SBJ/January 29 - February 4, 2007/This Weeks News

MLS sked spreads Beckham around

Despite the possibility that David Beckham may not join the Los Angeles Galaxy until July, three months into the Major League Soccer season, a rough draft of the 2007 schedule has him visiting every MLS market.

Beckham goods could provide new revenue.

This year’s MLS schedule isn’t expected to be released until early February, but a rough draft of it was given to teams last week. In that version, the Galaxy appears in each of the other 12 MLS cities during the second half of the season, according to team sources. In a typical year, teams play only once or twice in each MLS market during the full 6 1/2-month regular season.

If the Galaxy was to sell out once on the road in every MLS market at an average ticket price of $16, roughly the league’s average, it would deliver a $4 million bump in revenue leaguewide, according to a model done by Jim Kahler, executive director at Ohio University’s Center for Sports Administration.

“For the rest of the league, it’s a boon,” said Stephen Zack, senior vice president of D.C. United. “Our ownership isn’t paying for him to come, but we get him here once [a year] and that’s huge.”

Beckham’s impact, though, extends beyond single-game gate receipts.

Team executives at 10 of the league’s 13 teams plan to leverage demand for a Beckham appearance to encourage attendance at other games. They have already developed preliminary plans for developing mini- and half-season packages that would bundle a game against the Galaxy with three to five other games.

Kahler, who worked as chief marketing officer for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1990s, said NBA teams employed the same strategy when Michael Jordan would come to town with the Chicago Bulls. If the cellar-dwelling Cavaliers were averaging 16,000 fans a game, Jordan generally pushed attendance to 20,000-plus. But rather than just collect the money that night, the front office increased sales by bundling a Bulls game with three other games.

“It was leverage at its best done in a fair way,” Kahler said.

MLS teams plan to do the same. D.C. United has discussed the creation of a “Champion’s Pack” that would include tickets to games against MLS Cup winners Houston, Kansas City, Chicago and the Galaxy. The expansion Toronto FC, which sold 3,000 season tickets after Beckham was signed Jan. 11, plans to package the Galaxy game with a game against Houston, a team that includes Toronto native Dwayne De Rosario.

Teams also can sell title sponsorships for nine of their 15 home games. (The other six are sold by the league to national sponsors.) If one of those games features the Galaxy, it would be sold at a 25 percent premium over other nights, said Jeff Plush, the Colorado Rapids’ managing director.

FC Dallas general manager Michael Hitchcock plans to find media partners to sponsor the game in trade for advertising exposure. He anticipates the team would also see additional merchandise revenue through commemorative shirts and Beckham jerseys.

“Obviously, our sales team is chomping at the bit,” Hitchcock said.

The Chicago Fire plans to supplement gate receipts with the same high-end hospitality program similar to the one it used for the MLS All-Star Game last year. Then, the Fire had 700 seats added to the stage deck that were tied to an exclusive pregame event, field-level seats and a roof-top hospitality deck. General manager John Guppy said rolling the program out again for Beckham would boost revenue by more than $100,000.

The impending arrival of Beckham already has begun to help in other ways for the sometimes under-the-radar MLS.

“If you sit down with a sponsor, that’s where the conversation begins,” said Chris Canetti, chief operating officer for the Houston Dynamo. “That’s what they understand and get and see in the press and makes them believe this is the real deal.”

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