants in another entity’s venue.  The success of these new stadiums has been apparent enough for MLS to require potential new franchisees to have a plan in place for their own soccer specific stadium in order to be considered as a serious candidate for expansion.

According to Business Of Soccer,  attendance for Sporting Kansas City and for the New York Red Bulls spiked significantly after moving into their new stadiums.  In Kansas City, attendance rose from an average of approximately 11,000 to an average near 19,000 between 2011-2013.  In the case of New York, when Red Bull Arena was built in Harrison, New Jersey, attendance rose from an average near 12,500 in 2009 to anywhere from 18,000-20,000 between 2010-2013.  The San Jose Earthquakes hope to find similar success in their new stadium that has a capacity of 18,000 seats.  Below is a video from CBS San Francisco showing the features of Avaya Stadium.

These stadiums are not always a recipe for success.  According to Forbes, the Red Bulls owe the local government $3.6 million in back taxes due to a dispute over ownership of the property.  In the case of Chicago, it cost $98 million to build the team’s stadium Toyota Park, and the bill was funded by taxpayer dollars.  The stadium has yet to repay this initial cost, and in 2013, Forbes estimated that the Chicago Fire see $5 million in revenue a year as a combination of only 17 guaranteed home games, hosting the FCS National Championship, as well as hosting other events such as concerts.  While some experts and politicians might argue that the problem lies in the stadiums suburban location 12 miles outside of Chicago, other stadiums are experiencing similar challenges.  As stadiums not just in MLS but across all sports are evolving to generate more revenue from amenities and enhancing the atmosphere for fans, older stadiums suffer as they become obsolete.

The league plans to see future soccer specific stadiums in D.C. and Orlando by 2017.  The goals behind these stadiums seems to be too improve the game day experience for fans, increasing the amount of fans that come to their stadiums and hopefully creating a chain reaction of buzz around the team that will boost the team’s presence both in the community and on television.  These soccer specific stadiums can be a burden when it comes to financing and construction costs, but they can also be a genius marketing mechanism that builds the team’s brand with a more concrete identity.



MLS 3.0: Evolution of the Soccer-Specific Stadium