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  • MLS' ALAN ROTHENBERG ON STARTING A LEAGUE FROM SCRATCH

         Following his tenure as Chair & CEO of the 1994 World Cup
    Organizing Committee and President of the U.S. Soccer Federation,
    Alan Rothenberg became CEO of Major League Soccer, the most
    recent attempt to bring pro soccer to the U.S.  Rothenberg spoke
    with THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY yesterday on the challenges of
    starting a new league in the face of skepticism about soccer's
    appeal to U.S. fans.  The league is scheduled to start in April
    '96.
         THE DAILY:  What is the difference between staging an event
    such as the World Cup and running a league?
         ROTHENBERG:  An event is something that is ongoing and an
    organizational challenge, but you have a clear time frame and a
    clear direction.  In that sense, it is easy to make happen.  What
    we are trying to do in starting a league is a daunting
    enterprise.  Nobody in this country has started a successful
    professional sports league at the major league level from scratch
    since the NFL 75 years ago.
         THE DAILY: Is there a different approach towards sponsors
    when you are trying to attract them to a league?
         ROTHENBERG:  There are two different issues.  One, the World
    Cup is an international event and so you had a lot of sponsors
    who were in it for the international impact primarily, if not
    exclusively.   Where we are a domestic league, the sponsors are
    going to look at it from a domestic standpoint.  The second thing
    is that World Cup, as big as it is, is a one-shot deal, and
    sponsors obviously gear their promotions and advertising and
    everything else towards that; whereas, with the league, we expect
    a more permanent relationship.  Sponsorship for the World Cup,
    even though we were in nine cities, tended to be national,
    whereas here a lot of the sponsors are going to want to do some
    things locally.  For example, an Anheuser-Busch or Coca-Cola,
    they are going to go to their distributors and bottlers in each
    market and say, 'OK, if we have this property, what would you do
    with it from a promotional standpoint in your city.'  So it
    becomes more locally focused than the World Cup.
         THE DAILY:  How are the relationships with World Cup
    sponsors?
         ROTHENBERG:  There were basically three kinds of World Cup
    and Federation sponsors: people who have always been involved in
    soccer; people who were curious, they were new, had their eyes
    open and said we will wait and see; and people who were really in
    it for one shot.  Obviously the latter category is gone -- the
    ones in the international scope didn't care about the domestic
    market.  The longtime soccer people are going to stay, it is just
    a question of negotiating favorable terms for both parties.  Of
    the ones in the middle, the reaction is very favorable.  You had
    in that last World Cup cycle, companies like McDonald's, Master
    Card, GM -- never previously involved -- who got involved in a
    big way with both the World Cup and the Federation.  All the
    early signs are they want to continue a relationship with soccer,
    both at the Federation and at the MLS levels.
         THE DAILY:  What would be your ideal presence be on TV, at
    the outset and in the long-term?
         ROTHENBERG:  What we are going to start with is probably
    close to what we would end up with long-term, and that is a
    combination of cable with ESPN and network with ABC.  It is a
    total of 35 games, which gives us a couple of games a week during
    the season, which is mid-week, prime-time, and the late afternoon
    weekend.  That is probably the format we would carry through for
    a pretty long time. ... We don't expect in the early years to
    have gigantic ratings, and therefore, huge rights fees.  We think
    it is much more important that the public get exposed to the
    product at the highest level with the best quality, and, over
    time, the ratings and rights fee money will follow.
         THE DAILY:  What efforts will there be to tap into the
    grassroots of American soccer?  Any programs similar to those
    employed by other leagues, Hoop it Up, etc.?
         ROTHENBERG: We are going to do even more than that.  The one
    great thing about soccer is that it is much more organized than
    most other sports and we will have relationships with the major
    youth organizations and we will have relationships with the major
    camp and clinic programs, and, in effect, become partner to all
    of those people.
         THE DAILY:  How will the ownership rules be structured to
    avoid the type of problems revenue sharing wise and labor
    problems that have plagued other sports?
         ROTHENBERG: We have a single entity.  MLS will be owned by
    all of the investors, and therefore, hopefully, we will be able
    to avoid the problems of other sports.  Then, to the extent that
    some of the investors will also want to operate a team, we will
    enter into an operating agreement with them so they can run the
    team in their market.  But the league will control all of the TV,
    all of the sponsorship, players and then allocate it out to the
    teams.  So if the league puts in a salary cap -- which it will --
     it can absolutely enforce it.  The league will be the only
    entity that signs players, so the contracts will be between the
    players and the league, then the teams will draft off of the pool
    that the league creates.  The same way with TV and sponsors.
         THE DAILY:  Is the league also going to manage the
    merchandising and the logos of the franchises?  When should we
    look for names and logos?
         ROTHENBERG:  Yes, the league will manage those.  I think we
    are going to introduce them somewhere in the May-June period,
    again starting from scratch.  The beauty of it is we have all
    those sporting goods companies as our partners -- the Nikes,
    Reeboks and Adidas' of the world with all their graphic artists
    and their creative genius working with us to develop logos and
    merchandise.  We are going to the pros in the business, saying
    give us the best and the brightest of your talent, and work with
    us.
    

    Print | Tags: ABC, Anheuser Busch, Coca-Cola, ESPN, McDonalds, MLS, NFL, People and Pop Culture, Walt Disney, Washington Nationals
  • NAMES IN THE NEWS

         Tigers and Red Wings owner MIKE ILITCH has dropped former
    NHL President JOHN ZIEGLER as a special consultant to the teams.
    "Insiders say it had nothing to do with the advice he gave Ilitch
    (bad or otherwise) during the baseball and hockey work stoppages.
    Instead it was about [Ziegler's]  expense accounts.  Apparently,
    they were astronomical and when Ilitch saw them, he cam
    dangerously close to apoplexy" (William Houston, Toronto GLOBE
    AND MAIL, 2/24)....ROD LANGWAY is featured in today's N.Y. DAILY
    NEWS.  Langway is learning the hockey business playing for the
    Richmond Renegades in the ECHL (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/24)....St.
    Paul Saints President MIKE VEECK said he is part of an ownership
    group considering buying an MLB team, possibly the Twins.  Veeck:
    "Maybe all of my goofy ideas wouldn't work, but I'd like to try"
    (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/24).
    

    Print | Tags: Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, ECHL, Minnesota Twins, MLB, New Orleans Saints, NHL, People and Pop Culture
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