SBJ/November 5-11, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

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  • MLS average attendance posts milestone

    MLS teams averaged 18,807 fans per game during the 2012 regular season, marking the league’s best figure in its 17-year history.

    This season’s average was up 5 percent from last year, which previously stood as the league’s best.

    MLS ATTENDANCE

    2012 REGULAR-SEASON TOTALS

    Home team Avg. Change
    Chicago Fire 16,409 +15.0%
    Chivas USA 13,056 -12.0%
    Colorado Rapids 15,175 +2.3%
    Columbus Crew 14,397 +18.2%
    D.C. United 13,846 -8.9%
    FC Dallas 14,199 +10.4%
    Houston Dynamo (a) 21,015 +18.8%
    Los Angeles Galaxy 23,136 -0.9%
    Montreal Impact (b) 22,772 NA
    New England Revolution 14,001 +5.9%
    New York Red Bulls 18,281 -7.4%
    Philadelphia Union 18,053 -1.1%
    Portland Timbers 20,438 +8.6%
    Real Salt Lake 19,087 +8.5%
    San Jose Earthquakes (c) 13,293 +12.1%
    Seattle Sounders FC 43,144 +12.1%
    Sporting Kansas City 19,404 +8.9%
    Toronto FC 18,155 -10.4%
    Vancouver Whitecaps 19,475 -4.6%
    TOTALS 18,807 +5.2%

    NA: Not applicable; 2012 expansion team
    (a) Moved into new BBVA Compass Stadium this year; played in Robertson Stadium last year.
    (b) Played its first five games at Olympic Stadium this season before moving into its renovated Saputo Stadium.
    (c) Includes designated Earthquakes home games in March at AT&T Park (vs. Houston) and in June at Stanford Stadium (vs. Los Angeles).

    Among the factors that contributed to this year’s gains were the Seattle Sounders continuing to post record-setting numbers; the addition of the expansion Impact in Montreal; and the Dynamo’s move to soccer-specific BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

    The Sounders set an MLS attendance record for the fourth straight season, with the club’s average up 12 percent from 2011.

    The league’s 18,807 average stands ahead of the averages for the NHL (17,445) and NBA (17,274) during their respective 2011-12 seasons. Howard Handler, MLS chief marketing officer, called that comparison “a helpful reference point and a nice benchmark.”

    “Averaging almost 19,000 fans at our games underscores the steady growth of the league,” Handler said. “As important as it is for us to see fans connecting to our apps, websites and social media, attendance is central. It’s a powerful statement about our fans’ loyalty to their teams and adds to the overall notion that MLS continues to be on the rise.”

    On the flip side, Toronto FC saw a 10 percent drop at the gate, fueled in large part by poor on-field performance. This comes after several years of solid attendance following the club’s founding in 2007. Chivas USA suffered a double whammy at the gate: lowest average attendance and sharpest percentage drop among all clubs — coming in a season in which Chivas USA finished at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

    “There are always ways to try and promote, market and sell better, but what you also find is that it’s the same as most sports leagues: attendance in some markets is the nature of a competitive business where there are wins and losses,” Handler said. “Fans take their clubs seriously.”

    Handler added that the decrease in attendance for the New York Red Bulls (down 7 percent) should not be seen as a reason for pause in the league’s ongoing efforts to bring a second franchise to the New York market.

    “We view them as different situations,” he said. “A small percentage of fans at Red Bulls games come from across the East River. A second team in New York is still a few years away. We’re confident a team in the Flushing Meadow [Queens] area will thrive and it will make for an incredible rivalry with the Red Bulls.”

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  • NASCAR learns from ‘Tomorrow’ for car rollout

    When NASCAR rolled out the Car of Tomorrow in 2007, everyone rebelled. Drivers didn’t like it, teams didn’t like it and, most importantly, fans didn’t like it.

    As NASCAR once again prepares to roll out new cars in 2013 — cars that trade the current homogeneous look for the showroom model designs of Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota — its marketing, communications and competition divisions are doing everything they can to avoid a repeat of the negativity that engulfed the Car of Tomorrow. In fact, it is trying to use the new car to boost business and fan interest through its marketing and advertising.

    Ford became the first maker to introduce its new cars to the media early this year.
    FORD DESIGN STUDIO
    The effort, dubbed “Project Ignition,” began early this year when Ford became the first manufacturer to unveil its new cars to media, continued through driver testing last month at Talladega and extends into Monday when the sanctioning body, for the first time, will take members of the media to wind-tunnel testing of the new cars in Concord, N.C.

    “We believe this can really energize our fan base, drive tune-in and attract new fans,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s chief marketer, who described the new car as “one of the last levers” the sport can pull to engage fans. “Every asset NASCAR has will direct attention to this car.”

    Phelps said only a third of NASCAR fans know that the Sprint Cup Series will feature the new car next year. The sanctioning body hopes to change that in the coming months. It will feature the new cars of each manufacturer in its season-ending parade in Las Vegas next month, it plans to develop advertising spots specifically around the new car that will air on Fox, ESPN and Turner, and it is considering an Olympic torch relay of sorts where the new cars are driven from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte to Daytona Beach, Fla., for the Daytona 500.

    NASCAR plans to have behind-the-scenes reports on how it developed the car on its new digital platform, NASCAR.com, which will debut in January. Its media partners also are planning to do reports on it and make production changes around it. Fox, which will broadcast the first race of 2013, is looking at new in-car camera positions, exploring ways to provide new audio of the cars, designing a new graphics package, and reviewing the way it frames multiple cars in a pack to highlight the speed of the car and the different body shapes of the new cars.

    “We’re enthusiastic and fired up about the new car because we’re NASCAR fans,” said Eric Shanks, Fox Sports co-president. “It’s really rare that you get such a visible new product for the fans in any sport and we’re looking to really reboot our production to match the product on the track. From the first time the cars go on the tracks, fans in the stands and at home are going to see a real difference.”

    But building fan awareness isn’t the only thing that NASCAR has to prepare for as it rolls out the new car. It also has to be sure its teams and drivers are on board with the new designs.

    Teams and drivers largely led the negativity that hurt the Car of Tomorrow in 2007 and 2008. NASCAR spent five years developing the car in hopes of making a safer vehicle that reduced driver injuries. The resulting car was a radical departure from the prior stock car that required an entirely new chassis. Because of that, teams had to scrap their existing line of cars and spend money on new ones.

    Fans didn’t like the standardized look of each car, and drivers became frustrated with how it handled on the track.

    Mike Mooney, The Marketing Arm’s vice president of motorsports, said there weren’t any communication miscues in advance of the Car of Tomorrow’s unveiling, but that NASCAR’s message that the car would lower costs and improve driver safety got lost when the drivers began to complain.

    The negativity that surrounded the Car of Tomorrow in 2007 prompted NASCAR to do more outreach to teams, drivers and fans. In recent years, it has begun holding quarterly meetings with drivers and team executives. It has increased the size of its industry services division and been more proactive in fielding requests from competitors. It also created a fan council that it surveys regularly to find out what changes fans would like to see in the sport.

    It was those surveys and conversations with its manufacturing partners that led NASCAR to redesign its cars for 2013. Phelps said the sanctioning body has been communicating regularly with teams about it and has emphasized the opportunity the new car offers.

    Unlike the Car of Tomorrow, the new car doesn’t require new chassis, so it won’t require the major expenditures teams made in 2007, and drivers have generally been pleased with tests of the car. But driver satisfaction today doesn’t guarantee satisfaction next year. The different body shapes between Fords, Chevrolets and Toyotas opens the possibility for teams to gain an aerodynamic advantage on the track, and that could undermine the parity NASCAR has tried to achieve during the last few decades.

    Phelps said NASCAR’s research and development team has worked hard to be sure that’s not the case, and he doesn’t anticipate any driver complaints this time around. NASCAR can implement fines if it deems a driver’s comments “materially damage the sport,” but Phelps said that won’t be necessary.

    “That’s not an issue,” he said. “The teams are on board. The auto manufacturers are on board. The drivers are on board. … This is a seminal moment for us to put butts in seats and drive viewership.”

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  • Clock ticks for NBA on jersey ads

    The window of opportunity is closing for NBA teams to sign jersey advertising deals for next season.

    NBA owners did not address jersey advertising at length during their recent Board of Governors meeting. Instead, owners sent the issue back to the league’s 13-member planning committee to further study the feasibility of having corporate advertising on uniforms.

    The league since the start of the year has been working toward allowing teams to sell jersey ads beginning next season, but no consensus has been reached on what exactly the process would be, including whether deals would be sold on the league or team level, and how any resulting revenue would be split.

    Ultimately, what’s being contemplated is a system in which the deals could be expected to generate at least $100 million in annual revenue if every team were to have a deal in place.

    There is little objection among teams to putting what would be a 2.5-inch by 2.5-inch square corporate patch on jerseys. However, the questions about how teams would split any revenue generated are critical. Sources said that amount could range from $800,000 a year for small-market teams to $15 million annually for big-market clubs like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks.

    “We have been prepared to start meeting immediately with partners for a jersey deal,” said Alex Martins, chief executive officer of the Orlando Magic. “There are a number of different issues that need to be resolved and [revenue split of jersey advertising] is just one of them. It seems like a simple process on the front end, but you get into details ranging from current corporate partners to revenue decisions. It is a complex decision.”

    Various proposals are under review, including one plan that calls for teams to pool a fixed percentage of any jersey deal’s revenue, with the proceeds then split among all 30 teams, according to one team source familiar with the discussions.

    “It’s not about the philosophy or the image of a patch; everyone is on board,” said one team source. “But does the league sell it and split it 30 ways, or do teams sell it and then there is a surcharge paid to teams who can’t get big deals on their own? It is about the economics.”

    One small-market team executive said there is concern that the wide range of jersey deals will give large-market teams a financial advantage while potentially driving up the league’s salary cap. The salary cap, according to the league’s collective-bargaining agreement, is determined based on league revenue, so anything that increases NBA revenue also increases the amount each team has to pay the players in salary.

    “You get a team that gets a 10-year, $15 million annual deal, and that goes into the cap and drives up our expenses,” the source said.

    With such complex issues under review, and time also needed for teams to sell any deals, the clock is ticking for the league to have a system in place for the 2013-14 season. There’s also a fan-sales component. Putting the logos on jerseys at retail is a key part of the initiative. For the purchasing advertiser, it means not only having a company logo on the jerseys worn by a team’s players, but also on the jerseys purchased annually by that team’s fans. One team source said the jersey deals would have to be in place by April in order for NBA uniform partner Adidas to get the newly branded jerseys to retail by the start of the 2013-14 season.

    NBA Commissioner David Stern has said publicly that while he does not favor putting advertising patches on uniforms, he will leave it to the teams to decide the structure. NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, who will replace Stern in February 2014, has said that all teams favor a jersey deal in some form but that more discussion is needed to address how additional revenue would affect specific teams.

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  • NFL makes personnel, geographic changes in its political lobbying efforts

    More than a year after the end of a politically charged lockout, the NFL is shifting its lobbying efforts, relocating the league’s top executive from its Washington, D.C., office.

    Jeffrey Miller, a former congressional aide who the league hired four years ago as its first on-staff lobbyist, is ceding that role and moving to New York to focus on player health and safety issues from NFL headquarters.

    Political lobbying will now fall under Adolpho Birch, senior vice president of law and labor policy. Birch has had a big hand in negotiating drug-testing issues with the NFL Players Association — in particular, HGH testing.

    “This is an opportunity for both to work on additional projects,” said league spokesman Brian McCarthy, who declined to provide further reasons behind the moves. McCarthy said the shifts do not in any way represent a diminution of the league’s Washington presence, with Birch based in New York and responsible for areas other than lobbying.

    The NFL’s Washington office will remain open and still has two employees who were hired by Miller, vice president of government and public relations, McCarthy said. He added that the league will continue to use political consultants.

    At the time the NFL hired Miller, the Associated Press quoted him saying, “The emphasis is to have a full-time person spending every waking moment thinking about how what Congress or the administration is doing is going to affect the NFL’s business model.”

    During the buildup to the lockout, and during it, Miller played a key role in urging Congress to remain on the sidelines during the labor standoff, which ended without the loss of any regular-season games.

    Among the big political issues on the league’s plate today include the lack of HGH testing, state efforts to legalize sports gambling, the league office’s nonprofit status and concussions.

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  • USSA wants fans looking into ‘Snow Globe,’ events on YouTube

    The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association has partnered with YouTube to launch its own channel, where it will offer live event coverage and a weekly highlight and lifestyle show.

    USSA will brand the channel USSA Network and upload six to 12 videos weekly to provide an hour of original content. It joins USA Wrestling, USA Gymnastics and other national governing bodies in striking a formal agreement with YouTube.

    The deal allows USSA to protect 10 sponsorship categories. YouTube’s sales team will sell ads on USSA Network and split revenue evenly with the national governing body. YouTube won’t cover any of USSA’s production costs, which are estimated to be in the low six figures.

    “We wanted to retain a little more freedom, and therefore got a higher revenue share and more promotional inventory,” said Michael Jaquet, USSA’s chief marketer. “Eventually, once we get this thing going and YouTube sees the value of it and sees us pumping away content and drawing fans, I believe they’ll be opportunistic from a production budget standpoint.”

    The channel will debut Nov. 14. It will feature a weekly highlight and lifestyle show called “Snow Globe.” The show will offer a roundup of results and athlete interviews from the U.S. ski, snowboard, freeskiing, freestyle and other teams. It also will offer behind-the-scenes footage of athletes and address issues the ski industry and fans are talking about. It will be produced by Echo Entertainment.

    “If our show becomes successful every Wednesday [when it airs], is there a reason to do another show every Monday or every Friday?” said Jaquet, who previously worked at CBS Sports Network. “With my cable background, I totally see the viability of us programming that YouTube channel with multiple shows that get our content out there.”

    USSA also plans to air 10 events live on the channel. The biggest event will be the Super G competition broadcast on Dec. 1 from the Audi Birds of Prey. The live coverage of that event and others will feature announcers and a graphics package.

    Powder, Snowboarder, Ski and other endemic magazines have agreed to embed a USSA Network YouTube player on their websites, which Jaquet hopes will drive traffic to the channel. In addition to finding the channel on those websites, people can search on YouTube.com or visit it directly at YouTube.com/ussanetwork.

    “If we can get the hard-core fan to be psyched on what we’re doing, it will grow from there,” Jaquet said.

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