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What: Major League Soccer looks to leverage World Cup coverage and the success of “El Tri” to increase viewership.
Why it matters: Major League Soccer wants to continue its growth as league despite the USMNT not qualifying into the 2018 World Cup.

With the 2018 World Cup in full swing, networks invested in broadcasting soccer league games are hoping that the country’s fascination in the quadrennial tournament draws in new fans to their league partners, despite the lack of participation by the United States men’s national team (USMNT).

While it would have helped television networks greatly had Christian Pulisic led the national team past Trinidad & Tobago, who eliminated the red, white and blue after defeating them 2-1 in CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, some experts feel that overall soccer TV ratings should experience an increase as a result of the “World Cup Bounce.”

I absolutely think Mexico’s success will contribute to increased viewership for MLS.

“The World Cup Bounce” can be described as an uptick in televisions ratings for live matches, thanks in part to the tournament drawing in a large number of viewers that normally do not watch soccer. The hope, for networks, is that these new fans will remain interested in the sport, even after the tournament is over.

One of the more obvious beneficiaries from this phenomenon is the American soccer league Major League Soccer (@MLS). The USMNT (@ussoccer_mntis usually loaded with MLS stars who get to shine on the world’s largest stage. The 2014 US roster included 10 players from MLS, including familiar names such as team captain Clint Dempsey of the Seattle Sounders (@SoundersFC) and Michael Bradley of Toronto FC (@TorontoFC). A USMNT appearance in this year’s tournament would have helped MLS continue to further build television viewership.

“History shows us that there was a bump in MLS ratings after the 2014 World Cup,” said Dan Lobring, who previously worked for MLS franchise, the Chicago Fire, and is now with sports marketing agency rEvolution (@littleRbigE). “Of course, the big difference being the absence of the U.S. in 2018 which leaves a gray area on how significant of a bump there might be coming out of 2018.”

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While the USMNT may have failed to qualify into the 2018 World Cup, the American soccer league is still well represented in Russia, with 19 players on MLS rosters participating in the 2018 World Cup. Players such as Mexico’s Carlos Vela (@11carlosV) of LAFC  (@LAFCand the dos Santos brothers – Giovani and Jonathan of the L.A. Galaxy (@LAGalaxy), Costa Rica‘s (@fedefutbolcrcFrancisco Calvo of Minnesota United (@MNUFC), Peru‘s Yoshi Yotun of Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) and Panama‘s (@fepafut) Anibal Godoy of the Seattle Sounders are playing quality minutes for their respective international teams, showcasing MLS’s depth of talent on the world’s grandest stage.

“The World Cup is unquestionably the most important sporting event on the globe, and once again it will elevate the sport of soccer and MLS this summer,” said MLS spokesperson Marisabel Muñoz. Muñoz points out that there are also 14 former MLS players on World Cup rosters, on top of the 19 active MLS players on World Cup rosters. The 19 MLS players represent the largest contingent of international talent from MLS since the league’s debut, and nearly equals the combined representation of the five previous tournaments.

Mexico‘s (@miseleccionmxEN) World Cup success could also be a boon for MLS, considering the immense popularity of “El Tri,” within the American border. Mexico’s upset victory over the defending World Cup champions, Germany, drew 4,002,000 viewers on Fox Sports (@FOXSportsEnglish telecast and another 7,120,000 on Telemundo (@TelemundoSportsSpanish broadcast.

“I absolutely think Mexico’s success will contribute to increased viewership for MLS,” said Lobring. “I think MLS and broadcast leadership in North America across the board are pulling for Mexico to continue its early success. And when you have three marquee players from MLS on ‘El Tri,’ that’s a big deal for the overall profile of MLS, especially having those three from such a large and critical media market in Los Angeles.”

What: Wells Fargo’s campaign featuring Landon Donovan supporting Team Mexico in the World Cup has gained some attention amid some “controversy” regarding the spots.
Why it matters: Marketers can use the window of Mexico’s success and popularity with an American figure who can transcend cultures and casual fans to draw needed awareness here.

Make no mistake about it, Mexico is America’s Team, or at least the Team of the Americas, for the World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup). El Tri’s (@miseleccionmxENsuccess was further cemented over the weekend by a 1-0 first match win over Germany in Group play, and the ongoing drama from Rafa Marquez and his off field involvement or lack of involvement with unsavory business dealings, and now the “controversy” over Landon Donovan supporting Mexico as they make their run.

All of that casual spin, drama and success makes for great opportunities for Mexico as the world’s largest sporting event unfolds in Russia in the coming weeks, and is great news for the first adopter brands who have come on board (with the help of Soccer United Marketing who represents them and the U.S. men’s National team and other properties in the game) looking to grow their demo with not just the Latino fanbase, but the casual soccer fan and the World Cup viewer.

Some of those brands, like AT&T (@ATT), Allstate (@Allstateand Home Depot (@HomeDepot), have used partnerships to grow affinity in key markets where the Mexican following is established in the U.S., like Texas and California, while others have looked to try and reach an even larger market as the World Cup begins, pushing the theme that Mexico is in effect, the club the U.S. fan base could and should be rooting for.

The question is, will other brands already engaged now find a way to ride the Mexican wave, not just with the National team but with Liga MX?

That push by Wells Fargo (@WellsFargo) (see below), also a sponsor of the U.S. Men’s National Team, drew a great deal of fire over the weekend, as the campaign included American legend Donovan using the social space to push the following of El Tri, something which some soccer loyalists saw as blasphemous.

Really? Given the fact that Donovan is of Mexican heritage, grew up outside of LA in a mixed Latino neighborhood, and played in Liga MX last year, it actually seems like a great play and great timing for Wells Fargo, who has Donovan on their team as a paid endorser as well. Add in that the joint bid for World Cup 2026 was now set and the fact that the USMNT was NOT in the field, there is great validity to use the window of Mexico’s success and popularity with an American figure who can transcend cultures and casual fans to draw awareness for a sport that needs to grow.

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For Wells Fargo the buzz in the social space probably got them more exposure than was even expected, and given the spotlight that will now be on Mexico in the coming weeks, that’s a good thing. The question is, will other brands already engaged now find a way to ride the Mexican wave, not just with the National team but with Liga MX (@LigaMxEng), which is already the most watched professional league in the United States for soccer?

“The interest in World Cup, even without the U.S. being in this time, is still huge, and it will continue to grow in the next few weeks, so the brands that found their way in and are ready to activate even more, will do well,” said Chris Lencheski, veteran sports marketer now at M.P & Silva (@MPSworldwide), and professor at Columbia University. “This type of ‘controversy’ is good for all, and if I am a company that has invested and can activate locally, especially in those markets where you know there is a solid following already, the time to strike is now.”

For their part, both Donovan and Wells Fargo did a good job of diffusing the controversy on his participation through his social following. Whether fans continue to see this as some sort of sellout by an American asking for fans to support a rival is really trivial, as Mexico’s success will undoubtedly bring more casual eyeballs than complainers, and frankly, the casual American soccer fan needs someone to root for, so why not Mexico?

As we sit in the midst of group play, Mexico’s brand value may never be brighter for soccer marketers, buffeted by World Cup early success and welcome news for the future, and the well-placed buzz by a participating brand with an established star that caused some fun disruption in the marketplace.

Will other partners now look to push the opportunity even more? There is a solid lineup in place, we will watch and see who scores.

What: The Mexican National soccer team “El Tri” will tweet in English at @MiSeleccionMXEN.
Why it matters: Liga MX is continuing its push in the U.S., with a reported 40 million fans stateside, and English language social media can grow that further.

The most watched soccer in the United States continues to be not Major League Soccer (@MLS) or the Premier League (@premierleague) or Bundesliga (@Bundesliga_EN), but Liga MX (@ligabancomermx). It’s high quality of play and rabid following not just by fans of Mexican clubs but by hardcore soccer fans and casual observers as well, has given Mexico a very unique place in the history of North American sport and in the U.S., a market that remains one of the two fastest growing in the world, Liga MX has been a hit for partners and clubs alike.

Now with the FIFA World Cup coming and the United States on the outside looking in for the event this summer, the Mexican national team could be in for another big run not just on the pitch but in their brand building as well. Delta, Nissan, AT&T and All State are just some of the mainstream brands who see the multicultural branding opportunities not just for World Cup partnerships but also for all the lead up to the games.

The English language channels will help push the branding opportunities not just for the team, but also for Soccer United Marketing who has been representing the team for 16 years.

One issue has been the lack of English language social channels to market the club to a mixed audience, a step many of the world’s elite clubs have taken and have made a key part of brand engagement. Now El Tri will take that step as well, once which will be a boon to U.S. multicultural growth as we head toward Russia.

As of late last week, Mexico now will tweet in English at @MiSeleccionMXEN and post on Facebook as “Mexico’s national team” with the same tag as the Twitter handle.

“Well, basically there are more than 40 million fans of the Mexican national team in the United States. We practically have two territories — Mexico and the United States — because of the amount of fans we have in both countries,” Guillermo Cantu, the general secretary of the Mexican federation, said at a news conference last Thursday. “We could call it our second home.”

The English language channels will help push the branding opportunities for the team and for Soccer United Marketing, who has been representing the team for 16 years. The team will be able to maximize that exposure and push their English language channels when they play Wales in a World Cup tune up on May 28 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California,  El Tri returns home to Mexico City for a send-off match match against Scotland on June 2 in the Estadio Azteca before playing at Denmark on June 9. They open play against Germany on June 17.

Main image courtesy femexfut.org.mx