Chris Stearns

Midyear Soccer Marketing Review

2017 has been quite the year on-and-off the pitch so far. The first six months of the year have seen Chelsea win the Premier League, Real Madrid extending their trophy cabinet with a record 12th Champions League trophy, and Bruce Arena getting the USMNT World Cup Qualifying campaign back on track. We’ve also seen Germany’s “B team” lift the Confederations Cup, the NWSL sign a new television and online streaming deal and much more.

For all of the on-field news, there’s just as much going on behind the scenes in the business world. As we enter the second half of the year, we wanted to take a look back at some of the bigger soccer business stories from the first six months of 2017. We’ll also take a look at some of the upcoming stories we’re keeping an eye on to close out the calendar year.

The Rise of Streaming

Between cord cutters becoming more prominent throughout society, people easily able to get match recaps via social media and apps, and bar/supporter culture, television viewership numbers are trending downward. Digital streaming, whether from a smart TV, computer, tablet, or phone, continues to grow as fans now have more ways to watch matches than ever before.

Facebook has been leading the way when it comes to soccer streaming and they’ve already announced three major deals in the first half of this year. Earlier this year, both MLS and LigaMX announced Facebook Live streaming deals through the Univision Sports Facebook page. Most recently, FOX Sports announced they teamed up with Facebook to broadcast select matches from the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League starting in the group stage and going through the Quarterfinals.

A big component of our 2017 Digital Soccer Fan Report showcased the rise of streaming. Surprisingly, or maybe not, television is the platform of choice for live streaming matches. With connected televisions, OTT devices and numerous TV plugins/services, combined with a bigger screen than laptop or mobile device, it’s actually easy to see why streaming is king on television sets.

 Growth of MLS

Our stateside league continues to grow in multiple ways, with a strong first half of 2017.

Atlanta United and Minnesota United entered MLS this season and both have made strides both on the field and from a business standpoint. Other teams are also generating business and social media news:

  • Atlanta United’s Twitter account is the largest in MLS with over 571K followers. The next largest team, the Seattle Sounders, currently boast 427K.
  • Atlanta also currently lead the league in average attendance at over 46,000 people per match. Expect that number to increase when they move into Mercedes-Benz Stadium starting September.
  • Minnesota United are about to break ground on their own stadium, with the aim to play the first matches, in the 2019 season.
  • MLS and Minnesota United announced partnerships with Target ahead of the season. The iconic bullseye logo adorns the first jersey of the hometown Loons, while the retailer also became an official league partner.
  • Part of the league deal makes Target the new sponsor of the MLS All-Star Game, which we’re looking forward to hosting in Chicago against Real Madrid on August 2nd.
  • In more sponsorship and stadium news, DC United broke ground on their new stadium, scheduled to be ready for the 2018 stadium. They also secured naming rights with league partner Audi.
  • LAFC are preparing to enter next season and construction on their Banc of California Stadium is well underway.

 Soccer on TV Through June

There was a LOT of soccer on U.S. television during the first half of the year. We’ve been tracking the number of matches and social conversation each month since the start of the year and have aggregated the data below.


Looking Ahead to the Remainder of 2017 (and 2018)

Needless to say, but we’re excited about the remainder of the year from both soccer and soccer marketing perspectives. Here are a few of things we’ll be paying attention to from summer until the holidays.

UEFA Champions League broadcast rights. This season marks the last for FOX as rights holder, with Turner incoming for the 2018-19 season. The story here is two-fold: 1) How FOX handles its final year and 2) how Turner starts preparing for next season.

Given that FOX has World Cup broadcast rights through 2022 and they announced Facebook Live streaming of select matches, we feel that they will put a lot of effort into putting out the best product possible, knowing that they still have a lot more soccer to come.

Turner hasn’t broadcast soccer since the 1990 World Cup, so it’s fascinating to see them come in and win the bid. While Turner may not be a household name when it comes to sports broadcasting, in the last few years they have broadcast the March Madness across their family of networks and on CBS. The hires they make over the coming year will be important and ones that the industry will keep a close eye on.

Oh yeah, there’s also that little thing called the World Cup starting next summer in Russia. Along with the U.S. most likely being awarded the 2026 World Cup with neighbors Canada and Mexico.

Here’s to the remainder of 2017 and everything that goes with it including the conclusion of the Gold Cup, MLS regular season and playoffs, the start of the European club season, and the conclusion of World Cup Qualifiers. It’s a great time to be a soccer fan in the United States!




Categories: Featured, Major League Soccer, Soccer Marketing, Social Media, Sponsorship, Technology