Thursday, September 2, 2010

Soccernomics: Timbers Sponsor and MLS TV Ratings

Good and bad news on the soccer front:

First the good: the Timbers have just announced that Alaska Airlines will be their shirt sponsor (i.e. the company whose logo will grace the front of their shirts) when they become an MLS franchise.

Considering only about half of MLS teams have a shirt sponsor, this seems significant.  Obviously Alaska Airlines thinks that the team will garner enough media attention (especially in the Northwest) to warrant the investment.  This is in stark contrast to the new Philadelphia MLS franchise that still does not have such a sponsor.  The Timbers still have the stadium naming rights to sell as well, so economically speaking the Timbers are off to a pretty good start, which doesn't surprise me as from what I can tell Paulson has assembled a first-class front office.

Now the bad: according to the Sports Business Daily, MLS is struggling with TV ratings.

"MLS games on ESPN2 are averaging 257,000 viewers for 18 telecasts through Aug. 17, down 9.5% from 284,000 viewers through the same period last year (17 telecasts) and down 10.1% from the same period in '08 (16 telecasts)."

Given that attendances are up this year and another major TV market was added to the league, there is no way to sugarcoat this news.  It is terrible.  Modern professional sports are all about TV these days and you would hope that MLS would be making progress.  ESPN is doing better at promoting the games and even mentioning them once and a while on SportsCenter.  A big reason for the expansion push was to increase the TV footprint.  It is a work in progress but the movement is in the wrong direction.

Which brings up an interesting economics question: are domestic MLS games and the World Cup complements or substitutes? There was the thought that the World Cup would raise interest in soccer in general and that this would spill over to the MLS once it was over.  But this hasn't happened.  Perhaps then people got their soccer fix early in the summer and now have no use for more.  Or they saw what top class soccer looks like and noticed that MLS still has a ways to go to match that level of play.

And speaking of level of play, the NY Red Bulls with Rafa Marquez, Thierry Henry and Juan-Pablo Angel suddenly look like a top class and classy team.  Beautiful to watch.

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