SBJ/Aug. 5-11, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Crew’s new owner hits ground running at league meetings

Anthony Precourt spent his first full day as owner and chairman of the Columbus Crew in league meetings at the Marriott Hotel on the day of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game.

“When this is over, I’m going to take a few days to reintroduce myself to my wife and three young children,” Precourt said with a smile of relief. “It’s been an exciting time, but a long haul.”

Precourt, the managing director of Precourt Sports Ventures, first expressed interest in buying a sports team a year ago. That’s when he contacted Rob Tilliss, the founder and CEO of the sports investment firm Inner Circle Sports, to begin the process. (Inner Circle Sports ultimately ended up advising the Hunt Sports Group, the original owners of the Crew dating to the league’s inception in 1994, on the sale). Negotiations took four months to complete.
The 43-year-old Precourt lives in San Francisco, but plans to attend at least five matches at Crew Stadium in the next two months: four featuring his MLS franchise and a World Cup qualifier between the U.S. men’s team and Mexico on Sept. 10.

“I won’t be an absentee owner,” Precourt said during a break in league meetings. “There’s a lot of opportunity to improve the club on and off the field. We’re going to take the rest of this season to evaluate before we make any changes.”

Crew Stadium remains without a naming-rights sponsor. Although Precourt said he did not have any prospective sponsors on the front burner, finding one was “hugely important.”

Precourt also said, “It was a little early to make promises” of championships and sold-out matches, but he shared the Hunts’ recent goal of signing up 10,000 season-ticket holders.

“Right now, we have about 7,000 full-season equivalents,” Precourt said. “That’s our first goal — getting into this community and having it feel good about the Crew. I’m going to take our attendance personally.”

WELLS FARGO’S FIRST LEAGUE DEAL: The roots of Wells Fargo’s new sponsorship of MLS, its first with a national sports league, could be found in the San Francisco-based financial institution’s partnership with the San Jose Earthquakes.

The MLS deal, completed last week before the All-Star Game, runs through the end of the 2016 season and, according to an industry source, is for more than $2 million a season. Negotiations were conducted directly between Wells Fargo and Soccer United Marketing.

“We’ve been very happy with our Earthquakes partnership, especially in our community programs and ability to reach key demographics like millennials and Hispanics,” said Wells Fargo sponsorship manager Nick Carey. “With our MLS deal, we want to replicate that on a national scale.”

In 2011, Wells Fargo signed a multiyear sponsorship with the Earthquakes that focuses heavily on youth soccer programs.

Carey said Wells Fargo will consider sponsoring other sports leagues, “but right now, we’re focused on our deal with Major League Soccer.”

NYCFC’S NEXT: NYCFC, the expansion franchise that will become MLS’s 20th team when it begins play in New York in 2015, has begun a search for a chief business officer. The CBO would be the club’s second employee, joining director of football Claudio Reyna, who was hired in May.

NYCFC, which is owned by Manchester City of the Premier League and the New York Yankees, continues to explore sites for a permanent stadium. According to a source, team representatives met recently with Queens officials to restart talks about property in Flushing Meadow Park, near Citi Field and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

MLS Digital ran a social media hub out of downtown Kansas City.
Photo by: MLS
SOCIAL HUB: As a test case for future big events, MLS Digital ran a social media command center at the H&R Block building in downtown Kansas City during the league’s all-star festivities. H&R Block hosted a similar media hub for MLB during its All-Star Game in the city last year.

The joint effort by MLS Digital, Sporting KC’s social media staff and @VisitKC — the city’s Twitter feed for tourism — was aimed at heightening the conversation around the all-star events. Led by MLS social media director Amanda Vandervort, the staff aggregated fan postings on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+. The H&R Block office also served as a host site for MLS Editorial and KickTV, MLS’s YouTube channel on global soccer.

“We’re preparing for significant on-the-ground work next year at the World Cup,” said MLS Digital vice president Chris Schlosser. “It’s a great opportunity to promote everything happening in Kansas City, but also analyze the best uses of fan engagement as we get ready for Brazil.”

D.C. EXCITED: Jason Levien described D.C. United’s 2-15-4 season at the all-star break as “one big punch in the gut,” but the announcement July 25 that the club and Washington, D.C., had signed a public-private term sheet for a new soccer stadium in the Buzzard Point district is more important to the bigger picture.

“I’m very optimistic that the project will be realized,” said Levien, the club’s co-owner and managing partner. “We took a very significant step. There are still more hoops to jump through in the process, but we’ll be as patient and as expeditious as we can.”

Once community groups are heard from and District-owned property on the site is swapped, plans call for the stadium to be built in 18 months and ready for the 2016 or 2017 season.

Without revealing specific financial data, Levien said that while the club has played at outdated RFK Stadium, profitability has been a challenge. But with the new stadium, revenue development will come.

Former player Kasey Keller suited up for a trip around the speedway.
Photo by: MLS
“Now that we have the inevitability of a new stadium, we’re already seeing more interest in our team,” Levien said.

SCENE & HEARD: The day before the All-Star Game, MLS players, executives, partners and media sat in the passenger seat for rides in excess of 160 mph with Grand-Am drivers on the track at Kansas Speedway. The event was run by Continental Tire, which sponsors MLS and Grand-Am Road Racing. “It’s a chance to promote our brand, but also to show the soccer world what racing is all about,” said Travis Roffler, vice president of marketing for Continental Tire. “If there was any question whether these drivers are athletes, you get your answer by getting in the car with them.” … Timbers COO Mike Golub had a delegation from the club and city with him in Kansas City, as Portland prepares to host next year’s all-star game. “Like Kansas City, we’re treating it as a weeklong celebration of soccer, MLS, the Timbers and our community,” Golub said. “There’s plenty to learn here.”

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