One of the biggest problems that professional soccer in the United States has had to deal with in terms of brand growth was the barren area of success from south of Boston to Washington, DC. The Revolution, under the Kraft family, built a solid business in New England, while the United enjoyed both on field and marketing success in the Washington area. However despite one of the most fertile grassroots areas for the sport in the country, from northern Maryland through Connecticut, the professional game has never taken hold. Friendlies have drawn large crowds and interest, both the me.s and wome.s World Cups were sellouts in New Jersey, but professional soccer, whether it was the indoor game or me.s or wome.s outdoor play, never had success on the field or as a viable brand. Maybe it was the curse of the Cosmos, who built such a world class standard during the NASL years, or maybe it was poor management, the lack of a successful or viable soccer specific stadium, or any combination thereof, but the most ethnically diverse corridor in the United States has never embraced professional soccer consistently.
Perhaps all that is starting to change. This past summer, Sky Blue FC, the New Jersey base. WPS entry, played without any consistent home or branding, yet won the league title, and has spent a good amount of time engaging fans and growing their brand in the offseason in the Garden State. The Red Bulls will finally move into Red Bull Arena this spring, and will look to shake off all the ghosts of a disastrous business and on-field season in 2009. However what may even be more important is the emergence of the City of Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, as a well marketed, well run, and well planned area of expansion for both Major League Soccer and Wome.s Professional Soccer. Both franchises will launch this coming spring, and although starting in different homes, will eventually play in the same soccer-specific facility in the very near future. The effect of both teams working, sharing a facility and possibly doing joint marketing campaigns using their players and brands could set a standard for overall soccer growth on the professional not just in that market, but in other places that share wome.s and me.s teams like Washington and New York. The joint marketing of the sport in Philly is very unique. The NBA and WNBA do.t share seasons, so even though many teams share sales staff and have other economies of scale, their efforts are never truly unified. Also the fact that both teams are launching at the same time gives each the opportunity to grow together and find the right way to market the game.
They do not share staffs or ownership groups, but they do share a common business goal. to grow the game and feed off each other to make soccer a success, and success for the sport will make both brands win and grow. Now are there different fan base.? Perhaps. The WNBA has always played to be more fan friendly than the NBA and may cater to a slightly different audience, but the soccer audience may be the most similar, especially in a new city. Yes, me.s soccer may look to draw a slightly more ethnic club that caters to the club feel of Europe, but to mimic the runaway success of the recent expansion is Seattle, the MLS entry, the Union, will have to be many things to many levels of fans, and that includes the legions of young women who also play and enjoy the sport. Does the WPS Independence have lower budgets salaries and probably margins for succes.? Yes. Does that mean they will not try and compete on some instances for sponsor dollars and discretionary incom. No. What it does present is opportunity to share and perhaps create joint promotions that do cater to slightly different audiences but still love the game of soccer.? That is a very unique opportunity for brands in the same market in the same season, and may actually play in the favor of bringing in more dollars as opposed to splitting existing ones. Make no mistake about 2010 being a year of great opportunity for the sport of soccer in the United States.
From the World Cup to new stadia and a successful 2009, the opportunity exists for a jump to a new level, even with the specter of a lockout still in the air. And of all the places where opportunity exists, there may not be any one area greater than in Philadelphia. The area has long been a grassroots success, now i.s time to grow professionally.