Op-Ed: MLS’s Empire State of Mind

Bullseye?

Bullseye?

Why “NYC II” makes sense … by TSG staff

Lucky number 20.

MLS Soccer is a chugging juggernaut nearly every way you turn the sphere.

You want increased attendance? MLS will say, “Yeah, we got that!”

You want increased franchise value? “No problem.”

You want increased soccer stadiums? “Yup, have you seen the House that Lance Enhanced in Kansas City?”

You want star power? “I gave you David Beckham, now I’m twiddling my thumbs on Kaka…oh and we also thumbed our nose at 2002 US World Cup villian Michael Ballack recently.”

You want ratings? “Okay … um we’re not quite there.”

A-ha.

Garber

Garber

A few weeks ago by teleconference, MLS Commisioner Don Garber–a sort of Rudy Giuliani meets David Stern sort of fellow–gave his annual state of the American soccer speech. The dialogue thread checked the box on all the customary questions around a funky regular season and playoff schedule, referee quality, Landon Donovan and swooped gingerly through the section on MLS expansion.

It’s a subject that Garber–once the man that NFL sent across the pond to develop NFL Europe–has handled deftly. Nay, expertly.

See Garber knows that there is enormous value–marketing-wise and league-wise–in moving “potential league suitors” forward as one even though there was very little doubt as to where MLS would cast its expansion shovel next.

By glad-handing and visiting suitors and their cities (“Hello Orlando”) and chastising them (“If only you had a stadium, Atlanta”), an extended  “Garber Hope Morsel” as we’ll call it is all that is, and was, necessary  to send would-be clubs into a tizzy, frantically spinning their efforts–like gerbils energy drinks–to please MLS corporate. This may not get them any closer to expansion–in fact in all likelihood it has no bearing–but for the clubs (Orlando, Carolina) it validates them in the community and for Garber and company it markets US soccer in markets it will hopefully reach out to again some day.

It’s an exercise in mass marketing–leaching off of someone else’s marketing dollars to drive adoption of your own product. Just ask FC Dallas who tried to get into a marketing war with Houston last year after Portland tried the same thing with Seattle by challenging their rivals. (Don’t think for a second those advertisements weren’t orchestrated)

The marketing churns in burgeoning soccer cities on the Garber Hope Morsel until they become viable plane hops in a more thriving league.

Pele once captured imaginations at Yankee Stadium...

Pele once captured imaginations at Yankee Stadium…

It was always going to be concrete jungle of New York that bred the next MLS franchise. MLS needs to swing a sledgehammer to jolt another audience increase, not tap with a few rubber mallets at various pockets around the 50-states.

It’s case of the law of large (population) numbers as much as it is of brand equity. And more acutely it’s a case of converting the obvious as well.

That latter point first.

MLS clubs–through their own druthers or otherwise–have done a terrific job of building strong, loyal fan bases. They represent the early adopters and the strong signal beacons shining the way for the next brigade of audience …. assuming at some point that musters.

Just turn on Sportscenter.

If you went back to your 2nd grade class photos, no doubt you can count the number of mates that you played soccer with when you all converged on the ball in a bid to kick it … somwhere. That same group of kids are not not likely playing soccer and likely not watching it. Whether through marketing, convenience or otherwise it is football and basketball that primarily capture the attention of the growing sports fan.

MLS isn’t going to convert it’s next echelon of audience from non-soccer fans to soccer fans.

No, what they need to do is appeal to the already-soccer fans, the European expats, the Central American transplants and “the global fanbase” with a product that is as good or nearly as good as the one they grew up watching, better priced and more convenient.

From the consumer side there is no better place to do that.

Depending on how you cut the numbers, there is conservatively at least five million (5M) people in the greater Gotham area whose roots trace back to Europe, Central/South America and Africa. In short, lands of lineage where soccer–not football or basketball–was likely the first language learned. (Let’s not split hairs over cricket, okay?)

To put that in perspective, the amount of potential to convert “already-soccer fans” (disclaimer: defined very loosely by that lineage) in the New York City area is greater than the population of next biggest city in the United States. Add on that Los Angeles–a city of 4.5M people–is already supporting two teams and you have what amounts to lost opportunity in New York to date as oppose to more evidence for selection.

Continually–population argument suppported–a New York franchise allows so many more peripherals.

MLS needs a club–a club they could trust that is, sorry New Jersey Red Bulls with your 37-year-old signings–in a sexy market.

More so a market that can: a) draw national TV ratings, b) capture the attention of free agents seeking a new cultural experience (Let’s face it Kaka isn’t going to play in Houston anymore than Sergio Koke hightailed it out of there.), and c) captures the attention of Madison Avenue.

How do you think it feels when MLS Corporate in NY wants to entertain a potential DP or a major national advertiser and they have to lope out to Harrison, NJ and watch that dysfunctional team named after a beverage product. It doesn’t really scream, “Opportunity” to the decision makers at the vanguard of the next b-to-b partnership.

As good as an organization as say the San Antonio Scorpions are–and they really are a tremendous story for US Soccer in 2012–they just can’t muster the cache necessary or the requisites of the corporate office.

MLS needs “NYC II” any way you cut it. They need it as the sole piece of driving programming to drag along ratings, advertisers and more. And other hopeful franchises need it to succeed as well … because it will make their trek to MLS “Team X” that much easier.

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16 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Benedict on 2012/12/21 at 6:45 AM

    Not a fan of term NYC II or NY2. It should be be NY1, as Red Bulls are and always were a NJ team.

    Reply

  2. Posted by matthewsf on 2012/12/21 at 6:53 AM

    By the way, have you seen the Nets — Knicks rivalry now. A 2nd NY franchise can only revitalize the Red Bulls. & capture the imagination of the city.

    Reply

  3. Posted by J on 2012/12/21 at 7:01 AM

    no. just no.

    Reply

  4. Posted by dikranovich on 2012/12/21 at 7:06 AM

    cosmos redux, it could be argued that it was the new york cosmos who brought the old NASL and pro soccer in america to a halt. maybe MLS and american soccer would be better off without the cosmos. the cosmos signed eric cantona to the front office and that should send up some red flags.

    MLS would need to keep a tight reign on this franchise if they were allowed in.

    our league is doing very fine with smaller markets like portland and vancouver, and all things considered, atlanta is probably a city that fullfills geographic nessessity.

    Reply

    • Posted by Dirk on 2013/01/02 at 5:50 PM

      How could the old Cosmos have brought the NASL to a halt when it wasn’t going anywhere in the first place? ….at least not until the Cosmos captured the attention of whatever interest in ‘soccer’ existed at the time. And I say this as someone who saw the Cosmos play as a kid in Giants stadium because my Dad had season tickets. The NASL was a nothing league until the Cosmos made it into something….that unfortunately didn’t last.

      Reply

      • The NASL 1.0 didn’t have the underlying financial support or the technology to stay viable. The big three of US sports were at their strongest at that point in the limited media of the time. My personal view is that the MLS, however much they want the center of the media world to have another team, should focus on the underrepresented area of the country. By developing a presence in the Southeast by promoting existing clubs and the strong regional rivalries would make NYC money take notice. It’s a chicken and egg question. Personally the groundwork for a logical way for existing lower level clubs to reach the MLS would be one to pursue. Why reinvent the wheel where their already exist rapid supporters and regional identity. There will always be also rans and mid table dwellers. Look at the rest of the soccer world. The NFL understands the product is the competition on the field builds everything else. Let’s face outside of large established cities, NYC and Boston, the price of soccer specific stadiums drops to a level of real money. Orlando City would more likely grow faster just to piss on NYC chances. I’d also like to see matches between the NASL and MLS teams outside of the Cup. It would be best for the entire sports growth. When the PDL Michigan Bucks year after year knock out MLS sides out of the Cup tournament it says something about the untapped domestic talent.

        Reply

  5. Posted by dikranovich on 2012/12/21 at 7:42 AM

    amazing grace!!! what a wonderful rendition.

    Reply

  6. Posted by SamT on 2012/12/21 at 9:52 AM

    Seattle and Portland have shown there is a different way, but it is difficult to argue with the logic. From a pure marketing point of view (based on the target market size you suggested above), putting a second franchise in NY metro is like a sitter in the six yard box with the goalie out of position. I suppose it’s possible to sky the ball over the crossbar, but it would be very difficult not to score. No other location offers quite that certainty.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Wimsherfan on 2012/12/21 at 10:17 AM

    I would like to see a franchise in Brooklyn. Does anybody know if that is realistic in the short term? The Nets just moved there.

    Reply

  8. Posted by manutebol on 2012/12/21 at 10:38 AM

    and what if NY2 is just NYRB 2.0. another team with poor local marketing, poor local support, zero local media coverage, and 17k attendance in a 25k stadium. Better yet, what if it’s just Chivas USA 2.0, another failed brand extension by a foreign club that has zero understanding of MLS or the American sports market.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/12/21 at 11:30 AM

      I don’t think that’s going to happen. Garber and MLS are keeping such a tight reign on that club and what happens.

      The Cosmos weren’t allowed to waltz right into MLS (they are now on their second owner since announcing their comeback.)

      It was written in to David Beckham’s contract–and perhaps just for leverage–that he couldn’t be the owner of a team in NY.

      Garber won’t get this wrong. Remember, he witnessed league and team expansion of the NFL in Europe. This is the reverse.

      I just don’t see–especially after the theatrics around the Red Bulls–MLS not being extremely stiff in negotiations with whoever is going to own the NY franchise.

      It will be a jewel and immediately marketed by MLS. A lot going for it.

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/12/21 at 4:55 PM

        Why isn’t Beckham allowed to have any involvement in a NYC franchise? I have heard this multiple times but what is the reason? Scared of Brand Beckham in America’s biggest market?

        Reply

        • Posted by Snags on 2012/12/21 at 7:15 PM

          He was promised the opportunity to buy a franchise at a discount. I read his purchase price at the going discounted rate would be $25 million at this point. They kept NY and LA out of that agreement because the markets are too valuable to sell a franchise in at a discounted rate like that. Last I heard, they are trying to get $100 million for NY2.

          Reply

  9. Posted by Brandon on 2012/12/22 at 7:39 AM

    Great read. I really hope NY2 does well and comes soon. I just want to see what is best for the league overall.

    Reply

  10. Posted by patrickhattrick on 2012/12/22 at 12:34 PM

    The idea of appealing to immigrants/people with a soccer heritage is interesting. Why not put a team in San Antonio? From what I understand, it has a very Hispanic population. Can you imagine if Puerto Rico Islanders were in MLS? No other Puerto Rican teams compete in any American sports leagues, and there’s a huge population of Puerto Ricans nationally. That would have to drive up ratings at least a little bit.

    Reply

  11. Posted by dude on 2012/12/23 at 12:01 PM

    Still think a second NY franchise smells of greed rather than a desire to improve the league. As tempting as it is to have the Red Bulls turned into the Chivas of NY, there’s no reason that the South East shouldn’t have a club. If the count stands at 20, another NY team not only robs the region of a club, but of a homegrown player pool.

    Reply

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