SBJ/July 30-August 5, 2012/Events and Attractions

All-Star topics include big games, big ball

The host of the 2013 MLS All-Star Game has yet to be named, and there was talk among team executives at this year’s midseason showcase that when the league does make its announcement, the sites for the next two games will be unveiled.

An announcement is expected in the coming months.

Sporting Kansas City would appear to be a prime candidate to host one of the next two summer events. MLS likes to reward expansion franchises or teams that recently built soccer-specific stadiums. While Sporting Kansas City is an original MLS club from 1996, it opened Livestrong Sporting Park in June 2011. The facility has drawn rave reviews and has already hosted several major soccer events, including three international friendlies and an Olympic qualifier this year. It will host the U.S. Open Cup Final on Aug. 8 and a World Cup qualifier in October.

After this year’s stop at the Union’s home in Chester, Pa., the All-Star Game could head west to Kansas City or north to Canada.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Since Kansas City was already hosting this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, it made little sense for MLS to bring the 2012 game to the city.

The MLS game could also soon return to Canada for just the second time in league history. The Vancouver Whitecaps joined the league in 2011, and the Montreal Impact joined this year, opening Saputo Stadium along with their entry.
Toronto was the first Canadian host of the MLS All-Star Game, in 2008.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber did confirm that next year’s All-Star Game will continue the format of MLS hosting European clubs. Since 2005, seven of the MLS all-stars’ eight opponents for the game have been franchises from England’s Premier League. Scottish club Celtic FC was the other opponent.

This year’s opponent was EPL club Chelsea FC.

“The format has worked well for all sides,” Garber said. “I wouldn’t expect it to change next year.”

MLS, ADIDAS ACTIVATE 12-FOOT SOCCER BALL: The most captivating activation during All-Star week came in the form of the Giant Soccer Ball Tour. At events around Philadelphia through last Tuesday and at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., on game day, a 12-foot Adidas Prime soccer ball was on display, and fans had the opportunity to sign it.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Howard Handler, MLS chief marketing officer. “We’ve had thousands of fans come out to sign the ball. It’s the
The Giant Soccer Ball Tour stopped for autographs at Philadelphia’s Love Park (top) and Citizens Bank Park (above) before a Phillies game.
Photo by: MLS (2)
hot photo in town this week: take your photo with the ball, tweet it using our hash tags. We even took it on a parade through the city’s streets. It’s been a great way to interact with both hard-core and casual soccer fans and to spread the word about the game being in town.”

Those touted hash tags included #MLSAllStar and #GiantBall.

The tour kicked off with a press event at the Philadelphia Art Museum featuring Garber, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and dozens of youth soccer players from the area. The ball was brought to the subway station at Citizens Bank Park before an MLB Phillies game, to the Penn’s Landing waterfront area and to JFK Plaza/Love Park, among other city destinations.

The night before the game, the ball “slept” on top of the awning of the Hotel Palomar, one of MLS’s host hotels.

League sponsors also drew large crowds at Soccer Celebration, the activation site adjacent to PPL Park, in the hours before the main event on Wednesday. Several MLS players not in the game signed autographs at sponsor booths. Philadelphia defender Chris Albright signed for Home Depot, while young fans created their own signs for the game, courtesy of Home Depot and Soccer United Marketing partner Behr Paints.

Behr is sold exclusively at Home Depot locations.

Volkswagen had a number of activations, but its most popular was a foosball table that was 10 yards long. Castrol, Continental Tire, Allstate, AT&T and National Guard also were on site, attracting fans to sign up for their email lists.

Forever Collectibles’ Matthew Katz is optimistic about the growth of MLS at retail.
Photo by: CHRISTOPHER BOTTA / THE STAFF
BUSY AT RETAIL: Vendors at the MLS Club Retail Summit at the Sonesta Hotel in the Center City district of Philadelphia were unanimous in pronouncing sales of the MLS versions of their products on the rise.

“MLS has become a big growth business for us,” said Matthew Katz, licensing manager of Forever Collectibles, the Edison, N.J.-based company that produces plush bears, piggy banks (or bull banks, for the New York Red Bulls) and assorted keepsakes. “The talk among the people here is that we expect to do better and better.”

Jason Masherah, vice president of marketing and business development for Upper Deck, said soccer trading card sales are up.

“When we signed Landon Donovan [in 2011], we had an MLS face for Upper Deck,” said Masherah, as he stood near a collection of Donovan autographed photos and items. “As MLS continues to develop or acquire more stars, the demand for cards and memorabilia will continue to increase. We’re very happy with our MLS business.”

The vendors also were in agreement when asked which MLS franchises bring the most sales.

“Seattle and Portland, and up and down the West Coast with Vancouver and Los Angeles, definitely lead the way,” said Jake Horton, sales manager of Keyscraper, an Oregon-based producer of team-branded technology items like keyboards and iPad cases.

Jeff McIntyre, president of Ruffneck Scarves, said in addition to the Sounders and Timbers, Philadelphia and Kansas City are franchises developing into big successes on the retail side.

SOCCER STAR HONORS TEACHER: While in Philadelphia for the All-Star Game, Real Salt Lake and U.S. national team player Kyle Beckerman participated in a photo shoot for TeachersCount. The charitable organization, in partnership with educational group Scholastic, pairs celebrities with their most influential teachers for a poster that gets distributed in libraries and schools. Beckerman chose John Camm, who taught him when he was growing up in Baltimore.

“We will be sending out 100,000 posters of Kyle and his favorite teacher to schools nationwide,” said Diana Burroughs, the executive director of TeachersCount. “Our campaign is, ‘Behind every famous person is a fabulous teacher.’ We hope to draw attention to the importance of teachers in people’s lives — even soccer stars.”

The photo of Beckerman and Camm also will appear on 1,500 interstate digital billboards managed by Lamar Advertising. The billboards will appear nationally but have their highest concentration in the Salt Lake City and Baltimore areas.

MLS has worked with TeachersCount in the past, with Donovan and Brian McBride taking part in photo shoots with their favorite teachers.

LEAVING A LEGACY: MLS W.O.R.K.S., the league’s community outreach initiative, and the Philadelphia Union unveiled AT&T Community Field, a playground and small soccer field at Science and Discovery High School in Philadelphia constructed as part of All-Star Week. Several MLS all-stars and Union coaches took part in youth activities as part of the AT&T Youth Clinic. Former MLS all-star and current ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas also participated. This is the sixth year of the charitable initiative during All-Star week.

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