Back in March, MLS and MGM Resorts announced a strategic multi-year partnership that saw the entertainment company become the Official Gaming Partner of the league. At the time, we wondered whether this was just the first domino to fall and speculated the league may soon allow teams to partner with gambling companies as jersey sponsors. On Wednesday, speculation became reality.
In a move that signals a fairly hefty shift in franchise sponsorship rights opportunities, MLS clubs will now have the ability to negotiate individual jersey sponsorship and stadium naming rights deals with gambling and entertainment companies. From large-scaled companies like MGM or Caesars, to local companies like a Sugar House Casino (Philadelphia’s first licensed sportsbook), for example, all the cards are on the table.
Teams have already started taking advantage. According to Front Office Sports, the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls have discussed stadium naming rights deals with betting companies and D.C. United has had conversations regarding the operation of a betting facility at Audi Field.
Gambling & Soccer
Betting companies and soccer sponsorships are hardly new and have become intrinsically linked to the sport. In 2002, Fulham became the first Premier League club to sign a jersey deal with a betting partner, Betair. Since then there have been a host of betting companies who have attached their brand to teams in England and throughout Europe. In 2018, for example, over 60 percent of jersey partners in England’s Premier League and Championship were betting companies. As a result of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) being struck down by the Supreme Court in May of 2018, U.S. sports leagues have begun adding gambling and entertainment companies as partners and MLS stands to benefit financially.
😍 Stoke City are delighted to reveal the Club’s new 2019/20 official @MacronSports kit, which will go on sale to supporters online and in store at 9am on Friday.
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) May 1, 2019
Increasing Revenue Streams
For MLS clubs in states that allow gambling, this new direction provides clubs additional revenue sources, including advertising sales on local broadcasts and stadium and field board signage. Perhaps the biggest change this allows is in-stadium betting – something D.C. United has already begun exploring as mentioned above. Although clubs themselves cannot be licensed sports betting operators, they can work with different operators to establish private betting lounges or separate facilities adjacent to the stadium where fans can place bets.
Liquor Joins the Mix
Betting isn’t the only category now open to club jersey and stadium partnerships. Having previously been able to negotiate jersey deals with beer and wine companies – although no team had such a jersey partner – MLS teams are now able to negotiate jersey deals with spirit companies. This was done by the league in part because of the gradual trend of Americans moving from beer to liquor, as spirits have eaten into their competitors’ market share.
If MLS can open the door to gambling and liquor companies, it begs the question – what categories could potentially be next? For a league that has proven to be progressive in thinking and action both on and off the field, this shift in sponsorship opportunities makes you think. Could we soon see a CBD company’s logo emblazoned on an MLS team’s jersey? Whatever the answer may be, one thing is certain – MLS will continue to look for new ways to reach a diverse audience both domestically and abroad.