Marketing Soccer Is Getting Easier

MLS marketing and public relations vet Dan Courtemanche predicts a stellar 2007 season.

Had Dan Courtemanche accepted that office-supply sales job instead of opting for an unpaid internship with a sports marketing firm 17 years ago, he probably wouldn't have been ''trying to manage a tidal wave'' on the 11th day of 2007.

A few hours into that Thursday, Courtemanche's cell phone and office voicemail were full. He changed his outgoing messages, instructing callers to e-mail him.

''I received close to 500 e-mails from media members making requests that day,'' says Courtemanche, MLS senior vice president of marketing & communications. It was, of course, the day that David Beckham signed.

Back in 1990, Courtemanche, who played soccer until age 14, graduated from the University of Georgia and rejected a decent paying job.

''My parents thought I was crazy,'' Courtemanche says. ''Here I had a college degree, why would I take an internship that doesn't pay anything? But I was a marketing major and sports is my passion.''

After the three-month internship with the Strategic Sports Specialists, he was hired full-time. When it landed an account with the indoor NPSL's Atlanta Attack, they said, ''Hey, young guy, you're going to do P.R. for this indoor soccer team.''

Its leading scorer was Zoran Savic, now a Chivas USA assistant coach, and one of the ball boys was a kid named Clint Mathis.

Courtemanche promoted the Attack for a season. He then began consulting MasterCard on its World Cup USA 1994 sponsorship. While researching incremental sponsorship opportunities, Courtemanche contacted the Continental Indoor Soccer League, set to launch in 1993. Its founder, Ron Weinstein, offered Courtemanche the director of public relations position. At age 25, Courtemanche accepted, and he moved to Los Angeles.

''My last year there, in 1995, Preki was the MVP,'' says Courtemanche. ''Ron Newman was a coach. We got up to 15 teams when I left in 1995. Eleven were owned by NBA or NHL owners and the league was doing OK.''

The CISL lasted another two years, but in November 1995, on the eve of its 1996 launch, MLS hired Courtemanche as its director of communications.

''It was tremendous fun launching something brand new,'' says Courtemanche. ''I remember the expectations: 'Let's average 10 to 12 thousand fans per game. Then we sold out the opener in San Jose, and then we got blown away the next week when 69,000 showed up at the Rose Bowl. I think we averaged 33,000 for the first 10 home openers. There was a great buzz.''

But after the first season, attendances dropped. Two teams folded after the sixth season, and Courtemanche, desiring ''a lifestyle change,'' left MLS.

He had been living six blocks from the World Trade Center and was walking to MLS offices on Sept. 11, 2001 when he saw the smoke. He couldn't return to his apartment for 23 days.

The Women's United Soccer Association's headquarters were in Atlanta, where Courtemanche's parents, three sisters and eight nieces and nephews lived. He accepted the position of WUSA vice president of business development & communications.

But MLS welcomed Courtemanche back in 2005.

''When I left MLS, folks would ask me if the league going to survive,'' he says. ''When I came back, they were adding two teams, all these new stadiums, and the big question became how much is the league going to thrive?''

The Beckham deal aside, Courtemanche sees significant differences between MLS as it enters its 12th season compared to the early years.

''In 1995, there weren't a lot of decision-makers who grew up with soccer,'' he says. ''Now there are decision-makers -- in media, corporate sponsors, television, licensees -- who were raised on the sport and understand its power.''

Moreover, MLS created a sister company, Soccer United Marketing, which holds rights to the U.S. national teams, the Mexican national team and promotes club competitions like last summer's Barcelona tour, whose three games averaged more than 80,000.

''[MLS Commissioner] Don Garber formed SUM [in 2002] to roll up the soccer content in our country, so we can all work together,'' Courtemanche says. ''Before, the sport was fragmented. Creating SUM came out of the realization that to increase soccer's popularity, we needed to use all the other soccer content as a platform to do so.''

As for MLS's 12th season, Courtemanche says, ''I think you're clearly going to see an increase in attendance and TV ratings this year. But we still need to work passionately and diligently to make sure all those fans out there are taking a hard look at MLS.''

(This article originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)


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