Video assistant referee, commonly known as VAR, has been one of the biggest changes to the sport of soccer over the past decade. MLS was one of the first leagues to implement the technology assistant in August 2017. Since then, some of the world’s most popular leagues have followed suit, including the Premier League, which integrated it at the beginning of its 2019/20 season. While fans mostly agree it creates a fairer game, VAR has not come without its fair share of criticism thanks to the impact on the flow of a game. In MLS, for example, the average time per review is three minutes. While this delay may anger fans, it presents an interesting opportunity for brands and for MLS who is now looking to sell sponsorship for VAR stoppages. What does an MLS VAR sponsor mean?
The value of VAR stoppage
In a sport with very few breaks and inherent brand integration challenges, a three-minute stoppage in action can be an intriguing prospect and worth an estimated seven figures. Just think, for the one-in-three games this MLS season in which a VAR stoppage has occurred, that’s an average of three minutes of time during which a brand can be featured on screen or via broadcast (or even both). In that time, broadcast networks won’t be cutting to commercials, which puts a brand front and center while the referees consult on the correct officiating decision.
One overarching question to consider – if you’re a brand, does it make sense to tie yourself to a moment in time that has a negative perception among soccer fans? That remains to be seen, but the association with VAR could be polarizing for certain brands.
What types of brands could we see?
The league has stated they have a few ongoing conversations, but no definitive brands or industries have been confirmed. It would make sense, however, for brand with an authentic tie-in to the replay concept to attach itself to VAR. Industries like insurance, technology, or even eyewear can make sense given the nature of video reviews for missed or incorrect calls by officials.
While the sentiment around VAR navigates the full spectrum of emotions for fans, authenticity will be key. Bolder brands or ones that offer support as a part of their product offering will likely have the best fit. For example, Allstate integrating their character ‘Mayhem’ or Grammarly, a web-based grammar support tool, could find unique, authentic positioning around the moment. Can you imagine a VAR stoppage presented by Warby Parker? It may soon be a reality.
While sentiment around VAR is up-and-down for fans and players, the few minutes of stopped play will likely be too good of a brandable moment for potential partners to pass up.