Friday, November 10, 2006

Fun in Frisco

Due to internet gremlins (It's not a dump truck, you know), MLS fans were unable to access Don Garber's State of the League Address live from Frisco, Texas, the site of MLS Cup 2006. That didn't stop MLS Radio from bringing us the highlights, courtesy of some BBC Sports hack who's stuck in North Texas covering Sunday's sold-out Revs-Dynamo clash.

The second-hand (now third-hand) news concerning MLS 2007:

-Toronto FC will play in the Eastern Conference
-8 clubs will still make the MLS Cup Playoffs, the top two clubs from each conference and the next best four clubs in the standings, regardless of conference
-Each club will play 30 league matches, down from 32
-A midweek MLS/MFL "Champions League" tournament will kickoff
-There will be "new international players"
-For the first time, a majority of MLS clubs (CHI, CHV, CMB, COL, FCD, LAG, TFC) will play in soccer-specific stadiums
-Expansion candidates include Atlanta, Cleveland, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Rochester, San Diego, San Jose, St. Louis, and Seattle (I guess Des Moines and Walla Walla, Washington didn't make the cut)

Neither Landon Donovan or Chris Armas seemed too happy with the new playoff setup in interviews on MLS Radio today. I'm ambivalent. As long as 8 clubs make the playoffs, it's all the same to me.

Of course, the reason everyone's in Frisco is the match, pitting two-time loser New England vs. two-time champion (in a former life) Houston.

Here's New England's lineup:
Heaps, Parkhurst, John
Joseph, Larentowicz, Franchino, Dorman, Riley
Noonan, Twellman

Here's Houston's:
Barrett, Robinson, Cochrane, Waibel
Serioux, De Rosario, Davis, Mullan
Dalglish, Ching

I'm not going to dig in too deep on the individual matchups, but on a personal level (and as an Eastern guy) I'd like to see New England finally break through. It would be great to see Steve Ralston, Dempsey/Noonan/Twellman and BU grad Dorman pick up rings.

Orange-clad Houston fans should rock the Deep Dish, but the Dynamo will be hurting from the void left by suspended former Metro Rico Clark. Look for the Deuce to come on late to score the game-winner in a classic. The prediction: 3-2 Revs.

Red Bulls Postmortem
I could not have been prouder than the effort put forward by the Red Bulls in their season-ending 1-1 draw in DC on Sunday, October 29th. For most of the game, New York was clearly the better squad. Amado Guevara was on top of his game, and had Jozy Altidore's 61st minute post-job gone in, New York could have pulled up an historic upset. The match was an upbeat ending to a season gone completely insane. While most of the '06 squad won't return next season, the year did end on a hopeful note, and hope is something NY fans haven't had in a while.

Television Weekend
Enjoy your time in front of the tube (times ET). Enjoy MLS Cup!

9:30am: GER: Bayer Leverkusen-Bayern Munich, GOL
10:00am: ENG: Everton-Aston Villa, FSC
11:30am: GER: Hamburg-Moenchengladbach, GOL
Noon: ENG: Blackburn-Man Utd, FSC
2:00pm: ESP: Atl. Madrid-Villareal, GOL
2:15pm: ENG: Portsmouth-Fulham, FSC
4:00pm: ITA: AC Milan-Roma, GOL
6:00pm: ESP: Valenica-Atl. Bilbao, GOL
6:00pm: MEX: Monterrey-Toluca, GALA
8:00pm: HON: Marathon-Olimpia, GOL
8:00pm: MEX: Chivas-Chiapas, TELEF
10pm: MEX: Necaxa-Veracruz, GALA

SUNDAY, Nov. 12
9:00am: ITA: Lazio-Udinese, FSC
9:00am: ITA: Palermo-Torino, GOL
11:00am: ENG: Arsenal-Liverpool, FSC
11:00am: GER: Hannover-Stuttgart, GOL
1:00pm: ENG: FA Cup: Weymouth-Bury, FSC
1:00pm: ESP: Osasuna-Real Madrid, GOL
1:00pm: MEX: UNAM-Tigres, UNI
3:00pm: ARG: Indpendiente-Racing, FSC
3:00pm: ITA: Parma-Inter Milan, GOL
3:30pm: MLS CUP 2006: Houston-New England, ABC
5:00pm: COL: Ind. Medellin-Dep. Cali, GOL
5:00pm: ITA: Catania-Livorno, FSC
5:00pm: MEX: Club America-Morelia, TELEF
7:00pm: ESP: Racing-Sevilla, GOL

And how about those Rutgers Scarlet Knights! RIP, Ed Bradley.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Carnival of American Soccer #6: Sideshow

Ok, three submissions don't make a full carnival, but perhaps this Carnival of American Soccer can serve as a strong sideshow as we await MLS Cup. Here's the topic, and here are the answers:

First, DCSunDevil of An American's View...

Second, The Manly Ferry of My Very Brain...

and lastly, yours truly. Hope you find this installment fun and interesting, and thanks so for reading and for your comments.

Marketing League Soccer

The Challenge, as posted by yours truly, for the Carnival of American Soccer:

Your commissioner has said that your three target market groups are, in order of priority:

-Youth soccer players and families
-"Core soccer fans"

Without changes to the league structure or season (i.e. single table, no playoffs, etc. etc.), and with a reasonable but not unlimited marketing budget, what will you do to give MLS the "cool factor" that will ensure an attendance increase next season and beyond?

The Solution (MLS/SUM take note):

Yes, MLS will embark on its twelfth season in a scant five and a half months. Preseason camps will start even sooner, in mid-February. Here's my plan to drive more fannies in the seats come April...

On reaching the youth market:
Peter Wilt has the optimal situation with his nascent MLS Milwaukee effort, hard-wiring the local youth market into his new franchise. Of course, real-life MLS clubs can't turn back the clock, but there are many things that can be done.

1. Have local schools "adopt" players. Given the transient nature of MLS rosters, this can be tricky, but giving schools and school districts "ownership" over players create the oh-so-important connection that pushes junior to get Mom and Dad to drive them to the stadium. Substitute youth soccer teams for schools and double your fun. Send weekly updates during the season on how your player is doing. Schedule appearances by the player in gym classes/bake sales/HS and club matches.

2. Development schools. Many MLS clubs (RBNY, DC) do this very well, horning in on the local soccer camp scene and actually turning kids into members of the clubs.

3. Soccer Moms games. Bring your Mom to the game to play against the other soccer moms at halftime. Have some of the younger players serve as ref. Challenge the town next door. Watch the fun ensue.

On reaching the Hispanic market:
As we know, there are many, many groups within this market, although the love for football is nearly a given for all (save Dominicans, some Cubans, Venezuelans).

Speaking from the New York region, the Metros/Red Bulls have usually held heritage nights for the larger Hispanic populations in the area. The national teams of Ecuador and Colombia play at Giants stadium at least once a year, usually drawing around 35,000 fans per game. These fans don't translate into MLS fans. How to convert them?

1. Roster spots. I know MLS rosters (in theory) are put together to win. However, look at the Raul Diaz Arce effect among Salvadorans in the DC area created. Early on in MLS, RDA was good for an extra grand or two in the stands. It has to work for each market and each team, but it certainly couldn't hurt.

2. Club competitions. Why shouldn't the Red Bulls host a quick quadrangular in a bye week each year? Colo Colo, Emelec, Olimpia, and RBNY for a week each summer should do extra to highlight the skill and quality of the MLS boys, and may win over a few to a demanding public. Yes, the schedule's crowded. Make it happen.

3. Passion. Reaching out to Hispanic fans through a special socio a la Chivas USA could go a long way toward building loyalty for the local side.

On the "core-soccer" market:
This has been traditionally been the toughest to reach. As we know, fans of the Euro or SA game have their pick of matches each weekend to watch, and stay away from MLS in droves. Here we go:

1. Bar Nights. Bring those Red Bull Girls (and players, those old enough to drink) out at least one night/week with some tickets & merch. Raffle off front-row seats, a visit to a training session, jerseys.

2. Live the Dream. Some MLS clubs are trying to sell in-season "fantasy camps" for four-digit prices. I'm not sure how these are doing, but reaching out to soccer hotbeds (park leagues) and giving these away, or raffling them off offers access to MLS clubs that are nothing like eurosnobs can get back home.

3. Meet the Marquee. I'm choosing to believe the hype about the big names heading to MLS in the next few years. Make sure that these guys earn their vacation in the US by getting them out in the soccer community, commando-style, popping up in places you wouldn't ordinarily see them. Attract crowds. Want to meet Figo? Buy tickets here!

Baby steps, yes, but with a little bit of effort, MLS can effectively raise the attendance bar. Go get 'em, kids.