SBJ/May 16-22, 2011/Franchises

MLS Cup victory helps Colorado reach new peaks with sponsors

As one of the original charter teams in Major League Soccer, the Colorado Rapids have existed in the shadow of Denver’s NFL Broncos, NBA Nuggets and NHL Avalanche since 1996. To help alleviate that, the Rapids have long relied on youth soccer for their fan base — the team’s home stadium, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, even includes 24 fields for recreational soccer. But with the team’s MLS Cup championship in 2010, the Rapids have begun to step out of that shadow. Season-ticket sales are up 30 percent, and a growing number of young professionals now fill the stands. SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Fred Dreier spoke with Jeff Plush, the team’s managing director, to see how this has affected business.

   ■ How has the MLS Cup victory changed the team’s reputation in the local marketplace?
: It’s a big step forward in getting us more media recognition because there is a lot of competition [in Denver]. We won the championship, and that makes us more relevant. We still don’t have a beat writer from The [Denver] Post. Ideally we’d like to get to the level of media coverage that Real Salt Lake was able to achieve after their [2009] cup. It opens doors for us with potential [partners] and allows us to think more broadly, but at the end of the day you still have to have a compelling proposition besides winning. I think it’s shown [potential partners] the breadth of reach that we have, especially with the international and young adult crowds.

Season-ticket sales are up 30 percent at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
What new partners have you been able to add?
: For the first time we have a presenting sponsor for the whole season with Westerra Credit Union. They’re with us for the next three years. They will appear on everything that encompasses the team in print or on TV. We also have Coors Light as our domestic malt beverage, who is the title sponsor of our supporters’ terrace in the north end. It’s about 1,000 strong and definitely the most vocal part of the building. Coors Light knows we’re trying to grow the young adult fan base and they’re excited about that. The most recent addition is Porsche, who is coming on board to sponsor the Chairman’s Club luxury box that we modeled after a European sport director’s box.

   How did you bring a high-end brand like Porsche to sponsor domestic soccer?
: The need was always there for a larger suite for VIPs. You look back at the original design and construction phase [of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park] and yeah, we probably would have done things differently. We’re going to take down a wall of the original owner’s suite and an adjacent double suite and create this big space. We’re going to treat it in a very special way, and the Porsche brand will be very visible inside. Now that we’ve won a championship and our brand is at the highest point in its history and the marketplace is really positive, we can create a space like this and attract [a partner] like Porsche.

   What are the chances of the Colorado Rapids having a jersey sponsor for 2011?
: I think they are good. We have had a handful of positive meetings, and one in particular is further along than the others. I think we have the strongest opportunity to get that done this year. But finding the right company is key. We have heard criticism that we don’t have a jersey sponsor, and I tell people it’s because we’re looking for the right company. We’re not just looking for the financial commitment; we want a partner that will drive the team forward and have a long-term approach.

   Other than the jersey sponsor, what are your primary business goals for 2011?
: We want to continue the evolution and monetization of the Rocky Mountain Cup between us and Real Salt Lake. We’re two small-market clubs, and the last two [MLS Cup] champions, and there is a real substantive rivalry there. Our supporters groups are further along than most clubs. Everyone is intrigued by what is going on in the Pacific Northwest, and I think that is a fantastic platform to show the rivalry we have here.

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