Monday, February 2, 2009

MLS sez: Downturn, what downturn?

Bringing back Playtherapy's question from the other day on how the economic downturn might affect MLS. The answer so far: Not so much.

That is at least the conclusion from a piece by Tripp Mickle (Is that his real name?) at Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal . In an article entitled MLS ticket renewals bucking the economy that published this morning, Mickle reported that:

Less than two months before the start of the MLS season, the league’s clubs are reporting that ticket sales are keeping pace despite the economic downturn.

Business executives at 10 of the league’s 15 clubs who could be reached for comment reported that season-ticket renewals were flat or ahead of last year. Only the Houston Dynamo reported being behind compared with renewals at the same time in 2008, while several clubs reported being ahead, including the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake.

“We’re cautiously optimistic because I believe there will be a flight to value and we offer value,” said Jeff Plush, Rapids managing director. “That’s important in times like these.”

(Houston Dynamo?!? Mister3D and I have already renewed for 2009, maybe we all need to take a long look at ourselves. :>)

But just one minute Pardner. Later in the piece, Mickle writes:

D.C. United, which averaged 19,835 fans last season, has an 82 percent renewal rate right now, slightly behind the same period last year, said Stephen Zack, executive vice president. As season-ticket holders decline to renew, the club plans to reach out to them on a game-by-game basis throughout the season to encourage them to buy individual tickets.

“We believe people who can’t afford season tickets are still fans and will want to attend games,” Zack said. “We’re hopeful that will help us get through this economic downturn.”

So Dynamo is not the only team behind. C'mon Mickle, as Steve Garvey once said (and got booted for), "Bear down!"

Anyway, Mickle goes on to list several ways clubs are being creative in going after renewal sales, like this one:

The San Jose Earthquakes are working the youth soccer ranks and the Hispanic community to unearth new season-ticket sales. The club is working with hundreds of youth soccer clubs to sell tickets in exchange for a percentage of the sales, and it partnered with local Hispanic grocery stores to have them sell season and group tickets, as well as a Mexico match to which the franchise is playing host.

Tell me exactly why that wouldn't work here. Speaking from personal experience only, I have seen so many Dynamo shirts, bumper stickers, etc. at my local Fiesta in the Heights than I do just about anywhere else.

But then Mickle brings the piece home with this series of observations, including a money quote from our resident team-building genius:

Three MLS clubs are weathering the recession without any problems. Toronto FC, which sold out its first two seasons in MLS, renewed 95 percent of season-ticket holders by October and sold 5 percent of remaining inventory in December. Expansion franchise Seattle Sounders FC has sold more than 18,000 season tickets. Real Salt Lake, which opened its new stadium with just two games left last season, also is weathering the recession. The interest in its new stadium has put its renewal rate at 83 percent and new business ahead of last season, President Bill Manning said.

Executives at Chivas USA and FC Dallas didn’t return calls for comment. Spokespersons for the Kansas City Wizards and New York Red Bulls declined to comment.

“It’s harder now,” said Chris Canetti, Houston Dynamo chief operating officer. “I’m not sure if it’s an excuse or a reality, but what I’m sensing is people are doing less or waiting a lot longer to make a decision.”

I find it interesting that Mickle reports Dynamo as the only team behind then goes on to state the DCU is behind. Perhaps he meant to say that DCU is the only team behind. For support on this guess, I turn to our very own Brian Zygo, Dynamo Planeteer and co-host of the 1560 Soccer Badasses Show. Brian just posted an interesting piece over on that paints a somewhat rosier picture for the O Range. To wit:

We shall start with the MLS, using figures garnered from ESPN. In 2008, the Los Angeles Galaxy, despite its poor performance on the pitch, had the largest total and average attendances with 390,762 throughout the season and an average of 26,050. Not surprisingly, Toronto FC took second place with a total of 303,623 and an average of 20,241. The top five was rounded out by DC United with an average of 19,835, Houston Dynamo with an average of 17,752, and Chicago Fire with an average of 17,052. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Wizards had the lowest attendance with a total of 170,769 throughout the season and an average of 10,673 per game. But don’t let those figures fool you, since one figure I found indicates that capacity of CommunityAmerica Ballpark for soccer matches is 10,385. Wonder how they squeeze in another 300?

So, the dishonor of having the worst MLS attendance for 2008 actually goes to FC Dallas. Despite having its own soccer specific stadium with a capacity of 20,500, Dallas only averaged 13,097 throughout the 2008 season.

(BWA HAHAHAHAHAHAH. Well, maybe the Candystripers would do better if they could outdraw Dynamo fans at Robertson North this year. Might be a nice change for those guys. However, official forecast probability: Low.)

So tell me again how the team with the fourth-best attendance in MLS is behind in ticket sales for 2009.

Anyway, the point is that while on the surface it looks like MLS might suffer from the economic downturn, actually it looks like it might just turn out good or even better. Professional athletics are generally recession-proof as long as their product is affordable and they keep their marketing and activities community-based. The leagues I think will suffer most in the US, if at all, are the bloated Major League Baseball and the NBA.

What do you think?

1 comment:

playtherapy said...

As we've discussed on ther phone- ticket sales- even season ticket sales- are small potatoes compared to television revenues.

As Amerikanske belts tighten which in some households menas no more cable tv- especially when the soccer channel for some providers is considered so esoteric you don;t get it on a sports package- you have to pay for a gazillion channels to get it.

TV advertising expenditures are shrinking- especially stalwarts like the auto and alcohol industries. How will this effect MLS and was ESPN's decision to cut Thursdays a portent for harsher days to come?