Business of Sports – The Milwaukee Wave

I am involved in the Company of Friends Chapter here in Milwaukee. The speaker at our meeting this morning was Robb Arent from the Milwaukee Wave indoor soccer team. The topic was the “Business of Sports”, but more broadly it was to get an idea what makes their organization successful.

On the field, it is hard to argue the point. The Wave has played in the last 5 out of 6 MISL championship series and they have won three of them. This year, they acquired the Milwaukee franchise for the outdoor United Soccer League. In their first season, they posted the most wins and most goals scored (unfortunately, they lost in the first round of the playoffs).

The business side has been more difficult. When owner Tim Krause bought the team two years ago, the club was losing $1.2 million per year. This year, projections have them breaking even. I think that is an equally amazing story.

*Here are some quick facts about the club:

# of employees: 13 in the office (including coaches) and 20 on the field

Player Salaries: There is a $330,000 team salary cap, meaning that money is split among all the players. Some players make $30K or $40K a season, while others make $500/wk during the season.

Revenue Streams
Ticket Sales: 40% (tickets range from $12 to $18)
Corporate Sponsorships: 20%
Youth Soccer Camps: 40% (more later)

Attendance: average 6700 people/game

*Challenges/Opportunities

Too many channels: There are getting to be more and more entertainment options. The Wave feels they are good at attracting soccer families. The trouble is when kids reach 14 they generally leave soccer and become interested in other things. So they lose the kids and their parents. The Wave sees some empty nesters return to the team later.

Venue: The Wave has played in the Bradley Center (home to the Bucks, Marquette basketball, and hockey Admirals) for years. This year, they have moved down the street to the older, but newly-renovated Wisconsin Center. Their rental rate is going from $15,500 to $2,500 a game. They also now get a cut of concessions, merchandise, and in-stadium advertising.

The Center sits 9500 people. You may think it is small, but the Wave love it. The players love that they will be playing in front of a pretty full house. The front office thinks there may even be opportunities to sell out a few games, something nearly impossible in the 18,000 seat Bradley Center.

Another big reason for the move is better game dates. The Wave was always last to chose dates after the other Bradley Center tenants. Many times, they had to play Sunday afternoon games up against the Packers game, and right before an Admirals game.

This has a big effect on attendance. Wave attendance averages 5000 people during the football season, and averages 8000 in post-January. The Wave believes that can do 8000 for every game now that they can play on a number of Friday and Saturday nights.

Youth Soccer Camps: Last year, the Wave put 4500 kids through their soccer camps over a 10 week period. Consider that the Wave puts more kids through camps than the other eight MISL teams combined. Rob believes that has to do with Coach Tozer and his commitment to running the programs.

Think about the other aspects to camps. It gives players a way to earn another source of income. It creates connections between Wave players and young fans. It is another great way to build the Wave brand within Metro Milwaukee.

Attendance: More people are coming to games than ever before, but people are coming less frequently. This means that attendance has been flat for the past couple of years.

This year, the front office has been going back to those one-time visitors and asking if they would like to come again. They have gathered names from in-stadium drawings and Ticketmaster records. The product they are direct selling is a 10 ticket flex-pack. Fans can come to any game they like and use any number of tickets they choose to at any time. Robb says they are getting a real good response to the campaign.

I’ll end with this.

I asked Rob what his philosophy was in marketing and selling the Wave. He said that he follows what Bill Veeck, former owner of baseball teams in Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Chicago, said (paraphrased), “All the fans are left with after the game is the memory. We want to make sure it is a good one.”

Rob said the memory isn’t just the game. It is how long you stood in line wide for a hot dog. It is how clean the bathrooms were. One way the Wave tries to create memories is by making their players available after games for autographs.

Like I said, it was a great session.

P.S. Here is my prior post about Mike Veeck, son of Bill.

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