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 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.
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.