Category Archives: Soccer

Global Soccer Leagues Turn To Digital Strategies To Compete For Viewership And Fans In The United States

The race to capture American soccer fans’ viewership attention just gained another runner.

August 14 marked the beginning of Fox and the Deutsche Football League’s five-year United States television agreement. Under the deal, for the first time, all 306 of the Bundesliga’s matches will be aired in the United States across television, digital and mobile platforms.

The announcement of Fox’s deal with the DFL signals the growing competition between American networks to obtain soccer rights and appeal to the growing interest in the sport amongst U.S. viewers. Under the Fox deal, the Bundesliga will join the English Premier League and Major League Soccer as soccer leagues whose matches are aired on American television networks.

While financial terms of the DFL’s agreement with Fox weren’t available, soccer leagues have recently been heavily compensated for their American broadcasting rights. This summer, the English Premier League signed a six-year contract extension with NBC to air all of its matches across the network’s platforms. The extension is believed to be valued between $800 million and $1 billion. In January 2015, MLS signed an eight-year broadcasting deal with Fox, ESPN and Univision reportedly worth $720 million.

While soccer is the most watched sport globally, the question remains whether U.S. viewership numbers can sustain the presence of three soccer leagues on American networks. Leagues, networks and experts, however, do not foresee any issue in attracting American viewers to the new soccer offerings on their televisions.

“The 2014 FIFA World Cup proved that there is a large enough audience in the United States to sustain long-term viewership. U.S. audiences have become enamored with high quality soccer matches. U.S. fans will watch good quality soccer,” said University of Miami sport communication professor, Dr. Tywan Martin.

Like Martin, networks recognize that the quality of their brand of soccer is paramount to securing the highest number of American viewers. “Americans like high scoring games. The fact that the Bundesliga is the highest scoring game in Europe is a selling point in the United States,” said Fox International Channels’ chief marketing officer, Liz Dolan.

The DFL echoed Dolan’s sentiments on a strong soccer product being necessary to attract a large American viewership base. “I like MLS’ claim that their league is, ‘all about the fans’. If you have that attitude about football, then no one can deny watching the Bundesliga. There is no doubt that the atmosphere of fully packed stadiums featuring all types of members of society is fan and audience based. This particular stadium atmosphere gives the Bundesliga a very special profile compared to other brands of football,” said DFL CEO, Christian Seifert.

Other American communications experts, however, think that the Bundesliga may have a harder time capturing the attention of American fans than its rival leagues. “There are enough future fans in a vacuum, yes, to sustain viewership of three leagues. The problem with the Bundesliga or Serie A, is that neither of those leagues is as culturally translatable to the U.S. as the Premier League is. Since Americans share a common language with Great Britain, it’s been far easier for American fans to learn about Premier League teams and players,” said Dr. Galen Clavio, an associate professor of sports media at Indiana University.

To educate fans about the Bundesliga, Fox has built a robust digital strategy aimed at attracting younger and new soccer fans to the league.

“The digital strategy for us across the world is very important, because it is such an effective way to reach younger viewers. We will run promos on Fox Sports, but if we want to reach younger and newer viewers, we must use a digital strategy. Sports is so much about breaking news, scores and details. Digital can deliver that so much better than television,” Fox International Channels’ Dolan explained.

Fox is heavily focused on its digital strategy out of the gate with its Bundesliga deal. The first game broadcast under the deal on August 14 will be simulcast globally on Fox’s YouTube channel. “This has never been done before. We wanted to make sure that we started with a bang. The August 14 simulcast from Munich will reach 300 million homes around the world. We want to introduce our first game to as wide of an audience as possible,” Dolan said.

Overall, leagues are bullish when it comes to the potential viewership and fan growth that the United States presents. “The U.S. together with China is the biggest football markets in the world. We completed research in 2007 with MLS and what we saw, is that until the age of 14, football is the most popular sport. There’s huge potential, therefore, for football in the United States,” the DFL’s Seifert noted.

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Building a Professional Women’s Soccer League: Part 3 – Securing a Television Contract

By:  Kaitlyn Kacusta, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter:  @KRKacsuta)

The new women’s league as a whole, if it follows the MLS model, can hopefully contract a national television rights deal that makes sense and generates revenue.  Though this may be a lofty goal, it is not out of the question given the recent viewer ratings of the Women’s National Team and the visibility of its players through vehicles like social media.  Also, a recent poll conducted by ESPN reported that professional soccer was the second-most popular sport among the 12-24 year old demographic.

The two most important women’s soccer matches in the last two years, the 2011 World Cup Final on ESPN, and 2012 Gold Medal match on NBC Sports, both played between the U.S. and Japan, drew 13.5 million and 4.35 million viewers, respectively.  NBC Sports Network may, in fact, owe it to the U.S. Women’s National Team to give the women’s soccer league a home at its network.  Thanks to the Olympics, the network increased its overall viewership by six times during the London Games.

Those 4.35 million viewers who tuned in to see the U.S. women take home the gold at Old Trafford was the highest-ever event rating for the network, which regularly broadcasts popular events like the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The November 3, triple overtime football game between Notre Dame and Pitt was the highest-ever rated Notre Dame game for NBC, with 4.3 million viewers – which is less than the U.S. women’s team Gold Medal match.  The third-highest rating for NBC Sports network was a 2012 match between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders of the MLS – in MLS’ first year broadcasting on NBC Sports.  NBC also committed $250 million to its soccer viewing options in October when it purchased the rights to broadcast English Premier League matches beginning in 2013.  This network appears poised to provide numerous soccer options for American viewers and offering women’s professional soccer only seems to make sense.

Despite the popularity of the Women’s National Team, the facts still remain that it will take years before this reincarnation of the women’s league sees profit.  The ownership groups have to be patient, willing to take the losses, committed to the cause, and invested in long-term success.  That is why the MLS model makes so much sense for this new women’s league.  It forces out investors and groups that are not truly committed to long-term growth of women’s soccer and are not active participants in league success.  On too many occasions, lack of quality ownership and management has been the downfall of women’s professional soccer Stateside.

The WNBA is close to finally breaking even for the first time since play began in 1997. When the WNBA was first established, NBA Commissioner, David Stern, stressed time and patience for the league to evolve.  Not unlike the WNBA or MLS for that matter, all this women’s soccer league needs is time – and three years is not enough time.

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Building a Professional Women’s Soccer League: Part 2 – The Business Model

By:  Kaitlyn Kacsuta, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter:  @KRKacsuta)

MLS has utilized a unique business structure since the late 1990’s, one that establishes the league as a single entity, rather than a unity of various ownership groups who agree to play together.  In this way, MLS controls significant aspects of the league: a strict salary cap, no debt, and a right to approve any financial transaction of each team.  Those who are the investor/operators have a right to operate a team in a particular market and share equally in the league’s national television, merchandising and expansion fee revenues.  The individual teams are entitled to stadium and jersey naming rights and local sponsorship money.  MLS also provides critical sales, sponsorship and marketing support to its club to improve team revenue at a local level.

It seems as though following this MLS business model is more viable option for slow, but steady growth that will not burn through league cash flow in three years, unlike the two previous women’s leagues following the standard sports league model.  The MLS model has thus far provided what a fledgling league needs the most, time.  While some of the individual MLS teams are still not profitable, league support and viewership is up.  Recently, the D.C. United Club sold for $55 million and Montreal paid a $40 million expansion fee to enter the league.  Not only have league profits grown over time, but also with time MLS has built 15 youth development academies for promising American players.  The new women’s league, if it given enough time, might also gain the ability to establish regional development academies for female soccer standouts.

Another interesting aspect of the MLS model has been the soccer-only stadium push by the League.  The soccer-specific stadium, first established by Lamar Hunt with the Columbus Crew, has undoubtedly been a massive cog in the MLS machine.  There are currently 13 soccer-specific stadiums in North America that house MLS teams.  Kansas City has become a hotbed to American soccer, averaging nearly 19,500 fans per Sporting KC home match at two-year old, Livestrong Sporting Park.

The hopeful women’s soccer league should also be played in soccer-specific stadiums when players take the pitch in 2013.  It is not enough to play matches on college campuses, with the occasional big game at a MLS or football stadium, because that does not create an image that women’s soccer desperately needs – sustainability and commitment.  Playing in true soccer-specific stadiums is a major step that must be taken for long-term growth of women’s soccer, even if that requires significant support from MLS.  After all, working together has proved possible with the NBA-WNBA partnership model.  Some teams in the new women’s league will certainly be able to draw fans, but others will undoubtedly struggle to fill seats.  By adopting the MLS model, those struggling teams can be balanced by the successful teams to a degree.  This attendance offsetting worked for the MLS this year, where attendance was the highest ever at an average of 18,800 fans per match and the team with the lowest attendance rate, Chivas USA, at 13,000 per match.

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Building a Professional Women’s Soccer League: Part 1 – The Basics

By:  Kaitlyn Kacsuta, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter:  @KRKacsuta)

We have been down this road before.  Actually, we have been down this road twice before – once with the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), and more recently, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS).  Now, members of the U.S. Soccer Women’s National Team are hoping to capitalize on the recent success and increased viewership from the 2011 World Cup and 2012 London Olympics to bring a women’s professional soccer league back to the States.

In August, it was announced that the remnants of the WPS, some other teams from the USL, and yet-to-be-named teams would come together to create a new league to begin play in the spring of 2013.  It is unclear where all of the teams will be located, but it is reported that there are eleven ownership groups prepared to finance ten teams next year.  U.S. Soccer President, Sunil Gulati, said at halftime of the October 23 U.S. Women’s National Team match against Germany, that an announcement regarding the newest incarnation of women’s professional soccer would be forthcoming.

Additionally, U.S. Soccer has thrown its hat onto the pitch to support this effort.  U.S. Soccer offered the possibility of financing some, or all, of the salaries of the Women’s National Team stars that they hope will play in the new league.  U.S. Soccer potentially paying its stars salaries is a huge commitment, one that could keep the league afloat longer than ever before.  It is unclear, though, how much U.S. Soccer can afford to pay all its players to join the league, or how it will afford to pay them year after year.  It is also unclear how this commitment will affect the Men’s National team.

Investor/operators from Major League Soccer appear poised to become involved in the ownership groups for the new women’s league.  In the past, MLS has largely stayed away its women’s counterpart.  In order for MLS investor/operators to participate in ownership groups for the women’s league, they must obtain MLS approval.

While the assist from U.S. Soccer makes this a new business plan for a women’s soccer league, in many ways it seems to be history repeating itself. The most significant issue is what, at the outset, appears to be the newly reincarnated league’s reliance on the standard professional sports ownership model – a model that has never been viable for soccer in the United States, for men or women.

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Teams Incurring Big Fines Due to Fan Behavior During Euro 2012

By:  John Fabiano, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter:  @Fabs5180)

Teams Incurring Big Fines Due to Fan Behavior During Euro 2012

Usually when a team is disciplined in soccer it comes in the form of a yellow or a red card, but the Euro 2012 has witnessed numerous teams receive hefty fines not due to the actions of the players or coach, but rather the fans that attend the games.  Spain and Russia are the latest teams to have improper conduct disciplinary charges levied against them due to the actions of their supporters.  Fans of both teams have been accused of racist behavior and racist chanting.

As the host of the Euro 2012, the Union of European Football Associations, UEFA, is the governing body of the tournament.  Every member of UEFA is invited to compete in the tournament and every member of the organization must abide by the rules and regulations set forth by UEFA.  Teams are responsible for the behavior of their fans, which are specifically included in the regulations as part of the team.

UEFA has a set of disciplinary regulations that are used for many of the competitions it oversees.  These regulations give examples of improper fan conduct, which includes the invasion or attempted invasion of the field of play, the lighting of fireworks or any other objects, and the use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, in particular if it is of a political, offensive or provocative nature.  Cases are heard by UEFA’s control and disciplinary body and the method of discipline most commonly used to deal with improper fan conduct is fines to the team.

Spainish fans allegedly started a racist chant directed at Italian striker Mario Balotelli during their match on June 10th.  Balotelli was also abused by Croatian fans whose racist chants resulted in a team fine of over $100,000.  Russian fans also allegedly engaged in racist chants, which were directed at Czech Republic defender Theodor Gebre Selassie.  Selassie was interviewed after the June 8th match and said he noticed the chants during the game.

This is not the first run-in that the Russian team has had with the UEFA disciplinary body as the team has already been fined three times for improper fan conduct.  These fines, which have been for the lighting of fireworks, display of illicit banners, and for a fan entering the field of play, have cost the team almost $230,000.

This type of response to improper fan conduct is much different from the way it is dealt with in North American sports, where the fans are responsible for their behavior rather than the team.  The penalties are also much more lenient for similar actions.

One of the most notable fans to run onto a field during a game is Steven Consalvi. His scamper around Citizens Bank Park during a Phillies game ended with him being tasered by a security guard.  His punishment for the crime was 80 hours of community service.

In a racist act during a preseason hockey game in London, Ontario, a fan threw a banana peel at Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds during a shootout attempt.  The fan was charged with engaging in a prohibited activity under the Trespass Act.  He paid a fine of $200 and did not have to appear in court.  It would be hard to imagine what fan behavior would be like at the EURO 2012 if fines were this miniscule.

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The Fall of the Women’s Professional Soccer League

By:  Danielle Blanchard, Ruling Sports Intern (Email:

After just three seasons, the Women’s Professional Soccer League has folded. In January, the league cancelled the 2012 they hoped to return by the next season. Although it isn’t exactly clear what led to the league’s fall out, sources say that the lawsuit between the WPS and ex-owner Dan Borislow were major factors in the fallout. In addition, it is reported that the league simply could not generate the revenue needed to keep itself alive.

The WPS was in the middle of a long legal battle with Borislow when they decided to cancel the 2012 season. In 2011, Borislow bought Women’s Professional Soccer League team the Washington Freedom and then moved it to South Florida and renamed it “magicJack,” after an invention of his. His franchise was regularly disciplined during the season for not meeting league standards, including not playing in a large enough stadium and not marketing the team under the WPS standards. Players on his team, as well as the WPS players union, filed a grievance with the league saying that Borislow violated the Standard Player Contract Provision, the FIFA Code of Ethics, WPS Media Policy and U.S. Soccer Federation Coaching Requirements. Players complained about the manner in which he spoke to them and he was accused of benching players that he thought were involved in filing the grievance.

In June the WPS moved to exercise their right to terminate his franchise at the end of the season for breach of contract, after an ongoing conflict with Borislow for most the season. Borislow filed suit against the WPS in August and requested an injunction to force the league into arbitration, rather than deciding the matter with the board of governors. The league cited reasons how he breached their contract, including his “unprofessional and disparaging treatment of players and failure to pay his bills.” This led the league to terminate Borislow’s franchise at the end of October 2011.

The lawsuit between the WPS and Borislow continued into 2012. It was thought in January that the two parties had reached a settlement, but after the settlement fell a part the league decided to cancel the season. The legal battle continued until late last month, when a spokesperson for the WPS said that they reached a confidential, out of court settlement with Borislow on May 18, 2012. Shortly after this settlement was reached the league folded.

Given the legal issues surrounding the league in its demise, how should it move forward?  The WPS will need to take a new, fresh approach in order to make a league work. It is not impossible, especially if the U.S. national team performs well in the Olympics this summer. The owners of the teams are largely at fault. It costs a lot of money to start a team, so the owners are usually people with too much money in hand that did not view their new soccer team as a business venture or investment, but rather as a hobby or a way to spend some time.  The owners did not really invest in the program. Additionally, many of the coaches tried to also be the business leaders of the organization instead of just doing their coaching job. It will be important to have a small group, kind of like a central office, that handles league affairs and then the coaches and owners. There needs to be more separation between employees and their duties so they can work together as a team instead of stepping on each other’s toes.

One thing that the old league was lacking was a proper business model that includes good marketing, fundraising, community awareness, and structure.  The result of this bad planning was a lack of exposure, exposure that was needed to make the program a success. A lot of young girls don’t even know that there was a women’s professional soccer league.

To make the next league successful, good marketing will be key, this includes free social networking (facebook, twitter), live streaming to watch games if they aren’t on TV, and the league could try and work/ reach out to people/ shows like Oprah, Ellen, and The View that promote women. It would be beneficial to get the players involved with the marketing also. Having fundraisers, both locally and on a larger scale would probably help too, there were none of these before. Fundraisers would help localize the league and be a benefit to both the league and the community. 

The league should also try a structure that is broken down by region, either by having a 3 or 4 regions set up (north, south, east, west or west, central, east). This would help save money by cutting travel costs and it would keep the majority of the games within one region, making it easier for a loyal fan base to follow their team around.

All of these changes would hopefully help to get TV deals with channels like ESPN, Fox Sports, etc. The awareness that these changes would bring would also help get sponsors. There could be league wide sponsorships that would be divided among the teams but the teams should also be able to go out and get their own sponsorship deals within their community.

These proposed changes may not have all of the answers, but they could be a helpful platform for the next women’s’ professional soccer league. Soccer continues to be a wildly popular sport for young girls across the U.S. and if a new league forms after these upcoming Olympic games and takes some of the approaches above, then a women’s professional league could stand a real chance. The WPS was formed in the aftermath of the last Women’s World Cup, so hopefully after a successful run in London by the U.S. national team anew league can form and do what no other women’s professional league has yet to do: succeed.

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