MLS Stepping Up its Partnership Game

Major League Soccer’s (MLS) twentieth season is off to a fast start, and not just on the pitch, but off of it as well. Since the start of the new year the league’s partnership department has been quite busy – not to say that they haven’t always been – with several major announcements that have brought some serious scale to its growing sponsor portfolio. Advocare, Heineken, Audi, Mondelez, and now Johnson & Johnson (J&J) have all been announced as major partners with the league in 2015.

The league entered this season with a lot of momentum and a lot of things starting to fall into place, including the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement right before the first kick-off, the beginning of a new landmark 8-year, $720 million TV deal with FOX and ESPN, a new stadium in San Jose, and two new expansion clubs kicking off their inaugural season in front of massive crowds at the Citrus Bowl and Yankee Stadium. Add to that a list of strong new partnerships and the league is truly off to a record start to a record season.

These partners are not just big companies, which is nice sure, but they are all very strategically relevant for the league’s target audience. MLS and soccer are both incontrovertibly growing in the US, and even abroad, and represent a massive growth opportunity for potential sponsors. These new partners, especially J&J and Mondelez, also represent a great opportunity for MLS to tap into their expansive network and look to connect with consumers – and potential fans – on scale and in ways that they previously couldn’t.

Mondelez is one of the world’s largest snack food companies, and if that doesn’t already tell you how they might align with MLS, let’s break it down for you. What did you used to have at halftime during little league soccer matches growing up? Snacks. What is the most popular sport being played by kids aged 8-13 in the US? Soccer. Though this deal is only a two year partnership, MLS is looking long-term as they look to connect with youth all across the country; youth that will in the not-so-distant future represent a very significant portion of this country’s buying power, and will therefore be very influential in the sports market. They are also key influencers on their parents’ purchases now at their current age – how many parents do you see in the grocery store that have kids that bring something to them that has a superhero or pro sports player on the packaging and ask their parents to buy it for them? The power of this partnership comes in the form of Mondelez’s global brands that have extremely high household penetration, and show up on the shelves of countless retailers across the US – space that MLS can leverage.

In a very similar fashion, J&J, the world’s largest consumer healthcare company, brings globally recognized brands to the table, in retailers across the US for MLS to be able to combine and activate with. MLS only has 20 clubs across the country, and while its fan base is growing, it doesn’t have near the consumer touch points that J&J does, and its brands connect with those consumers in a slightly different way than Mondelez. Both speak to Mom on a very personal level, but one is focused more on nutrition and the other on healthcare. There are few things more powerful in this world than the emotional, instinctual caring connection between a mother and her family, and when you can make that positive connection for her as a brand it establishes a very meaningful consumer/brand relationship. For MLS, these are the kinds of relationships it wants to build with its fans and their families, and there are many, many ways to combine with J&J across multiple vehicles and channels of activation. This is but one sample of how the two can come together to speak to Mom:

In a press release, the General Manager for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc., Mike Marquis said,

We are proud to support the great family sport of soccer. By partnering with the fastest growing sport in America, we are opening up many new opportunities and channels for our family of brands to connect with a large, passionate and diverse group of consumers.

These partnerships, along with the other leaps the league has taken, mentioned above, are a signal to the investment and sponsorship community that MLS is starting to come of age, so to speak. It’s a signal that the league is ready to play.

What do you think about MLS and its latest partnership announcements? Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.