SBJ/July 29-August 4, 2013/Franchises

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  • For Cosmos, rebirth on a modest scale

    On Saturday, the historic New York Cosmos, a brand associated with the legendary Pelé and the Studio 54 era of the late 1970s, will be back on the pitch for the first time in almost three decades. In the weeks leading up to their return, easily one of the most heavily hyped efforts around a second-tier U.S. soccer club in memory, the Cosmos have been aggressively promoting that rebirth.

    “You can make the argument that the New York Cosmos are the most recognizable American soccer club around the world,” said Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover, a former managing director of the MLS New York Red Bulls. “But we can’t live off our brand and our history. This is a new team, playing in a different stadium, in a different era. We have to get the word out.”

    The Cosmos of the late 1970s featured international stars such as Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto and Franz Beckenbauer, selling out matches at Giants Stadium on their way to NASL titles. But that was a time when NASL was the nation’s top soccer league. Today, the league is secondary to MLS, so while the Cosmos brand might still resonate enough nationally to sell merchandise, the club’s efforts in its return to the pitch for the first time since 1985 are focused much more locally in order to sell tickets.

    Instead of Giants Stadium, Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., will be the Cosmos’ home when they kick off their season against Fort Lauderdale on Saturday.

    To tout their return in a crowded New York marketplace, the Cosmos have aggressively worked the central transportation destinations, with a strong marketing presence at Penn Station, a major hub for commuters from New York’s boroughs and Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. The Cosmos have employed part-time staff to hand out schedules and ticket information at the station.

    “The franchise is working very hard and the results will be there,” said NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson. “When you’re opening a club in a large market as the Cosmos are, you have to put in extra effort. It takes more resources and the risk/reward is much higher. The Cosmos understand this.”

    Individual ticket prices for the Cosmos’ seven home matches in the NASL’s fall season — the league plays two “seasons” within one year — range from $15 to $35, with club seats available for $95. Capacity at Shuart Stadium is just under 13,000. Stover declined to say how many tickets had been sold for the opener, but an online review last week of the Cosmos’ public ticket sales system revealed that seats remained available in most sections.

    The San Antonio Scorpions led the NASL during the spring season with an average attendance of 7,140.

    The Cosmos are playing at Hofstra as they await a decision by the Empire State Development Corp. on a proposed development called Elmont Crossings. That $400 million project would include a 25,000-seat soccer stadium, nine restaurants, a hotel, a public park and retail space adjacent to Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. All proposals were submitted in January, and a developer is expected to be chosen by the end of the year.

    Pelé and Alberto will be honored before the relaunch match on Saturday, but Stover and the Cosmos know they have matches beyond that to sell.

    “We talk about this as a staff a lot,” Stover said. “Aug. 3 is not the endgame for us. It’s only the beginning.”

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  • Hot Seahawks add Boeing, Starbucks deals

    Boeing and Starbucks are the newest corporate partners of the Seattle Seahawks as the NFL team looks to lean on its newfound national popularity to stimulate deals.

    Locally based Boeing gets branding on the Seahawks’ news conference backdrop under the deal, along with permanent signage for all events at CenturyLink Field.

    Seahawks tackle Russell Okung shows off Boeing’s new backdrop for news conferences.
    Photo by: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
    Starbucks, another longtime Seattle corporate stalwart, gets exclusivity in the tea and coffee categories, something not to be undervalued in Seattle. The coffee bean seller and brewer gets exclusive rights to sell coffee within CenturyLink Field, which it will do within all concession stands and in 18 portable “coffee stations” set up on game days. Starbucks is also supporting the “Better Seattle” anti-gang initiative, in which the team and coach Pete Carroll have been involved.

    The normally sponsorship-shy Starbucks is also planning to activate with a Seahawks-themed retail promotion at its many local stores, something unheard of for America’s top coffee retailer.

    “We’ve been on a push to attract more sponsors looking for national exposure and to take advantage of the growing popularity of our team,” Seahawks President Peter McLoughlin said.  The Seahawks were one of the league’s surprise success stories last year and are scheduled to be on four national TV games this year.

    The news conference backdrop exposure for Boeing, which McLoughlin said will generate 250 million annual television impressions, began with the opening of training camp. He said the multiyear deal makes Boeing one of the team’s five largest corporate sponsors. While Boeing’s support is not a brand play, McLoughlin said that with 80,000 local employees, it is about “employee morale and supporting the overall community, because enthusiasm for this team is at a high, which is saying a lot out here.”

    He added that after the ascension of quarterback Russell Wilson last season and the team’s run in the NFC playoffs, ticket demand is higher than ever in a town that’s always Seahawks crazy. Season-ticket renewal, at 98 percent, and the 62,000 season tickets sold both represent franchise highs, McLoughlin said.

    An additional allotment of 3,500 single-game tickets, which went on sale Monday, sold out in a day.

    Boeing and Starbucks are two of the larger brand names in a sponsorship portfolio that will see revenue increase 15 percent to 18 percent this season, McLoughlin said.

    The Seahawks’ press backdrop had been sponsored by Oberto Beef Jerky, another Seattle company, which will continue as a Seahawks sponsor.

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  • Focus group helps Texans program new video boards

    The Houston Texans’ end zone video boards debuting Aug. 17 for the team’s first home preseason game not only will be the largest in the NFL, they’ll also enjoy the distinction of having had their own focus group.

    The Texans last month brought together a group of fans to receive input on how best to program and use the giant new amenities, which are 30 percent larger than the massive center-hung board at the Dallas Cowboys’ newly named AT&T Stadium.

    Focus groups, while better known in politics, are not new in the NFL, or sports.

    The Texans have used focus groups since 2002, even in advance of the team’s debut season.

    “We did the focus group in house and it basically affirmed our direction,” said Jamey Rootes, the club’s president. “Replays, in-game stats, out-of-town scores with periodic highlights and fantasy stats were all hot buttons. One interesting thing was they encouraged us to not [to] try to do too much. They do not want the board to overpower the live viewing experience that they love.”

    The in-game experience is a hot-button topic in the NFL and has been for several years, as the allure of in-home entertainment systems draws fans away from stadiums.

    The Texans stage three to seven focus groups annually, most focused on the broader issue of how fans experience the game. But with the installation of the NFL’s largest video boards, the team chose to invite 10 fans in to discuss just that.

    Diane Crossey, Texans senior director of event operations who moderated the hour-plus focus group, noted that the fans said they do not want other games on the video boards to serve as a distraction and that the subject of locker room cameras did not come up. The NFL is allowing teams to broadcast in-stadium from locker rooms at halftime and pregame.

    The Texans’ new boards are 53 feet high and 277 feet wide. By comparison, the screens at AT&T Stadium are 72 feet high and 160 feet wide.

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