A Championship Game Loss…and Victory in Defeat
I’m sad for our fans. 5,000+ showed up on Easter Sunday, cheered loudly throughout the game and supported us in increased numbers throughout the season.
I’m sad for our owners Jim and Nancy Lindenberg. They saved the Wave last summer from extinction and actively supported and promoted the team like no other owners I’ve ever worked with.
I’m sad for our Head Coach Keith Tozer. He earned his 8th Coach of the Year honor by leading an injury and illness depleted team to the Wave’s 8th regular season title. Keith hoped to celebrate his birthday on Sunday with another championship, but his positive attitude serves as a lesson to me and the team.
I’m sad for the Wave players. They worked their butts off all year both on and off the field often without the recognition and public admiration that they richly deserve. Their good works and community service is unparalleled among teams I have worked with and equal to the success they achieved on the field this year.
I’m sad for the Wave staff. They worked long hours to create a professional atmosphere for the organization and entertaining and inspiring environment at home games that helped the team succeed.
And I’m sad for myself. Idealistically, I shouldn’t feel sad for myself. I’ve been rewarded many times over for any efforts I’ve made, but instinctively I always want more and it’s frustrating and emotionally difficult to know that it will be another year until we have a chance to win another title. I’m extremely competitive and I really don’t like to lose. It was the 12th time my team has been in a championship game. My teams only lost four times previously – three times at the hands of Tony Meola, twice on the road and twice on neutral sites, but never before at home. Seeing a team hoist the trophy in front of our own fans was painful.
THE PROMOTION OF THE GAME: We were a little afraid that due to the holiday conflict, we may have been hosting a somewhat private event. There were many people who understandably thought that playing on Easter Sunday was a big mistake. While selling tickets on a holiday is challenging we thought it was our best choice considering the options.
The game began at 5 pm CT, which gave families time for church and Easter brunch prior to heading to the game late in the afternoon. There were no perfect options. The League insisted on April 2nd, 3rd or 4th. Delaying another week would result in added payroll for both teams and three weeks without a game for the Wave.
Friday would be Good Friday and go against a Brewers home exhibition game at Miller Park (and an Admirals game at the Bradley Center). It’s also a work day for many people. Saturday had four major conflicts (Brewers exhibition at 1 pm, NCAA Final Four Semi-Finals at 5:10 pm and 7:40 pm and Bucks vs. Suns at the Bradley Center at 7:30 pm….plus there was youth soccer on Saturday afternoon).
We embraced the holiday date and made the game a family event with Easter eggs and a visit from the Easter Bunny for kids who donated books to the Milwaukee Wave of Hope charitable foundation. There were no other professional sporting events in Milwaukee that day, so we had the day and the local media to ourselves. Easter obviously wasn’t ideal, but there was historic precedence for great sports moments in Milwaukee. On Easter Sunday, 1987 more than 29,000 fans turned out at Milwaukee County Stadium for an afternoon game and watched Milwaukee Brewers infielder Dale Sveum famously hit a walk off home run to give the Brew Crew its 12th straight victory – and free hamburgers for all of Milwaukee – to start the season. We even brought Sveum in to the Wave game Sunday to try to bring the Wave some of his Easter charm. It seemed to work for awhile as the Wave scored two goals to build its lead to 6-0 just minutes after Sveum addressed the crowd at halftime.
The Wave staff overcame the substantial challenge of an Easter Sunday date, however, to attract 5,402 fans, one of our largest crowds of the season. The sales didn’t come easily. We didn’t include the playoffs in our season ticket package, so the normal base of about 1,000 was reduced to zero when we began selling the game three weeks prior. Group sales, the other major mover of the indoor soccer ticket dial, proved hopeless when youth soccer club after youth soccer club tried and failed to assemble groups due to the holiday. Even the old reliable pre-games and halftime games went unclaimed.
Instead we developed a plan to sell individual tickets by offering an attractive food and ticket package and promoting the game virally via social media and emails. We also called in favors by asking for email blasts from all the organizations we donated tickets to or made appearances for over the course of the season. Our ad budget was small, but we leveraged some of it and a presenting sponsorship of the game with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for six full color 1/4 page ads, two full color ads on the front page of sports and significant online promotion in the week leading up to the match.
The ad campaign, “What’s Your Championship Moment” found its way to many most Milwaukeeans via the newspaper ads, electronic billboards, hundreds of thousands of emails, posters, flyers, 60 second spots on five radio stations, on-air ticket giveaways, a series of blog posts on the popular OnMilwaukee.com website and even on Craigslist.
The following outline of some of our promotional efforts may be of interest to those who don’t often think about the behind the scenes efforts needed to promote and sell a sporting event. A more detailed, though incomplete outline was posted here to explain to fans who were concerned about our decision to play the game on Easter Sunday exactly how we planned to sell the game.
A) Contact all Wisconsin Soccer Clubs for email blasts and group, individual and family four pack sales.
B) Posters and Flyers at Indoor Centers
C) Posters and Flyers at Soccer Retailers
D) Email Blasts
E) Promotions, Poster and Flyer Distribution
F) Social Media
G) Public Marketing
H) Media Appearances
J) Other Sales Efforts
The League allows the home team to retain all the gate receipts and the visiting team is responsible for its own travel and accommodations. We were also able to sell title sponsorship for the game, which we did to Associated Bank, and we did well with broadcast rights as well.
We worked with Fox Sports Wisconsin to televise the game live. The Wave webcasts all games home and away live and broadcasts regular season home games on delay on Time Warner Cable’s sports channel, but this was the first game in at least the last couple years we televised live. While that decision may have cost us a couple hundred fans who decided to stay home to watch on television, it allowed us to showcase our team and sport to a wide audience that otherwise wouldn’t see the game. Unlike the late owner of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bill Wirtz, I’ve always believed that home games should be televised, because it serves as an advertisement for your team in the best possible context – your own fans, your own game day atmosphere and you’re more likely to be showing a win at home than on the road!
We actually made a little money on the broadcast by selling a few advertising packages, including one to the game’s title sponsor, Associated Bank, and by selling the broadcast rights to two different television networks in Mexico. So, when factoring in gate receipts, game sponsorship, merchandise sales, broadcast rights and advertising fees, from a business standpoint, we did very well on this game…who says we lost?
THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: The Milwaukee Wave won the trophy that was earned through 20 games over four months. The trophy that really counted however, the MISL Championship, and the Champagne that went with it was taken by Monterrey La Raza in a one game, winner take all on Easter Sunday on our home field. We led 6-0 in the third quarter on three two-point goals before La RaZa’s Chile Farias took over. His hat trick quickly evaporated the Wave’s lead and Monterrey went on to a 12-6 victory and the 2010 MISL Championship.