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Volume 21 No. 1

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Major League Soccer celebrated a number of high points in 2011, as the debut of clubs in Portland and Vancouver helped the league post its best average attendance and television viewership. The league has a number of items on itsimmediate horizon, from expansion in New York City to a new television deal with NBC. Staff writer Fred Dreier caught up with MLS Commissioner Don Garber to talk about the successful year, and what we can expect in the coming seasons.

What were the success stories for 2011?
GARBER: Portland, Seattle and Vancouver were a huge success. Off the field our attendance has been growing and our rating is growing. I think one of the great stories is Kansas City. This was a market that had struggled for many years, and there was a time we had evaluated moving the team. And the ownership group and their new stadium have captivated the hearts and minds of the soccer fans and sports fans in that market. And I think the NBC announcement is huge, and we very much look forward to kicking off with them.

It seems like the model of expanding into current Division II markets is working. Will that become the norm for MLS?
I think the success is less about the second division and more about the deep soccer tradition in those markets and what was created by the old NASL. Division II is starting to show real connectivity in markets, and I’m excited to see teams in Orlando and even Miami grow. Success in those markets means they could become good MLS expansion prospects.

“To improve the business metrics, we needed to improve the competition metrics,” Garber says.
You have publicly said you hope to add a 20th team in the New York City market. What is the timeline for adding a 20th team?
Ultimately we want to see if there is an opportunity for adding a 20th team with an emphasis on that team being in New York City. We have been working with the city to develop a stadium opportunity and we continue to work on it with a number of consultants to move the project. But we haven’t finalized anything, and we’re not close at this time.

How do you come in contact with potential ownership groups, and are you finding a drop in interest due to shrinking availability of capital?
The ownership groups contact us, and I have several at the moment. Soccer is a growth sport, and clearly the growth of the value of our teams is evidence that it is a good investment. The current economic condition hasn’t really affected our view of what the team value is. We believe it to be very high, but nothing makes sense when the whole project centers on whether we’re able to get a stadium built.

How is the play on the field affecting business?
For so many years we were so focused on our business and the continued securing of the foundation of the league that we were not able to spend a similar amount of time and resources on ensuring we were really improving the game on the field. This year we are seeing the fruits of that [renewed] emphasis. We have now almost 25 designated players, and that program started in 2007. League competition was our best ever, and the season came right down to the last couple of weeks for playoff races. We realized in order to improve the business metrics, we needed to improve the competition metrics.

Major League Soccer will see all 23 of its corporate partners activate at Sunday’s MLS Cup championship at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. The full plate of partner activation marks a step up from 2010, when 18 of 23 partners activated at the event in Toronto.

David Wright, vice president of global sponsorship for Soccer United Marketing, said the game’s presence in a major MLS market matched with the home team Galaxy playing in the game should boost the event beyond 2010 in both media reach and overall sales. A team official with the Galaxy said the event has sold out its 27,000 seats, and that the team is looking to add more seats for the game. The official declined to say how many seats the team will add.

But Wright does not expect the marketing and activation footprint in Los Angeles to surpass that of the 2011 MLS All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena, where all 23 partners also activated at the event.

“New York was arguably the most successful special event in our history, so it’s tough to quantify,” Wright said. “I think we will be on par with that event.”

As in previous years, MLS will stretch the championship event across four days. Home Depot and the city of Carson, Calif., will begin the event activation on Thursday with a renovation project at the local 9/11 Veterans Park.

Also on Thursday, Castrol will unveil its Index Player of the Year award, which is tabulated using an algorithm that analyzes a player’s on-field motions and performance. The award is part of Castrol’s four-day footprint at the event, which includes a social media contest with FourSquare on Thursday, title sponsorship of the Media Cup game on Saturday, and a fan trading card setup on Saturday and Sunday.

AT&T, which is the title sponsor of the All-Star Game, also is activating across multiple days, and is title sponsor of a pregame concert featuring local Latin hip-hop band Ozomatli on Sunday.

Neither Castrol nor AT&T activated at the 2010 MLS Cup. Other absentees were Dick’s Sporting Goods, Allstate Insurance and NAPA Auto Parts, which is no longer a partner.
Tracy Drelich-Knauer, associate promotions and sponsorship manager at Castrol, said the brand’s American focus kept it from having a presence in Canada, even though the event marked a bookend to its inaugural season with MLS.

“It was Toronto, it was cold, it didn’t make sense for us to be there,” she said. “We are focused on business in the U.S.”

Drelich-Knauer said Castrol will have multilingual brand ambassadors handing out product literature in both English and Spanish at the event. It also will sponsor a six-on-six local tournament at the Bell Gardens sports complex in east Los Angeles.
“For us, the Home Depot Center hits a lot of key targets, especially in the Hispanic demographic,” she said.

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

USA Gymnastics and AEG have secured more than $1 million in sponsorships to support a post-Olympics tour that will take the nation’s top gymnasts to more than 40 markets after the 2012 London Games.

Kellogg’s signed as the title sponsor of the tour, and Procter & Gamble and Hilton Worldwide signed as supporting sponsors.

“This is yet another opportunity for an Olympic partner to activate through a [national governing body],” said USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny. “That was very exciting not only to them and us but also the U.S. Olympic Committee.”

The tour will be known as the 2012 Kellogg’s Tour of Champions. Kellogg’s will receive national media rights, in-market promotion, in-arena signage, tickets and hospitality, sampling and local activation rights.

Kellogg’s, which signed as a sponsor of the USOC last spring, also stepped up to become a sponsor of USA Gymnastics through 2013. It joins Visa, Hilton, AT&T, P&G and Adidas in sponsoring the organization.

The USOC marketing department, led by chief marketer Lisa Baird, helped put the deal together. The organization has said in recent years that it wants to bring more deals to its national governing body partners, and it introduced Penny to Kellogg’s Olympic marketing team, which is led by Sandy Uridge.

A Kellogg’s executive was unavailable for comment prior to deadline.

USA Gymnastics partnered with AEG last spring to create a post-Olympics tour. It’s the first time the two organizations have worked together, and it will be the first tour that USA Gymnastics has played a role in organizing and promoting since 2004. Most of the facilities the tour will visit are owned by or affiliated with AEG. Organizers hope to attract more than 220,000 people.

USA Gymnastics has received commitments to participate in the tour from its most recent world championship team and has begun to work on marketing materials. It plans to begin promotions early next year.

“This tour is going to do two things: tell the value of gymnastics to young people and serve as a bridge from the London Olympics to the Rio Olympics,” Penny said. “We want to put on a show that connects with kids and showcases elite athletes who will be going on to Rio.”