Over the past few months, this site has looked at the structure of soccer in the U.S. both on the major league front and the minor league front to develop insights into how long this current system can last. Our findings have overall been very positive thanks to several marketing efforts that have been implemented by Major League Soccer.
First, attendance is the greatest cause for optimism. With attendance figures growing higher every year, and MLS surpassing both the NBA and NHL in average attendance, the league can draw the attention necessary for better corporate sponsorship deals and better media rights deals. The league has successfully increased attendance by reaching its target demographic where they live by focusing on sites for stadiums centrally located in downtown urban areas as well as making the experience more enjoyable with better digital connectivity (see San Jose Earthquake’s Avaya Stadium). Future stadium plans for Washington D.C, Orlando, New York, and New England plan to follow the same model of a downtown facility with 20,000 to 25,000 seats that has seen successful results.
Second, better TV deals increase the league’s exposure and likelihood of sponsorships. This can also be seen with the minor league NASL and its recent agreement to have the majority of its games covered on ESPN3. Thanks to better coverage by local stations in markets like Salt Lake City, and more consistent national coverage with the 3 guaranteed games a weekend on ESPN2, Fox Sports 1, and UniMas, Major League Soccer is expanding its reach.
Lastly, sponsorship activity has increased thanks to these new activities in attendance and television. As the league better attracts its target demographics and sponsors see the benefits of using MLS as a springboard for access to a live, captive audience of potentially loyal customers, the league can expect greater investment from bigger partners. We have already seen this investment start this year from large corporations like Mondelez and Coca-Cola, as well as with shirt sponsors and stadium naming sponsors like Bimbo and Stubhub. Merchandising efforts have already seen massive success this year, particularly with NYCFC which sold out all of its scarves during its inaugural game, many branded with the logo of primary sponsor Etihad Airways.
Soccer in America has a long way to go before it challenges football, baseball, basketball, and hockey for financial dominance in the sports landscape. However, these valiant marketing efforts that have already been initiated by the league could potentially help Major League Soccer achieve Commisioner Don Garber’s goal of being the “world’s best soccer league” by the year 2022.