John Guppy

Are MLS Jersey Sponsors Missing a Trick?

Sports team jersey sponsorship has been in the news lately with the NBA announcing that Kia Motors will adorn team uniforms at the NBA All Star Game in 2016 and 2017. This development is seen by many as simply a stepping-stone towards a broader adoption of the marketing / sponsorship practice common in world soccer.

Jersey sponsorship in soccer traces all the way back to the 1950’s and became common practice around the world in the 1980’s.  It has also been part of the commercial strategy for MLS since the League’s inception in 1996.  During the infant years of MLS the opportunity to be featured on a Team jersey was controlled by the League and packaged to national sponsors.  Corporate logos appeared on the backs of jerseys, with the front reserved for showcasing the Team names of the newly formed league.  Fast forward a decade, though, and a more mature MLS modified its approach and allowed Teams to secure their own primary sponsor and place those corporate logos on the jersey front.

Since MLS commercial guidelines limit Team marketing rights to a 75-mile geography, brands entering into these partnerships are fundamentally doing so to address local market objectives and community ties.  However, as MLS grows so do the rights fees associated with local Team jersey sponsorship.  At an average investment level of $2.0 to $3.0M per year, brands now need to demonstrate ROI beyond simply local market metrics.

The obvious benefit comes from the exposure a jersey sponsor receives via television broadcasts nationally and now globally. Add to this the ever-growing amplification of game images via digital and social media, and the brand impressions start to add up.  This one-two marketing punch of local marketing plus mass brand exposure works for many brands and was specifically highlighted by Aaron Erter, Valspar Vice President and General Manager of North American Consumer Products when introducing the new jersey partnership with the Chicago Fire.  “Valspar is honored to partner with the Chicago Fire, which presents a wonderful opportunity to engage the local community, but also offers us international visibility thanks to soccer’s incredible global presence.”

But is there even more a brand can do?  Can they further maximize their investment by generating even greater value beyond the local market?  I believe the answer is yes, and the solution is cause marketing.  Here’s the premise.  Why couldn’t a jersey partner work hand in hand with their MLS Team to build a dynamic cause marketing execution that utilizes the jersey front for one game a season to help promote a select charity or cause-related entity?

This is not a totally original idea, of course, as a few corporate brands have done exactly this with European teams.

  • Standard Chartered, partner of Liverpool FC, has had a long standing commitment to the Seeing is Believing global initiative. Recognizing the opportunity to create a marketing synergy they developed an annual campaign with Liverpool that includes showcasing Seeing is Believing once a year on the Team jerseys.
  • Another example is Veho, the lifestyle consumer electronics brand and jersey partner of Southampton FC.  Veho has supported the Breast Cancer campaign since 2011 and collaborated with the Team to execute various fund raising and awareness initiatives as part of their partnership activation.

Sc & Veho

Why a similar marketing activation tactic has not been employed in MLS I’m not quite sure. The foundational dynamics are certainly in place.

  1. The real estate on the front of an MLS Team jersey reaches millions of potential eyeballs
  2. Digital and social media provides a platform to amplify marketing messages
  3. A large portion of the MLS fan base is the young socially conscious millennial consumer
  4. Cause marketing is a proven activity when executed in a smart and relevant manner
  5. MLS is a forward thinking league that could embrace such a platform

With the drive of a committed corporate brand, I see no reason why a market disruption of this nature in MLS would not garner significant national coverage; adding a valuable brand equity metric to the ROI evaluation of an MLS Team jersey partnership.


Categories: Featured, Major League Soccer, Soccer Marketing, Sponsorship