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Pierce: Can ESPN2 game help RSL sell season tickets?

Published July 29, 2014 3:50 pm

Rare national TV game is a chance for Real Salt Lake to build its brand.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Real Salt Lake will be on ESPN2 on Wednesday (7 p.m. MDT) — the only time this regular season the team will appear on an ESPN channel.

On the other hand, RSL's opponents, the New York Red Bulls, play in six of the 18 regular-season MLS games on ESPN this season. Because of simple math:

There are 7.46 million homes in the New York TV market; there are 921,000 in the Salt Lake TV market.

"This is the way the world runs," said RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey. "The number of eyeballs in our market is going to dictate when we're on national TV and when we're not."

And given Utah's relative lack of eyeballs, it's mostly not.

Which doesn't seem to bother Kyle Beckerman much. Being on national TV "doesn't mean much" to the RSL team captain.

Of course, that's probably easier to say when you've just been on international TV playing in the World Cup.

For players who didn't get that kind of exposure, playing on ESPN is a big deal. It's a big deal to RSL coach Jeff Cassar, too.

"It's great for the club," he said. "It's great for the state and the city. It's an opportunity for the players to raise their profile."

And it's a chance that Real Salt Lake rarely gets — a chance for the club to be seen on a national outlet.

RSL's local TV exposure is second to none in Major League Soccer. Almost every game is on either KTVX-Ch. 4 or its sister station, KUCW-Ch. 30, and all in high definition. RSL has one match on ESPN2 and six on NBCSN.

And being on national TV is more than a matter of ego to Real Salt Lake.

"It's exciting for our product," Lagerwey said. "We saw an explosion in our season-ticket growth this year, and I think a lot of that is because we went to the final. But coincident with us going to the final was we were on national TV more times in the playoffs than we were in the entire regular season."

RSL's season-ticket sales spiked in 2014. The team sold about 8,700 season tickets in 2013; that number jumped to about 12,500 this year — an increase of 44 percent.

(That's also more than three times the number of season-ticket holders when the team moved to Rio Tinto Stadium in 2008.)

"I do think that there's an element of — we're an underrated club. Because people don't tune in unless it's on national TV," Lagerwey said. "So I do think it's a big opportunity for us in that way."

A win over the Red Bulls on ESPN2 would help RSL build its brand. But neither the team nor its coach is thinking about that too much. Winning is the top priority; winning on national TV is sort of an afterthought.

Cassar said he won't be putting on his best suit to look good on TV.

"I only have two, and I think they're both dirty right now," he said with a laugh. "So it's one of those two."

And Lagerwey said the ESPN cameras might affect him, but not much.

"As a player, do you get more pumped because you're on national TV? For sure," he said. "As a general manager, do you care a whole lot?

"I've got to shave and they might stick a camera in my face at some point if I'm yelling obscenities. So I've got to hold myself to a little higher [standard] with my behavior and dress."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.