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Fueled by a surge in interest for international soccer coming off of last summer’s World Cup, CONCACAF officials anticipate an increase in attendance and television viewership for its upcoming Gold Cup tournament, which features competition between North American national teams.
Italo Zanzi, deputy general secretary for CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football), said the June 5-25 tournament could break the half-million mark for total tickets sold, which would be a record for the tournament. The Gold Cup, which features 10 doubleheader matches and a final, sold 468,245 tickets in 2009, the last time it was contested, and 490,852 in 2007.
“Coming out of [the World Cup] we have a much higher profile,” Zanzi said. “We’ve been able to maintain the national footprint and step into exciting new markets.”
The tournament also has generated a sponsorship portfolio that includes new partners Nike, Home Depot and
Sources with CONCACAF and Soccer United Marketing, which oversees marketing and sponsorship sales for the tournament, declined to discuss the tournament’s total sponsorship value.
“The property has matured and become a marquee platform for the bigger brands who have played in the [soccer] space for a while and are looking to drive value,” said David Wright, vice president of global sponsorship for Soccer United Marketing.
In 2009, the tournament’s July 26 final between the United States and Mexico drew 5.38 million viewers on Univision, making it the most-watched sporting event of the weekend. Fox Soccer Channel averaged 383,000 households for the game. The tournament’s average attendance was 36,139 — a drop of 4.3 percent from 2007 — but turned heads with a quarterfinal round at the new Cowboys Stadium that drew 82,252 fans, the semifinals at Soldier Field drawing 55,173 and the championship game at Giants Stadium drawing 79,156.
For 2011, the tournament will again visit Cowboys Stadium, Soldier Field and the New Meadowlands Stadium, as well as NFL facilities Reliant Stadium in Houston, Ford Field in Detroit, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., and Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Soccer-specific facilities Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.; Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City; and the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles round out the mix.
Todd Fischer, manager of national sponsorships for State Farm, said the insurance giant values the tournament’s popularity with Hispanics. “[CONCACAF] has done a good job of diversifying the geographic markets,” he said.
Fischer said State Farm’s activation for the tournament will revolve around in-stadium signage and interactive displays at the Futbol Fiesta expo. A spokesperson for Home Depot said the home improvement chain also will activate a family-friendly engagement marketing booth at the expo, and will have in-store Gold Cup events within
Rene Ramos, sports and entertainment manager for MillerCoors, said the tournament provides a greater opportunity to reach the Hispanic market. For 2011, MillerCoors will run an in-store campaign that will award ticket discounts to consumers. The company will also produce a Gold Cup-specific national television spot and will promote six troupes of soccer freestyle players to perform tricks at special events during the tournament.
“Three years ago we would have seen minimal activation in a city like Charlotte that is traditionally [not Hispanic],” Ramos said. “Now because of census data we’re seeing Hispanics that are emerging in places we didn’t see them before. We see [the Gold Cup] as an opportunity to tap into those new areas.”
The North American Lacrosse League hopes to begin its indoor season in January, with six to eight teams playing a 12-game schedule that would compete with the National Lacrosse League, the older and established league that traces its roots to the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League in 1986.
Former NBA D-League President Phil Evans will serve as North American Lacrosse League commissioner and be based in Somerville, N.J.
“The opportunity we see is for American players, particularly those well-established from their collegiate years,” said Evans, adding that the league’s schedule will enable players from the outdoor Major League Lacrosse to play in the North American Lacrosse League. “There’s a big enough player pool and I don’t see us competing with [the NLL] any more than we are competing with any entertainment option.”
About 22 percent of National Lacrosse League players are American, while the vast majority of North American Lacrosse League players are projected to be American, Evans said. While many in the lacrosse community were already calling the new league a developmental league, Evans said flatly, “We’re not looking to be a developmental league for the NLL. We are looking at providing our own brand of the sport.”
An earlier attempt at an official tie as the NLL’s developmental league had been rejected, sources said.
North American Lacrosse League franchises will cost about $250,000 and players will earn from $200 to $1,000 a week. The Boston NLL franchise that began play in 2009 cost $3 million. NLL players average about $18,000 a season.
North American Lacrosse League will operate with the traditional franchise structure, and officials said they have ownership groups confirmed for teams in seven markets:
■ A team in Charlotte will be headed by U.S. Indoor Lacrosse President Graham D’Alvia and play in Bojangles’ Coliseum.
■ A franchise will play in the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., and be headed by Ted Glynn of apparel company Glynn International.
■ A team in Lexington, Ky., with an ownership group headed by health care executive Anthony Chase, will play at a site to be determined.
■ A team will play in Orlando, at the Amway Center, under an ownership group headed by Phil Rawlins, whose Orlando City Soccer Club also owns the rights to an expansion USL soccer team.
■ A team in Richmond, Va., will play in a facility being built by development company SportsQuest, with SportsQuest CEO Steve Burton owning that franchise.
■ In Wilkes-Barre, Pa., a team will play at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza under an ownership group headed by Jim Jennings, the NLL commissioner from 2000 to 2009.
■ A New York franchise group headed by Michael Xirinachs of wealth management firm Emerald Asset Advisors has yet to finalize a home, but the new arena in Brooklyn and the Prudential Center in Newark are possibilities.
Of those confirmed, the league would play in arenas with an average capacity of more than 10,000.
Despite its North American moniker, the league does not yet have any franchises in Canada.
The league hopes to differentiate itself from the NLL by offering a considerably lower cost of entry, and Evans said the North American Lacrosse League will be far less tolerant of fighting than the NLL, which permits fisticuffs to the degree the NHL does. “We don’t see fighting as an element that adds anything to the game,” Evans said. “If anything, it detracts, and that will be a factor in attracting American players.”
As for other rule changes? “It will look less like hockey and more like outdoor [lacrosse],” he added.
Reaction from the lacrosse community was mixed. Noting the increased participation in the sport, US Lacrosse COO Bill Schoonmaker said that “assuming the right business model and market locations, another league might be successful.”
“If it’s developmental … this could be good for the sport,” said NLL Commissioner George Daniel, whose 10-team league averaged about 9,700 fans in regular-season attendance this year, up 2 percent, “but there isn’t really room for another league at our level. Obviously we are not the same thing as [the outdoor] MLL, but we still end up chasing a lot of the same TV and sponsorship dollars.”
Jennings’ company, Waterbucket Media, is selling TV and sponsorship rights for the North American Lacrosse League.
Matthew Pace, an attorney with Herrick, Feinstein and the former executive director of Major League Lacrosse, said the most analogous league was AF2 and the Arena Football League. “Without a connection there, it doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “It hasn’t generally been the case that outdoor players fare well playing [inside lacrosse], with a few exceptions. You’d also have to question whether guys coming out of college will want to play for a few hundred bucks a game after going to some of the big lacrosse schools like Cornell, Johns Hopkins or Princeton.”
“A developmental league could work, but it’s more how much these guys will have to invest than how much room there is for more indoor lacrosse,” said NLL co-founder and Philadelphia Wings owner Russ Cline.
The NBA is preparing for a potential lockout by issuing a memo to teams detailing the rules of engagement with players in the event of a work stoppage.
The lengthy memo, sent to all 30 NBA teams the last week of April, provides a comprehensive explanation of team policies regarding player contact in case of a lockout as the league moves closer to the June 30 deadline of its collective-bargaining agreement.
“It is making sure every team is operating under the same set of rules once we reach the end of the existing collective-bargaining agreement,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. “It sets guidelines on the same things we see now in the NFL, the use of practice facilities by players, access to arenas, communications with players.”
As in the NFL, NBA players would not have access to team facilities during a lockout, Silver said.
Silver said that while issuing the memo is standard operating procedure for the league as it nears the end of any collective-bargaining agreement, more provisions have been added since the last time the league went through a lockout.
“The memo has grown over the past few years because of what we have learned from past experience,” he said. “On one hand, we dusted off the old memo, but when we went through a work stoppage last time, there were a lot of questions and a lot of lessons learned. The set of rules is pretty straightforward.” Silver did not outline any detailed additions or changes to the policy.
The NBA late last month submitted a CBA proposal to the players union, and the pace of negotiations is expected to increase as the June 30 deadline approaches. The last lockout in the NBA came during the 1998-99 season, which brought a shortened 50-game schedule.
The memo also provides hypothetical situations facing teams having contact with players, their agents, or any other of their representatives during a lockout.
For example, the memo outlines the policy for when a player has a sponsorship deal with a company that also has a deal with the team. The player would be able to continue that company sponsorship as long as no team marks are used in any activation. The memo also addresses policies related to using player images on team websites.
“It goes to what rights teams have when it comes to marketing players who remain on their rosters,” Silver said, declining to be specific about the team’s marketing rights to a player during a work stoppage.
The memo also outlines to teams a protocol to refer all public comments related to a lockout to the league. It also addresses for teams a wide range of player interaction, ranging from player benefits administration to summer camps to team partners, and outlines ways that teams are forbidden from having contact with the players during a lockout, according to a source.
The memo, which doesn’t imply that there will or will not be a work stoppage, also stresses to teams that they should conduct business as usual in the weeks leading up to the CBA deadline.
“Same kind of instructions,” Silver said. “We didn’t get much reaction from the teams because there are a lot of longtime employees at teams and there are no surprises.”
During the NFL lockout, the NFL bars its teams from having any contact with players other than at charitable functions. But a big challenge for teams is if something happens to a player’s health during the lockout, with the team prevented from having any contact with the player.
A compelling, five-rider competition for the Monster Energy Supercross championship lifted the series ratings and attendance in 2011.
The season, which finished in Las Vegas over the weekend, was one of the most competitive in series history, and fans responded. Race attendance through 15 events increased 5 percent to 734,685 and pit attendance increased 29 percent to 196,206. (Attendance for the Las Vegas finals weren’t available at press time.)
“We were blessed with the greatest season ever, with five guys mixing it up and within points of each other until the end of the season,” said Ken Hudgens, CEO of series owner Feld Motor Sports.
The recently completed season saw increases in ratings and attendance.
The least-attended event was Jacksonville. The series was there for its third year and drew 30,257 spectators, a 21 percent decrease from 2010. Series organizers plan to eliminate that event in 2012 and hold a race in New Orleans’ Superdome, which last hosted an event in 2009.
“There just weren’t enough people buying tickets [in Jacksonville],” Hudgens said. “A lot of riders are from Florida, but Florida has never been overly supportive.”
CBS saw ratings increase 33 percent for its nine, one-hour race recaps, which earned a 0.8 Nielsen rating, up from a 0.6 in 2010. Speed aired 17 telecasts, including five live races, and earned a 0.2, up from a 0.1 for 21 telecasts, including four live races, in 2010.
“Speed stepped up with an incredible increase in the promotion of the series both with spots driving tune-in and with coverage on ‘Speed Central,’” Hudgens said.
All of the series’ major sponsors, from Monster Energy to Parts Unlimited to Toyota, are set to return in 2012.