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The quiet, understated success story of FC Dallas

Discussion in 'MLS: News & Analysis' started by superdave, May 15, 2014.

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  1. superdave

    superdave Member+

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    Those of us who closely follow the league are well aware of the amazing turnaround in Kansas City. Discussions of the future of Chivas and DC United often reference that turnaround. I suspect that discussions in the Fire and Crew forums also look at the Sporks as a model for relaunching a brand in an incredibly successful way. But how realistic is that? SKC's turnaround is just short of miraculous.

    But I think the similar, albeit smaller, success story in Dallas is completely ignored. Did you know that of the teams that predate the Chivas-RSL round of expansion, Dallas' average attendance is better than 5 (Revs, DC, Chicago, Crew, Colorado*) and only trail 3 (the aforementioned Sporting Kansas City, and the Gals and NYRB, which represent the US' two megacities)? To me, the Crew and the Fire, in particular, should be going to FCD and asking them how they did it. In all 3 cases, the team has an SSS, and at one time had very solid attendance. Yet FCD does NOT continue to drag the league down noticeably. Yeah, they're in the weaker HALF of teams, but almost all of the teams with stronger attendance are MLS 2.0. Average and median attendance would be a hell of alot better if the Crew and the Fire matched FCD.

    When Chivas relaunches, they probably should ask FCD how they did it.

    Since DC United is either going to move or get a new venue, maybe FCD doesn't have much to teach them.

    The Revs are in a unique situation of the "weak sisters" of MLS in that they're in a football stadium controlled by the owner, so they ain't moving, and they can't create scarcity.

    Here's why I think it matters. MLS is a socialistic league. So MLS will be a very different league if DC, Chicago, and the Crew can get their attendance and revenue up to FC Dallas levels. In the case of MLS, or any sports league, I don't think it's precisely true that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. MLB is fine no matter how bad the Marlins are. The NBA was fine for the 30 years the Clippers were a joke. But a league probably is as strong as its 4th-5th-6th weakest links. And that's why I think it matters what FCD has done, and what it means for what the Crew, Chicago, DC, Chivas, and New England can do.

    So, how did FCD do it? And what does that mean for the rest of the league?

    *There's a reason I'm not referencing the Rapids much. The other clubs I've mentioned were all strong attendance franchises at one point. The Rapids have never been a strong franchise in terms of median attendance.
     


  2. asoc

    asoc Member+

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    We have to take a real look at why they dropped off so much to begin with correct?

    We have seen lots of complaints about Frisco. I believe I have read some posts by Dallas fans going into a little detail about how a member of the FO staff who was good with fan relations in the community was let go along with a number of their ticket sales staff at one point?

    Now I hear they are actually making efforts and hiring more staff members and things are starting to improve again.

    I am not surprised. Understanding the community you are in and putting an effort into it goes a long ways.

    Whereas cutting costs in the wrong areas can lead to disastrous effects.
     
  3. Etienne_72772

    Etienne_72772 Member+

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    Ahem - Chicago!
     
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  4. Allez RSL

    Allez RSL Member+

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    Kris Katseanes left RSL as Director of Sales and Service in 2009 to be the VP of S&S in Dallas. Dallas's median attendance has climbed every year since then (average dipped in 2010, but has risen since then).

    I'm sure that Katz isn't the only reason Dallas has turned their ship around, but his hiring probably signals that the FO has been trying to do so for at least the last 5 years or so. It also might mean that Dallas has been looking to more successful teams (attendance-wise) to do so. Although, RSL wasn't exactly an attendance powerhouse during his tenure in Salt Lake (04-09).
     
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  5. JasonMa

    JasonMa Member+

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    You'll excuse me if I roll my eyes at your comment considering 2014 is the first time in 7 years that Dallas is leading Colorado in attendance. Your caveat of "median attendance" is a nice way of discounting 2001-2003 where Colorado was in the top 3 of MLS attendance, leading the league in 2002 (and no, it wasn't only 4th of July those years).
     
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  6. Zoidberg

    Zoidberg Member+

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    I think he is trying to say the Rapids are the old Wizards and current CUSA...


    ...fightin words! Move the Rapids!:D
     
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  7. Revolt

    Revolt Member+

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    A few years back (maybe more more than a few years - I can't recall) MLS started up a ticket selling program - Minnesota National Ticket Sales Center or something like that. I do not know if that has helped.
     
  8. Matt Hall

    Matt Hall Member

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    I thought the point he was making is that, unlike those other teams and their respective falls from glory, Colorado is "doing fine."
     
  9. Zoidberg

    Zoidberg Member+

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    Shhhh!!!!!

    A hurt JasonMa is damn funny JasonMa.

    The Rapids are jealous of Indy and Sacramento....they have owners that care and Kroenke is going to dump them as soon as he gets his LA stadium done.

    Pablo uses Head and Shoulders....there, I said it.
     
  10. JasonMa

    JasonMa Member+

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    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Boloni86

    Boloni86 Member+

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    Dallas produces the most talent for MLS outside of some parts of California and maybe St. Louis. Dallas itself produced Danny Garcia, Omar Gonzalez, Moises Hernandez, Jared Jeffrey and Drew Moor. Nearby Plano TX produced Kellyn Acosta, Corben Bone, Hunter Jumper and Dillon Powers. Grand Prairie TX has Andre Akpan and Chris Klute. Conor Doyle from McKinney. Lee Nguyen from Richardson. Victor Ulloa from Wylie.

    Not sure if these things are related, but Dallas area is obviously some sort of hotbed for people that actually play the game
     
  12. ElJefe

    ElJefe Moderator Staff Member

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    Basically, the story is that the team managed to grow its attendance from less than 10,000 in 1997 to around 13,000 in 2002, despite being league-run and having no money, through good grassroots outreach and great customer service. Until 2000, the team was run by Billy Hicks, who left to go to WWE to help start the XFL, and then Andy Swift -- who had been in charge of the team's Hispanic outreach under Hicks -- after that. Swift's tenure running Hispanic outreach and then as GM was especially useful in that as someone who grew up in South America, he knew the game and could speak fluent Spanish, and he was very accessible to all fans. He used to go on the biggest Spanish radio station in town on a weekly basis to chat with the host and take calls from fans. This accessibility and level of customer service is why attendance grew and why unlike most teams in the league, the Burn were able to draw around 40% of their attendance from the local Hispanic community, despite not having a big-name Mexican player on the team after Hugo Sanchez left after the 1996 season.

    In 2003, after HSG took over the team, they moved it to Dragon Stadium in Southlake, which will forever be the worst stadium in league history. Attendance cratered, especially among the Hispanic fanbase, and even though the move was in no way, shape, or form Swift's call, he resigned after the season, beginning a progression of marginally-competent GMs running the team, starting with Greg Elliott, who came to Dallas from Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the San Jose Sharks and who for a time ran the Earthquakes.

    But he had no clue about how to sell the Burn (which was renamed to FC Dallas and adopted the execrable hooped jerseys under his watch) and although he was smart enough to get his new bosses to move the team back to the Cotton Bowl while the new stadium was built in Frisco, he didn't know how to get all the fans back -- especially the brown ones. If you look at the Burn's 2004 attendance, it's more or less what the 2002 attendance was if you took away the 40% or so Hispanic attendance. And to be honest, I heard words coming out of his mouth in person that told me that this was not a particular concern to him and that they didn't need to do anything unique to get those fans back.

    Some people have said that those fans held a grudge against the team for moving to Southlake. Please. This was not exactly the move of the Browns to Baltimore. Nobody had lifelong connections to the team's playing at the Cotton Bowl or such deep feeling of betrayal by the move. Dragon Stadium was just a shitty venue in 30 different ways, and the right GM would've been able to get those fans back in short order. Unfortunately, somebody who could've gotten the fans back resigned after the 2003 season for a mistake he didn't make.

    Anyway, like I said, the team was run by marginally-competent GMs (and I might be charitable in that description) for the next six seasons after Andy Swift stepped down after the 2003 season. During that time, FCD opened its new stadium in Frisco. Of course, in the usual shooting-oneself-in-the-foot manner in which the team was run at the team, the stadium was half complete when it opened in August 2005 and for the remainder of the 2005 season, due in large part to screwups by the lead contractor on the project, which didn't exactly convey the best impression on folks when they came. It might've been a better idea to delay the opening until the 2006 seasons, except that MLS Cup 2005 was going to be held there. Still, it was one more issue in which team management showed that they weren't exactly up to running a professional sports team competently.

    And this period of chronic incompetence by team management coincided with the first several years of Pizza Hut Park (now Toyota Stadium), leading people to jump to the spurious conclusion that the location was the problem in that allegedly no one lived nearby. Yes, it's a drive for lots of people, but people continue to miss something about D/FW: Because of its geography (two large cities 30 miles apart, surrounded by countless cities, 12 of which have more than 100,000 residents apiece) there is literally no place in D/FW that is not at least 30 minutes' drive for multiple millions of people -- no place, none, zero. I challenge anyone to refute this statement. So the stadium was 45 minutes up the Tollway from downtown Dallas? Big ********ing deal. No one lives in downtown Dallas, and at least a couple million people live within 30 minutes, and those people would've had as long or longer to drive to downtown Dallas than they would to the corner of Main St. and Dallas Pkwy in Frisco.

    And let's get one goddamned thing straight: In 2003, there were two choices for the Burn as far as a stadium was concerned: Frisco, or losing money hand over fist at the Cotton Bowl. And the latter would not have been an option because MLS would've sooner given the team the contraction dirt nap instead of the Miami Fusion. So if you're one of those dimwits who think that HSG was foolish to build in Frisco, let me tell you that I like that stadium situation a whole friggin' lot more than Mutiny and Fusion fans like their stadium situations.

    But those of us who pointed out this very simple fact of geography and demographics to the clueless and pointed out the utter cluelessness of team management were called all sorts of names, like "idiot," "clueless," and "sycophant," and we were accused of "making excuses for Dallas' pathetic attendance." Some dimwitted, know-it-all San Jose fan (admit it, you were thinking "San Jose fan" before I wrote it) even posted a graphic of a map from the '80s to show that OMGWTFBBQ PIZZA HUT PARK IS SO FAR AWAY. So if y'all out there are sick of my recycling the "they moved the stadium closer to downtown Dallas" joke whenever FCD puts up a good number, I still owe you a few more seasons of that joke, since shockingly, the number of people who have posted "I was really, really wrong about Frisco and y'all were right" is roughly zero. So buckle up, bitches.

    Finally, in 2009, HSG fired the last of the marginally competent GMs, Michael Hitchcock, and replaced him Doug Quinn. Whatever issues Quinn may or may not have in his personal life (and at worst, they're pretty friggin' bad), he knew what he was doing with respect to selling the team and he brought in good people to implement that vision, like the aforementioned Kris Katseanes, so that when Quinn left last year, the growth in attendance has continued. And this goes back what other FCD fans and I said all along: The problem was that the team was being run by idiots.

    Either that, or they've moved the stadium closer to downtown Dallas.
     
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  13. Ghost

    Ghost Member+

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    As a Dallas resident in a holding pattern on FCD, they've taken pains in recent years to create tradition and ritual. And they reach out digitally constantly and generally work their tails off. Plus, the economy is better here than elsewhere. If the effort on the field matched the effort off it, it wouldn't take much to get me there.
     
  14. Matt Hall

    Matt Hall Member

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    It was a bad joke, re: an attendance thread from last year. I should know better than to make a reference to my own comments...
     
  15. MUTINYFAN

    MUTINYFAN Member

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    What do Dallas fans think of the FC Dallas name? Do the fans like it or would they prefer something more unique than just FC or a throwback name like Dallas Tornado. The Burn was a horrible name for any sports team so I could understand ditching that name.
     
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  16. Papillon Soo Soo

    Papillon Soo Soo Member

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    Attention from ownership and front office competence.

    I'm hopeful about the new Crew owner, he seems like he cares. Chicago, DC, NE and Colorado's owners don't seem like they do.
     
  17. AndyMead

    AndyMead America Uber Alles

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    It's not "socialism". It's "mercantilism".

    If you don't believe me, wait for the CBA negotiations.
     
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  18. superdave

    superdave Member+

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    But what is that? SKC did some really innovative things with regard to the stadium. Plus, the couple of years in Community Ballpark created a sense of scarcity. Etc. etc.

    What are the specific things that Quinn did? I'm getting the sense from your post that the white/black crowd hasn't changed, just that FCD has recaptured the Hispanic fan. So, how did they do it?

    If that's what happened, then I doubt the lessons of FCD are applicable to the Crew or DC United. Don't know about Chicago for sure, but sense from the occasional bitching from Fire fans is that the front office doesn't give a shit in general, no matter your ethnic group.
     
  19. Matt Hall

    Matt Hall Member

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    You've said something along these lines before. I think that is wrong, and socialism works as far as it goes (which is not far; we are talking about an interesting wrinkle in behavior that is otherwise well described by its dominant characteristic, standard monopolist/monopsonist behavior in a market economy). But maybe I'm misunderstanding you; what aspect of MLS ownership behavior strikes you as mercantilist?

    The socialism argument is a simple one - people like superdave (and Art Modell) are referring to common American sports leagues characteristics such as the joint ownership of league assets, redistribution of revenues, sharing of expenses, and preference that most/all owners share in profitability rather than just the league as a combined entity.

    I think this observation works towards the point that the 25th percentile of ownership needs to see the benefits of a growing league before more investment (e.g., higher salaried players) will be made. The weakness of the argument is that TV money will be the largest source of growth, and it is already shared, so ... where's the beef?

    Edited to add - I guess local TV money could be pretty important. I always forget about that point.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2014
  20. ElJefe

    ElJefe Moderator Staff Member

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    If I left you with that impression that they've only recaptured the Hispanic fan, I'm sorry. And I'm not really a good person to answer the question, since I haven't lived in D/FW since 2007, but I have continued to be a season-ticket holder. I'm not even sure that they've rebuilt the Hispanic fanbase to the percentages that they had at the turn of the century.

    My impression as a farflung season-ticket holder is that they're doing a more competent job of fan outreach and customer care. They're building the season ticket holder numbers. They've raised their profile on social media by consistently providing news updates and video content. (Some of the occasional bits that they've done on FCD TV have been a little corny, but they get shared, and it's not something that they didn't do several years ago) They've done a better job of nurturing the hardcore fanbase and developing more of a lively atmosphere through the development of the beer garden. Dan Hunt has had more visibility and interaction with the fanbase. Overall, they're doing a better job of presenting themselves as a serious professional sports team worthy of fans' dollars. They feel a lot more like one of the other four major league professional teams in the D/FW area than they did 10-15 years ago.

    In other words, they're not doing anything groundbreaking or unique, but they're also not doing anything that the teams that you mentioned can't do, for the most part. Get yourself in front of the fans, get them out to the park, take care of them while they're there, and keep them engaged afterward.
     
  21. profiled

    profiled Moderator Staff Member

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    Having been a season ticket holder since 2006 there, I don't think the percentage of fans white or hispanic or other has really changed a whole lot.

    The difference definitely seems to be the number of non hardcore fans (not sure casual is the correct word or not).

    The growth of the Beer Garden + some other groups that have popped up the last couple of years (DFE in Section 103), has really improved the atmosphere at games drastically, especially after having the supporters section move around quite a bit a few years ago, now they seem settled and have a good thing going.

    There also seems to be in general more of a community push, not just with kids/youth soccer but throughout the stores/shops in Frisco and the areas which keeps peoples awareness up and reminds people that there is a good, fun and relatively cheap sports/entertainment venture in Frisco.

    [​IMG]

    Just a minor bump in attendance + the improved supporters atmosphere has improved the game day experience drastically. It used to be that the game against LA, the 4th of July game and then possibly a playoff game would get good (17k+ crowds) atmosphere, but now most games are similar to the "event" games of the past which is a huge thing in getting the casuals excited and looking forward to coming back.

    They've also done an extraordinary job (perhaps to their own $$$ flow) by having nearly continuous chances since 2010 to renew your season tickets early and keep the existing price, which really helps the renewal rates, which also helps.

    I also get the feeling that there's just more acceptance of soccer in general in the area which has sort of pushed FC Dallas up in stature some what, though it's still not uncommon for the un-educated masses to come with their Messi or Ronaldo shirts and complain that the level of soccer isn't anywhere near the best in the world, and drone on about how much better X is then Y. Not the best thing in the world, but at least they are at the games.

    This year has been super eventful with nearly all the games at home being exciting and action packed which also helps as well, and there seems to be a general sense of enthusiasm and excitement for the young team and coach, hopefully the bad losing streak and injury people ups don't hurt that too much the rest of the year and the momentum keeps building.

    Also the fact that Frisco has nearly doubled in population since the stadium opened in 2005, the surrounding areas have continued to boom as well (Prosper, Little Elm, Allen, McKinney, etc) has moved the stadium even closer to downtown Dallas, which again doesn't hurt.
     
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  22. Hitman

    Hitman Member

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    I'll chime in here, although Dustin has done really an expert job and I totally agree with him.

    The FO is miles better, has done numerous things to improve relations, game day experience and the on the field product. (although Dan Hunt's personal insistence to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and his "3 More Points" chant during the scarfing ceremony is embarrassingly painful to endure)

    I, like Dustin, refuse to buy into the location issue. Yes, I realize that MLS as a whole has decided the "let's get the family" strategy is no longer a good one, and the "let's attract the single, working, youthful 20something bearded Mumford looking white guy who lives in an urban environment" is the new one. But in the case of Dallas, it's really a matter of revisionist history if anyone tries to tell you MLS had any other choice between "Frisco" and "Shutting it down". And frankly I'm not convinced a soccer stadium planted at the old Reunion Arena location downtown would do any better with a losing side, and crappy marketing.

    I really wonder why no one is talking about Houston. By all accounts they have the ideal location, but I continue to tune into games and see giant spaces of empty seats... Why? With that downtown spot, how could it not be full? (btw, Houston and Dallas are very similar in geographic layout).

    The one matter that continues to haunt the team, is the name. (it was also the hoop's jerseys, but they addressed that this season). The decision to call it "FC Dallas" has done nothing more than cause confusion and ridicule. Trying to explain what "FC" stands for, and then why the word football is included in the name for a soccer team is painful and defeating. Hearing the sport radio guys mock it by referring to the team as "The FCer's" - well is funny, but sad. It was a decision by the Hunts that will forever make it just that more difficult to market this team.

    And speaking of marketing: That is the one single, glaring area HSG has completely screwed itself and continues to do so.

    HSG simply can't get out of its own way and find/hire a proper PR/marketing firm to set a proper course to really research and market the club to the DFW area. If they would invest the dollars properly to do just that, and follow through with it, I have ZERO doubt Toyota Stadium would be near 20K for 16 games a season. No doubt at all. But they refuse. And the growth they've seen is fractional compared to what it could be.

    Facts: There are 3 million people living within a 30 minute radius of that stadium. Filling it with 20K means that less than 0.67% have to show up. LESS THAN 1%, and that's just within that small radius. There are double that number of residents if you increase that radius to 60 minutes - and most of those drive a similar distance to work everyday!

    This really is a simple, effective and strong, marketing campaign solution away from being right.
     
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  23. JasonMa

    JasonMa Member+

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    Oddly I think Colorado is in a similar situation on the marketing front. The marketing, or lack of it, astounds me sometimes. Last night I was watching the Tour of California on NBC Sports Network and a commercial aired for Soccer Stop, a local 4(?) store chain of soccer stores. I've already seen that commercial 3-4 times this week as we lead into the World Cup, which is more than I've seen commercials for the Rapids outside of Altitude (which I only watch during Rapids games). When a local 4-store chain is doing a better job of marketing the sport than the local pro club, something is wrong.
     
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  24. Allez RSL

    Allez RSL Member+

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    Does anyone here have any experience in marketing? I read things like this from time to time on BS about various teams, and I agree that it seems like an easy and obvious solution. But these teams don't do it. Do they just not care? Are they allergic to money?

    Or is it just not as simple as I think it looks?
     
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  25. Papillon Soo Soo

    Papillon Soo Soo Member

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    I don't have marketing experience, but my guess is marketing/outreach is one of those things that the owners study the cost/benefit of doing. For some, it might be too much of an expenditure for the results they would get out of it, and therefore they don't do much of it.

    We as fans felt the "do they just not care?" and "are they allergic to money?" when the reserve league went away. As fans, these are obvious no-brainer moves that would improve the product and experience. But for the owners, the financial benefit didn't pencil out.
     
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