In Part 1 of my interview with MLS executive vice-president Dan Courtemanche, we talked about Major League Soccer’s focus on the 18-34 year old demographic, a new initiative for improved game presentation, and the recent appointment of J. Russell Findlay as the first-ever chief marketing officer of MLS and SUM. Continue reading Part 2 as Courtemanche talks about marketing to Hispanics, SUM’s increasing properties and sponsorships, and the possibility of a 2011 season without the MLS-Mexico SuperLiga tournament.
Part 2 [Read Part 1 here]
LE: Is there going to be a SuperLiga tournament this year?
Courtemanche: SuperLiga is a property that has provided value to us in the past and clearly elevated the profile of MLS and the clubs among the what will soon-to-be more than 50 million Hispanics in the United States, a large majority of those being soccer fans. It’s certainly impacted that audience and there have been many positives with SuperLiga regarding it’s future that are still under consideration. We’ll have more details on that when our schedule is announced in the early part of February. There’s no final decision yet, but we’re getting very close.
LE: SuperLiga attendance has declined considerably in it’s four-year history, from 247,000 in 2007 to 150,000 in 2010.
Courtemanche: When we have the SuperLiga tournament, in some markets it did very well and in other markets it did not do as well. So a place like Los Angeles or Houston, where they have a large Mexican-American audience they came out in large numbers and SuperLiga thrived, and in other places where they maybe did not have as large a Mexican-American audience the attendances were not as high. And that’s something that if we move forward with the tournament, we’ll have to evaluate very closely on how we really engage the entire market.
LE: How do you determine the level of engagement by Hispanic fans in MLS?
Courtemanche: We conduct a great deal of marketing research, whether it’s in-stadium surveys, online surveys or focus groups. That’s how you gauge the pulse of all of your fans, whether Anglo, Hispanic, African-American or Asian. Second, we have a very, very active club services group that is on the road every week meeting with our clubs and getting information from them as to what their individual or collective analysis is on how they believe they’re connecting with different market segments. Ultimately, it’s that specific data conducted through marketing research that helps us make many of our decisions, much like most companies do.
LE: We spoke about SuperLiga marketing strategy before and you explained how clubs were encouraged to market by receiving part of the ticket sales.
Courtemanche: Correct, in other words, there’s an economic formula where the club benefit significantly if they have a large crowd.
LE: How has that worked out as an incentive? I talked to Chicago Fire and they did a lot of grassroots marketing and sold out. But some teams didn’t have the same experience, so how effective was that marketing approach?
Courtemanche: It differed with the markets, some markets were very successful and other markets not as successful and that’s probably a good question for some of the individuals who are overseeing those SuperLiga matches in those respective markets. Did they put less dollars into their paid advertizing budget? Did they have three home games following it in the MLS season and they decided to focus more efforts on that? It’s a hard one for me to answer.
Clearly our goal will be to have MLS clubs competing against a wide variety of international clubs, whether it’s teams from Mexico, some of the clubs that come here from Europe, and certainly every year we’ll have an international game with our All-Star opponent.
LE: Are SUM’s increased sponsorship opportunities and expanded Mexican media coverage why MLS reportedly asked for a much higher rights fee from Fox?
Courtemanche: No, actually that’s independent. Our discussions with Fox Soccer Channel are ongoing, but our relationship with the Mexican media or sponsorships with SUM don’t have impact on that discussion.
LE: It was reported that MLS was asking for $20 million.
Courtemanche: I don’t think we ever stated that we asked for such a large increase. It was reported by Sports Business Journal, but we did not conduct an interview with Sports Business Journal for that article. They called us and asked, would you guys like to discuss this and we said we’re having confidential discussions with the Fox Soccer Channel and we’d like those discussions to remain confidential, so we’re going to pass on the opportunity, but we appreciate them asking.
LE: So that might be incorrect information?
Courtemanche: Yeah. Unfortunately it is confidential information and I’m not sitting in those negotiations.
LE: In light of the definitive move to appoint a first-ever CMO, what are the top objectives for SUM in 2011?
Courtemanche: Ultimately, the main reason we established Soccer United Marketing was to grow the soccer audience in the United States and also, ultimately in Canada. We’ll continue to have a large focus on the U.S. as 16 out of our 18 clubs are here.
We’re able to use those SUM properties to directly impact MLS. So in other words, years ago, we didn’t necessarily have a very strong relationship with all the journalists in Mexico or the major media outlets. Due to our relationship with the Mexican National Team over the last number of years, we now have extensive relationships with all of the media outlets throughout Mexico and that has increased the coverage of MLS in Mexico and had a trickle-up affect. By that I mean, the fact that MLS is receiving more coverage in Mexico now impacts the Mexican-American fan base, because thanks to the Internet many of them are consuming their news and information on the Internet on websites like Reforma, El Norte and Recorde and consuming their news out of Mexico. If there’s incremental media coverage of MLS in those publications and websites, then that’s certainly going to benefit MLS, our clubs, and grow the profile of the League as a whole.
From a sponsorship standpoint, before the creation of SUM when we were just MLS we offered the League, which is clearly the mothership of all our properties. But now when we’re talking to a sponsor, we can say okay, we have MLS, we have the Mexican National Team, we have the U.S. National Team, we have Chivas de Guadalajara, we have tournaments such as SuperLiga, we represent FC Barcalona when they come over here to tour. So, it’s really a much larger package of professional soccer content that we make available to potential sponsors, television programmers and we can combine this and ultimately, the sum is great than the individual parts.
It’s true. When you’re talking to someone who’s in charge of a sponsorship budget for a company like VISA or adidas or Allstate or Anheuser Busch – you name it, they understand they’re talking to a company that represents the majority of the professional soccer market in this country. We’ve seen it with companies like Allstate, which sponsors multiple properties, like MLS, Mexican National Team and U.S. Soccer. Or Makita, sponsor of MLS and the Mexican National Team – or Castrol, which sponsors MLS and the Mexican National Team and the U.S National Team. By having one company represent all these properties it certainly provides great synergy for our sponsors.
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