For years we have been hearing that soccer is becoming popular in the United States, yet it still lags far behind football, baseball, basketball, and hockey in average viewership. However, that seems to finally be changing, and all marketers should be paying attention and learning from what the main soccer institution in the United States, Major League Soccer (MLS), is doing.
Coming off a scintillating World Cup run by the United States Men’s National Team, and a final that was viewed by a record 26.5 million Americans (which just beat the previous record of 25 million set a few weeks earlier by the USA-Portugal match), it is obvious that Americans are showing a willingness to embrace soccer right now. A Manchester United vs. Real Madrid exhibition game played at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on August 2nd drew 109,318 fans, an attendance record for a soccer game played on American soil. This past weekend’s season-opening coverage of the British Premier League on NBC drew 3.3 million US viewers, another record.
How the MLS found marketing success
So what has the MLS done about all this new found soccer attention? They did what any good marketer would; strike while the iron is hot. Anticipating an influx of attention post-World Cup, the MLS arranged to have several highly visible European soccer clubs tour the United States before their seasons kicked off. Manchester City, Arsenal, AC Milan, Liverpool, Roma, Inter Milan, Olympiacos and Bayern Munich all made the trip across the Atlantic along with Real Madrid and Manchester United to play a series of matches against MLS talent. This culminated in a showdown between the MLS All-Stars and a Bayern Munich team laden with German talent fresh off of a World Cup victory on August 12th. The MLS All-Stars emerged with a 2-1 victory.
So don’t expect the soccer fire in the US to burn out like it has so many times in the past. Over the next three years the MLS will be adding three new franchises to the league. In 2017, an Atlanta franchise will begin play and next year, the United Soccer League (USL) team Orlando City will join the MLS along with the highly anticipated pilot season of New York City Football Club (NYCFC), who are poised to become the most popular team in US soccer. NYCFC, partially owned by the New York Yankees, will boast two of the most recognizable stars ever to come play in America, David Villa and Frank Lampard. Combine that with the fact that NYCFC will play all their home games in one of the most distinguished sports venues in the world, Yankee Stadium, and you have a recipe for success.
It’s also important to note where this soccer rejuvenation is coming from – millennials. World Cup final tweets peaked at 618,725 per minute, while 32.1 million tweets were sent about the game overall (source: conversation). Unlike older folks who fuss over the logistics of ending a game in a tie, millennials have shown to understand and accept the game of soccer. Consider the enormous viewing parties that took place during US World Cup matches. Major League Soccer’s ability to recognize and cater to this demographic will only serve to further their growth in the sports market, which is more wide open than it has been in years. By the time 2018 rolls around, the World Cup could be much more than just a novelty event for Americans.
Here’s the marketing takeaway for your business
So, what exactly did the MLS do to show they’re in tune with today’s fast-paced marketing world? For starters, they identified that there was a market that would be interested in seeing Major League Soccer become more prominent in the United States. Then, and more importantly, they acted on the newly-discovered demand in developing Major League Soccer’s soon-to-be exponential growth in the U.S. The result will be the debut of the NYCFC, to be followed by other teams, and the explosion of merchandising, media, and commentary that follows the introduction of a new enterprise to a ripe market.
As a business owner, you should follow the MLS in its footsteps, seeking to identify a target market early on and capitalize on it. If you have identified areas and markets your business can expand into, now is the time to begin working to introduce your business into those markets. Don’t wait – otherwise you may lose out on a significant new market to a competitor who acts quicker than you. That would be a disaster for your business, and its customers and fans, as you will no longer be poised for new growth and prosperity in your business.