MLS: Working the Marketing Machine

More Seattlish stuff...

(First, apologies, if you just flew over from Twitter based upon a certain Megan Fox tweet that bent the truth. This is, afterall, a piece on marketing. Read on friend for the connector.)

A great tweet on Sunday for MLS: 64,140 people watched Seattle beat San Jose in MLS this weekend. Only Barcelona, Real Madrid & Bayern had bigger crowds.

That’s impressive. Whether it was in Seattle or not.

MLS did a great job of playing up both the crowd expected in Seattle for the match as well as Kasey Keller’s last regular season game at home.

It got me thinking to a few other ideas that might work to help raise MLS’s profile–mind you the marketing group at MLS headquarters is doing a great job of it already. (Seriously, what other league in the States has chalkboards, gets highlights and polls up in real-time and actively courts rivalry.)

Anywho, ideas:

» Work the LA connections and have MLS featured in a cool flick

Invincible. Who's the MLS Papale? Justin Braun?

Something similar here to The Natural or Invincible.

Not like, say, Fever Pitch or Major League–though the Major League theme might work there up in Beantown with the Revs. One major problem.

Not sure if you can have a cutout of Robert Kraft in the locker room and gradually remove his garments and unmentionables.

The movie thing has worked wonders for companies like Motorola who cited their “movie placement-management” in the 1990’s as one their keys to success for their Razr mobile phone. (Hard to find a contemporary Motorola phone in the movies these days.)

There is a precedent here for footie as well.

The “Goal” trilogies. Goal made a sound business decision by taking a Mexican star, “Santi” and interspersing Euro stars like Raul and Puyol in the flick. The “Goal” movie (and there are two after it in the series) made $5M in the United States, but $27M internationally at the box office.

So here’s how you, um, flip the script.

Take the inverse.

Take an English player who comes over to the States (not Andy Iro, can’t be a defender). He makes the choice because….because…his mother needs a special treatment that can only be done in a hospital in…in…Kansas City–the customary BBQ, steer, middle American stereotype montage can take up a few minutes and also provide a sponsorship opportunity.

Giggs the Elder would be perfect.

Then add in an aging nearly-over-the-hill Euro star. While Thierry Henry would work here, go for some new blood–the wise sage of an old #10 who plays possession, maybe Ryan Giggs.

Yes! Who–in Europe–wouldn’t at least think about watching a movie with a Giggs appearance. Reality star or no reality star, the Giggs brand still brings a sense of aristocracy and inspiration.

Now invent a fictional rule that allows MLS to have a team play in the European Champion’s League and Ryan Giggs and Joe European go up against Manchester United in the big game.

You’ll have to buy a ticket to see what happens here.

I like it.

» The Brek Shea Pizza

Shea, the new torchbearer...

The MLS needs to put some marketing muscle behind a new, young star. One who is uniquely American, plays everyday, and can score.

That’s Brek Shea.

Yes, the whole health issues thing on pizza, but how about this: Every “something-th” pizza box–by Pizza Hut of course–there is are free ticket(s) on the inside of the box.

And…and….and they’re not sold in Dallas. (So the Dallas folks who actually do go to  don’t buy up boxes for tickets.)

They’re sold at every other non-Texas stadium. New cities learn about this mythical gargantuan of a left winger in Brek Shea who will continue to get exposure on the international level and MLS gets more new fans, perhaps, to go to games. Oh and Pizza Hut feels a lot better about their MLS sponsorship.

The pizza becomes a test case for other products. Like Dax McCarty Pale Ale.

» Open up the data, everything to developers  — no brainer.

If I did this cheesy graph in 20 seconds on Excel--showing playoff likelihood by month of the Red Bulls vs. the Fire--imagine what a smart person could do.

Nerd alert!

Opta data is great and MLS did a fantastic job of using their data and chalkboards on the MLS Soccer web site.

Now for that nerd alert part.

MLS makes all the data it can–MLS proprietary data, Opta data–available to developers through an API to come up with stats like, “In 80% of the New York Red Bulls wins Rafa Marquez ran less than 22 feet.”

Or, “Teal Bunbury’s shooting percentage on his left foot against a team wearing white jerseys is 10 times better than what it is when he shoots on his right foot against a team wearing dark kits. And check this out, it’s 20 times when it’s a weekday game.” Okay, maybe not the last part.

However, by opening up the site, data, platform to developers, free content is created. Developers love to tell their friends about the cool thing they did in just two hours using this strut

» Bring celebrities (read: “hot chicks”) to the Portland-Seattle game

Another no-brainer here.

With MLS coming to NBC, you’re probably going to see a little of it anyway.

But seriously, there are sometimes decent celebrity camera shots during MLS games. Usually they are of a Euro star or MLS official or Drew Carey.

However, let’s plant some serious stars in stands, especially up in Portland–maybe put them in some Portland garb as well.

Actually scratch Portland, here’s a better idea. Take a hint of the buzz generation when Robbie Keane’s wife walked off the tarmax at LAX upon his arrival.

It's working already, isn't it?

Bring the celebrities to let’s say DC United games at the tin cup of RFK.

And make them hot…chicks.

And then intersperse them in the Supporter’s Sections and in non-premium seats around the stadium. (Note, get the star to sign some legal paper absolving the legal of any issues with said Supporter’s Groups.)

Now quickly pan the camera around and show…hmmm.. Megan Fox….or Rachael McAdams or Sienna Miller sitting next to Joe Average Fan.

And here’s how the conversation goes the next day at the office:

Joe Average, “Dude, did you know Megan Fox goes to United games?!”

Dude: “No way, you’re shitting me.”

Might as well put a premium on those seats...

Joe Average: “Nope, saw her on the television. And she’s like a pretty cool fan. She was sitting behind the goal, wearing a scarf. And guess who else? Sienna freaking Miller!”

Dude: “Really? Why the f*ck are we going out in DuPont when we can drink beers, watch a game and sidle up to some hotties!

I don’t even care that it’s at RFK.”

Done. Dusted.

» Put a team overseas, blow out the salary cap and rattle the cages.

Now it’s not just the movies.

Lead recruiter?

What about–instead of Canton’s Cosmos playing in NYC–they played in say, London. Challenge Fifa, it will only give it more exposure. In fact, here it is. The Cosmos play in NY and they have to split their games between the two stadiums.

Only the stadium on Randall’s Island that is getting built for them is found to be above a snowy plover endangered species habitat.

So the team has to play in London for three years.

Now, just go out and sign-up all the fan favorites from the EPL. (I’m not worried about cost right now–this would be triumphant.)

So your “NY Cosmos” who play in the MLS are made up of say, young guys like Jordan Henderson, Chicharito, and Phil Jones and old guys like Ambassador Rio Ferdinand, Lampard, etc.

Got to have Gerrard. And of course Dempsey too, that’s a no-brainer. (First, Robert Kraft needs to get Dempsey his own recording studio because of that Revs thing.)

So in London, you have Chelsea, Tottenham…and….and…the Cosmos. (By this point, Arsenal has long since been relegated. Kidding. Kidding.)

So you have Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and the Cosmos who play some exhibition as MLS teams drop on over.

(Let’s just forget as well that Don Garber was the commish of NFL Europe.)

You get to this point and MLS is a global brand.


And if all this fails:

If all else, 72-year-old Jovan Kirovski can tell old school war stories...(a younger one here...)

According to Herc Gomez, we should just trot out Jovan Kirovski as an ambassador. Here’s what Herc had to say about his former teammate in 140-character takes on Twitter last evening:

He and I lived a few blocks away from each other in Denver (cherry creek). We would meet up in the afternoon at a starbucks in one of the main walk streets. I would take my dog and he’d show up alone, always wearing a velour suit (80 degree weather). we sit and he would share some of the craziest story of his European playing days… Telling these stories all while smoking a stogie. The guy was old school red army with a heart of gold. Awesome guy.

Che Soprano, the MLS revolutionary, I like it…at least there is one league this would draw from. No?

16 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Excellency on 2011/10/17 at 8:44 AM

    Maybe Seattle beat everybody’s attendance because it is “none of the above”.

    Once the corporations and their advertizement departments move in, we’re done for. This isn’t Europe. They will turn the game into one long advertizement lasting 4 hours.

    I just hope they keep bringing the old greats like Henry, Beckham, et al.

    Luca Toni is 34 ? Hmmm……..Who else is out there ?


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/10/17 at 9:13 AM

      Every sports league is *now there to make money.

      As long as the fabric, the aesthetic of the game is not disrupted then bringing in more revenue is critical to keeping better players in the league and getting better play.

      Manchester City may win the EPL this year. That’s reality.


      • Posted by Excellency on 2011/10/17 at 3:18 PM

        65,000 came out to see Kasey Keller off. Not anything else. We could into a long discussion here. “Occupy soccer stadiums”. that’s my corporate logo.


        • Wasn’t the ticket for the Keller send-off a part of a two-ticket package with the Manchester United friendly earlier in the season?

          Not saying Keller didn’t deserve a send-off in front of that many fans, but I think to pretend that 60,000+ came out just for him is a bit much.


          • Posted by Jared on 2011/10/18 at 2:59 AM

            Just because it was part of a package doesn’t mean that people will show up. I’ve seen plenty of package games where people had to buy tickets to an MLS game to see Euro teams and not show up for the MLS game. When I lived in MA, the Revs used to do that sort of thing all the time including on the same day and people would bail on the MLS game as soon as the other game had been played or if it was the first game they wouldn’t show up until it was over.


  2. Marketing is absolutely essential to any league, and without pushing the envelope or pursuing new ideas the sport (or league) will slowly decline no matter what it is. Look at baseball vs football in the USA. Baseball used to be king, but has never upped its marketing or delivery of the game;however, the NFL has dumped loads of money into marketing over the last 30 years and is now undoubtedly king.

    If you want MLS to succeed and grow, then marketing and more specifically aggressive marketing is a must.


  3. Posted by Nelson on 2011/10/17 at 9:37 AM

    baseball has 162 games a season. they make a lot more than NFL. it’s simple math.


    • Posted by Alex on 2011/10/17 at 1:14 PM

      Do you know why baseball can have 162 games compared to the 16 regular season games American football has (not counting pre-season or post-season)? Its kind of the same reason MLS teams haven’t been good in CCL comps and some teams don’t take the US Open Cup seriously.


  4. Posted by EFG on 2011/10/17 at 10:55 AM

    1) I would buy any product with a tie-in with Brek Shea.
    2) Is Megan Fox still a thing?
    3) @Excellency, Luca Toni to MLS is music to my ears. I would also buy anything related to Luca Toni.


  5. Posted by crow on 2011/10/17 at 11:26 AM

    If its not Bimbo, its not bread. Cmon the U!

    Justin Braun is the Vincent Papale of MLS. classic.


  6. Posted by s44 on 2011/10/17 at 12:39 PM

    Whatever you’re smoking… can I have some?

    In mild seriousness, though. making Shea the pizzaface of the league would mean pressuring him not to leave. This may have worked out for LD (though isn’t he about to split during the next window?), but odds are Shea would do better abroad…


    • Posted by s44 on 2011/10/17 at 12:44 PM

      Btw, Schwartz *did* make a major ass of himself… I’ll never be able to look at his own over-the-top celebrating after a win again without laughing (or waiting for the other coach to blow up at *him*).


    • I originally had Candy Bar in that post.

      You can just roll it into a grouping of stars.

      For example, The MLS All-Stars Candy Bar — 1st Edition: Brek Shea, 2nd: Luis Gil or whoever.


  7. Posted by Antonio H. on 2011/10/17 at 2:52 PM

    You lost me at Eric Cantona


  8. I have often felt some “soft marketing” would really work…so its not a player sponser…they could put say 3 players on some Weaties box…like Donovan, Shea, Brovo, etc so its about the league. We have those Hot Pocket half-time reports…why not offer some option for a short run of some special MLS players on the box. If its an issue to put the players on the boxes then list club logos or stadiums…even if only in a few local markets like LA, etc. How much would it cost to get some sit com person walking around in an MLS jersey for some episode. LD’s ex works on that one show…it would be funny if her TV husband wore an NY or LA jersey. Its product placement 101….its not like the episode has to be about MLS…but the next time some character is walking around his apartment or doing something in casual attire just have them in some MLS apparel. If you want to pay more next time rather then having some characters go to an MLB or NHL game let them do it at some MLS match (i assume it would cost more then just putting someone in a jersey). There are some celebrity connections (Nash, Drew, etc) and some of the famous players have some good connections that could be used to get people to games. You have a moving coming out? Fine…pick the 3rd most famous celebrity if needed from the movie and put them in the stands or a box. Even if you just reached out to some famous players who love the game….get Kobe to a few matches…heck…invite most of the Lakers out to a match. If you start to get a few getting camera time it will be easier to get more. There are plenty of options. The league is doing tons of great stuff promoting the game in a serious way…but they need to put someone on some more product promotions or even on some of the “softer” marketing that gets the teams, players or leagues out in shows and papers for some additional PR.


  9. From my perspective as a casual MLS fan, getting the website sorted was a giant step forward. The highlights, chalkboards and polls mentioned in the article make it much easier to follow and engage with the league and I like the official but not TOO serious vibe coming from


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