A summary of the most exciting news in soccer marketing. If you’re trying to keep up, consider this your one-stop shop.
Manchester City partnered with esports organization Epsilon, to enter the FIFA 19 category for season four of the Gfinity Elite Series. A selection of players from City and Epsilon’s rosters of professional gamers will make up half of the team with the remaining players to be chosen through a draft.
Fifa is looking to increase women’s soccer by doubling worldwide participation to 60 million by 2026. The soccer governing body also talked about introducing a women’s equivalent to the men’s World Club Cup, which brings together the winners of each region’s continental tournament. This would become ‘Fifa Women’s World League’.
FC Barcelona renewed its partnership with banking firm Samba, for five more years. The club is looking to strengthen its brand in the Middle East by adding “partners that are best suited to the values and traits that define its brand.”
Canadian media company Homestand Sports locked a partnership with LaLiga to host a series of live interactive LaLiga themed Footy Talks events in key markets across Canada. Each event will feature engaging sports panels with top Canadian media following the latest in LaLiga news analysis.
BC Place, home of the Vancouver Whitecaps,has partnered with Ready and Bypass to become the first venue in North America to possess an app-free in-seat ordering facility. By scanning a unique QR code on the armrest of their seat fans can locate the order’s destination, before being taken directly to the menu. The user then places their order on their phone and pays using Bypass.
What: La Liga has entered into a 15-year deal with U.S.-based promoter Relevent Sports to form La Liga North America, to bring the circuit’s matches to the States. Why it matters: European leagues have held “friendlies” in the U.S. for years, but La Liga North America represents the next step: bringing regular league matches here, with huge fandom and marketing possibilities.
For over a decade, the elite football clubs of the world have made the trek across the pond or up from South America for summer friendlies—training matches for the most part as they prepped for their regular seasons. All have seen the growing market in and around American football, and look for ways to exploit brand and build fan bases not just for those one off matches, but for a growingly savvy American football fan that starts from the grassroots and now, due to the infusion of regular broadcasts on networks like NBC and FOX and ESPN and to some extended beIN (@beINSPORTS) and others, are regularly engaged on a weekly basis, year round watching their favorite clubs.
You cannot walk more than a few blocks in Manhattan these days without seeing a random kit from everyone from Roma (@OfficialASRoma) and Real Madrid (@realmadrid) to Flamengo (@Flamengo). The growth of appreciation for the elite soccer clubs of the world has been quite amazing to watch.
To grow the brand awareness effectively you need to have those global fans not just see an exhibition, the need to experience the real thing.
Those clubs have also seen not just the development of the game with knowledgeable fans, but the potential for marketing dollars as well. By some counts, there are as many as 10 global clubs with a commercial office looking to do deals now set up in the United States. Arguably the most successful thus far has been FC Bayern Munich (@FCBayernUS), whose smart digital-first approach led by Rudolf Vidal has established supporter groups in all 50 states, something which mist NFL teams can’t even say they have. They have also done a great job of taking advantage of partner sponsorships like Audi (@Audi) and Adidas (@adidasUS) to grow brand marketing opportunities in the States, especially in and around summer tours like the one they just completed. They have done all of that without having a mature American marketable star just yet, but they have made their brand, and their elite players, very recognizable in the States.
Other clubs like City Football Club (Tom Glick, Chief Commercial & Operating Officer – Manchester City will be one of the star speakers at Portada New York on Sept. 25), Chelsea (@ChelseaFC) (with their brand building events last fall), Roma (with their American ownership group and recent Serie A success), and Liverpool continue to also scale up in the marketplace, even when the clubs are a continent away.
The recently completed International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup), the most ambitious ever in markets big and medium-sized, again showed that the power of the names of elite soccer clubs to draw in the U.S. and Canada was not waning. However to make the jump from just casual events, which often lacked star power and as the matches went on, became more and more like glorified practices as clubs sought to diminish the risk of injury and fatigue to key players just preparing for a season to come, the increasingly interested American fan, as well as loyal expats living and working in the States, there needs to be a next step.
It is a step which American leagues like the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and MLB, realized several years ago. To grow the brand awareness effectively you need to have those global fans not just see an exhibition, the need to experience the real thing; regular season events with all on the line, not just marketing trips where the effort, and the stars may be waning. The regular season matchups don’t just add value to fans, they show true commitment that the league or the brand of a team, is invested in giving fans the best.
Recently we have seen some efforts in sports like rugby (the Aviva Premiership brought a match between London Irish and Saracens to the States), and even football (when the French Cup was played at Red Bull Arena five years ago), but no real consistent proposal has been out forth to bring the real thing to America and its growing marketplace. Whispers of Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) finals to be played in America? Yes. Dreams of the Premier League expanding and adding two clubs in the U.S.? Dreams indeed, which have been quickly dismissed time and again. The friendlies, it seems were enough.
Until this week, when La Liga took a next bold step.
Called La Liga North America, the newly founded organization will work to cultivate soccer culture in the U.S. and Canada. LaLiga North America will support the league’s growth in the U.S. and Canada through consumer-related activities including youth academies, development of youth soccer coaches, marketing agreements, consumer activations, exhibition matches and plans to have an official La Liga Santander match played in the U.S. While there is no timetable yet, and one would not expect El Clasico to suddenly end up in Philadelphia or even Miami (where the offseason matchup between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona was staged last summer) you will get to see some of the elite clubs of La Liga who are willing to give up a home match and grow their brands in America in the fall or winter or spring, not summer before too long.
“This extraordinary joint venture is the next giant leap in growing soccer’s popularity in North America,” said Stephen Ross, chairman and co-founder of RSE Ventures, parent company of Relevent in a release. “This unique relationship will create new opportunities for millions of North American soccer fans to experience the most passionate, exciting, and highest level of soccer in the world.”
La Liga President Javier Tebas added: “We’re devoted to growing the passion for soccer around the world. This ground-breaking agreement is certain to give a major impulse to the popularity of the beautiful game in the U.S. and Canada. Relevent has filled stadiums across the U.S. with the International Champions Cup, we’re thrilled to partner with them on a joint mission to grow soccer in North America.”
The move by La Liga makes good business sense for a number of reasons. They are looking to a market that is growing where Spanish is already the dominant second language, where they already have brands involved in sports well engaged, and where the Anglo soccer fan has enjoyed the growth of elite football. They also can use this to potentially exploit a new bigger broadcast agreement as well as continue to grow their streaming opportunities in a market that is very digital savvy, and has young engaged fans who think mobile first. It also will give La Liga “first in” with some brands who may be looking to grow their soccer footprint abroad, but were not sure exactly how. Bringing exhibitions to the U.S. was a nice first step, bringing regular-season matches gives brands a real platform to embrace consistently every year, which is very appealing. There is also the aspect of women’s soccer, which has been growing on the La Liga radar. With women becoming more and more engaged in the game, and La Liga expanding its professional women’s league, the opportunity to exploit the female playing, as well as consuming, demo can also be part of the plan.
Now what does this mean for North America’s standing soccer leagues, Liga MX (@LIGABancomerMX), which draws more viewers than anyone, and Major League Soccer (@MLS)? It certainly is not a surprise, and should help to again bolster the interests and the buzz around soccer as a brand in the United States. The match will also probably be in the MLS offseason, which also helps to keep “brand soccer” vibrant in America, and that can lead to more fan exposure and can uncover new brands looking to engage in the sport.
Where and what all this will mean will unfold in the current months, and will probably lead to a new level of year-round experiential soccer in the U.S. and Canada for leagues looking to grow brand and disrupt the current model. The who—namely which clubs—and the when—will be key for a next step for La Liga. There are already stories of players balking at the announcement which will probably be part of a negotiation to move this forward. Regardless being first is always better than not.
If you are involved in the soccer business, this move is a good one, if you are looking to get in, a new opportunity has arisen.
What: We talked to Chris Thomas, Director of Digital Media & Marketing for LA Galaxy, about the team’s expansion plans and marketing strategy. He revealed that the team’s main marketing goal is to stay strong and relevant at the local level. Why it matters: Since its founding in 1996, LA Galaxy has remained the team with the most MLS wins, making it a role model for new teams planning to join the league.
A 2015 Facebook study found that LA Galaxy has the largest number of fans of any MLS team within the U.S. and Canada. According to Chris Thomas, Director of Digital Media & Marketing for LA Galaxy, this may be due to the fact that it is one of the MLS’s first teams and has had more wins than any other team since the league’s inception.
However, its strong position at the national level does not mean that the team can relax when it comes to connecting with local fans.
When we asked Thomas about his strategy for growing the team outside the U.S., his response was clear and compelling: “We do not focus on becoming international—we want to be important locally.”
As an example, he cited teams like Bayern Munich, which have managed to get stronger thanks to their commitment to and relationship with local fans. “The team represents its roots, and that is what needs to be strengthened and maximized before looking beyond its borders,” he said.
We do not focus on becoming international—we want to be important locally.
How are they doing it? The key word is content.
In the last three to four years, the marketing team has focused heavily on digital efforts by creating premium content aimed at their diverse fan base. Thomas did not disclose what percentage of his budget is invested in digital, but he did admit to it being a fairly high amount.
Since the team’s audience is very diverse, the content needs to be varied as well. “We have to be very diverse,” explained Thomas, adding that they do not dwell too much on defining each demographic element of the team’s followers.
They know that their fans are multicultural, that many are young, but also that some of them are older and local, just like the Los Angeles community. “[Our fan base] is representative of LA. You cannot really define it. [That is why] we do not get wrapped up in that,” he explained.
When it comes to generating varied and versatile content, the team’s best allies are its sponsors, or rather, its partners. For example, in partnership with Chevrolet, the team launches its Monthly Mixtape, a video of the best highlights of each month, accompanied by popular current songs.
[Our fan base] is representative of LA. You cannot really define it. [That is why] we do not get wrapped up in that.
This type of content appeals mostly to young fans, who are involved with music and trends. At the same time, they also publish longer articles, such as the profile of new coach Sigi Schmid, which are more widely read by the team’s older fans.
That is why, when the team accepts a new sponsor, it looks at brands that “want to work around our story,” Thomas said.
Currently, LA Galaxy has 46 sponsors, making it the team with one of the largest number of sponsorships in the league, including names like Adidas, Chevrolet, Allstate, Herbalife Nutrition, American Express, Corona Extra, Dannon, and Uber. Even this mix of brands shows a balance between innovative and more traditional companies.
Competing against other sports does not really worry Thomas even though the Galaxy have a new rival in a new stadium, LAFC, coming now as well and the ever-present interest in Liga MX. “We compete against everything: a concert, the beach, the weather. Those are our greatest competitors,” he declared. Nor does he feel threatened by the new teams that will be joining the MLS. By 2022, the league plans to increase its total number of teams from 22 to 28. Thomas thinks it will be exciting to have new opponents to compete against, both on and off the field, in the quest to win fans.
What: Univision Deportes has secured broadcast rights to all 18 of Liga MX’s soccer teams in competition through 2017/18, making it the sole destination for Liga MX fútbol fans. Why it matters: Liga MX Fútbol fans can now enjoy all-inclusive game coverage across all the networks of Univision.
Univision Deportes, the multimedia sports division of Univision Communications Inc. (UCI), has officially secured broadcast rights to all 18 of Liga MX’s soccer teams in competition through 2017/18, making it the sole destination for Liga MX fútbol fans. Liga MX, the most-watched soccer league in the U.S., regardless of language, consists of clubs América, Atlas, Cruz Azul, Guadalajara, León, Monterrey, Morelia, Necaxa, Pachuca, Puebla, Querétaro, Santos Laguna, Tijuana, Toluca, UANL, UNAM, Veracruz and the recently added, Lobos BUAP.
The distribution deal includes live broadcast on Univision Deportes’ television and radio platforms in major markets across the U.S. as well as digital platforms nationwide. The addition completes Univision Deportes’ position as the home for Liga MX including all its clubs and the highly-rated “Sábado Futbolero” – the Saturday primetime fútbolfiesta codeveloped with Liga MX and featuring the best of the league’s soccer, brought to life, across the Univision Networks.
“We are thrilled to welcome Liga MX’s Lobos BUAP to our extensive Univision Deportes soccer portfolio. Fanáticos across the country have made us their go-to destination for sports entertainment and our commitment to bringing them the best and most popular teams, players and content across all platforms, is stronger than ever and solidifies us at the home of soccer in the U.S.,” said Juan Carlos Rodríguez, President of Univision Deportes.
Rights to Lobos de la Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, known as Lobos BUAP, were secured during the mid-2017 season ensuring that fútbol fans can enjoy all-inclusive broadcast of Lobos BUAP games –as well as games played by the other 17 powerhouse teams– through Liga MX’s 2017/18 Apertura and Clausura tournaments.
Liga MX matches will be available via the Univision Deportes app for which authentication is required: fans are encouraged to download the app for iOS and/or Android. Liga MX matches will also be available online via UnivisionDeportes.com, Univision’s live streaming platform Univision Now as well as Univision Deportes’ national sports radio network, Univision Deportes Radio.
Check out last weekend’s top 25 live sports ratings! Here is a quick look at the live sports programming people watched the most
Which sport drew the biggest audience?
The start of the NBA playoffs made a strong mark on last weekend’s ratings as Basketball was the most watched sport nationwide. The encounter between Oklahoma City vs Houston Rockets was the most watched match, attracting more than five million viewers.
What broadcaster drew the biggest audience?
Turner Network was the most-watched broadcaster. More than 10 million people saw the Oklahoma vs Houston and Chicago vs Boston games. The second most watched channel was ESPN, which also broadcast some NBA Playoffs.
What else is relevant?
The encounter between MLB teams Yankees vs Cardinals was the most watched non-basketball related game. The game attracted 1.8 million viewers.
English-language soccer broadcasting is becoming more relevant in the U.S. for everyone involved: fans, broadcasters, soccer teams and brands. NBC, Univision Deportes, Turner, BeINSports and others are jumping at the opportunity.
On February, Facebook and Univision announced a partnership by which the social media platform would start broadcasting Mexican Liga MX live soccer matches in English and a similar agreement was struck for MLS matches.
“Broadcasting soccer in English responds to a dynamic in our bilingual Hispanic fan which is English-dominant,” explains Rafael Ramírez, Chief Creative Officer at Newlink.
“We need to acknowledge that our audience is bi-national and bilingual,” adds Juan Carlos Rodríguez, president of Univision Deportes. “Mexican and Latino children don’t want to speak Spanish anymore. Through socio-economic and demographic studies, we discovered that they play soccer since they were kids, but they did it in English. Their switch has changed, they want to watch El América and Las Chivas, but they want to listen to it in English.”
Soccer continues to be the number one sport for Hispanic audiences, but the way it is consumed is what has changed.
In addition, soccer is becoming more popular among English natives. According to Ramírez, soccer has become the favorite sports for teenagers in the U.S., independently of their culture.
Mexican and Latinos’ children don’t want to speak Spanish anymore.
In the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey 2015-2016, conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), soccer came in in fifth place in terms of number of participants, with 440,322 young men playing the sport.
Soccer Teams want the Attention
Due to the increased interest in soccer of English-dominant audiences in the U.S., Mexican soccer teams are also looking to sell their rights for English-language broadcasts.
“We urgently need sports anchors for radio and TV to give audiences the chance to listen to our game match broadcasts in English. We need to take this into account when broadcasting our games in the U.S.,” said Esteban de Anda, Commercial Alliances and Communications Director of Xolos, Tijuana’s soccer team.
A marketing executive at Club America, who asked to remain anonymous, explained that English-natives represent a relevant opportunity for the team, but the broadcasters are the ones who choose how to use their soccer rights. “The U.S. is a relevant market for us, but it is the broadcaster who chooses how to use our rights over there.”
Broadcasters pay more to a university in Albuquerque for their English-match rights than for ours in Spanish, although in terms of investment return we give them much more money.
For Grupo Chivas Omnilife’sCEO, José Luis Higuera, it is very clear that the money is where the English-spoken games are. “It seems that even cricket has a higher budget than Chivas. Broadcasters pay more to a university in Albuquerque for their English-match rights than for ours in Spanish, although in terms of investment return we give them much more money.”
Liga MX still has the overall highest rating regardless of language.
If switching their broadcasts to English will let the teams get more investment, both from broadcasters and brands, then this definitely represents an opportunity for soccer teams.
According to Vicente Navarro, Vice-President of Product Development at marketing agency AC&M Group, about two-thirds of all the games broadcasted in the U.S. are broadcasted in English. “There are plenty of examples of English language soccer on TV showing really good numbers. NBC and Premier League has been a great success, and numbers for properties like Bundesliga and MLS keep getting stronger. However, Liga MX still has the overall highest rating regardless of language.”
Broadcasters agree on the opportunity
Although English-language broadcasts only represents 3% of Univision’s audience, Rodríguez admits the numbers keep growing. “It isn’t a trend jet, but it is a proof of it working.”
This explains why Univision is making strategic alliances with Facebook to broadcast LigaMX games in English.
But not only Mexican-league’s games are relevant to English-natives. “There used to be a pretty strong influx of Spanish-language soccer games being broadcasted to the U.S.,” explains Michael Neuman, theEVP and Managing Partner at Scout Sports and Entertainment. “Now we are seeing NBC making an enormous effort to bring Premier League soccer from the UK into the U.S. during season, on weekend mornings. They are really trying to train the American soccer fan that is seeking that experience.”
The audience is there and it is growing. There is definitely an interest on behalf of broadcasters to exploit the opportunity. A great example is Turner, which in February acquired the UEFA Champions League English-language media rights, starting in fall 2018, after 27 years without carrying any soccer programming. The company will pay more than $60 million annually for the rights, outbidding FOX and NBC.
“The ability for an English-speaking soccer fan to see high quality games has never been as accessible as it is today,” Neuman ads.
What brands are missing
“For us, English-language properties are always something we recommend to our clients if the target market makes sense. We buy media with FOX, NBC, BeIN Sports and others regularly, because we know there is a growing viewership and we have to be talking to them,” says Navarro.
We know there is a growing viewership and we have to be talking to them.
According to Rodríguez the opportunity is great, but brands are still missing out because of their local strategies. Mexican brands should take more advantage of their binational businesses. “Comex, for example, has business both in Mexico and in the U.S., they should be able to pay soccer sponsorships in both countries.”
To this, Navarro ads that “some brands might want to stick to Spanish-language only but for most having a mix of both is a better approach.”
Soccer and Sports Marketing content will be very important at Portada’s major PortadaLat event on June 7-8 in Miami. Programming will include: THE GOLAZO 2018 SOCCER WORLD CUP CAMPAIGN PITCH: JURY: Mike Tasevsky, SVP of U.S. Sponsorship at MasterCard Felix Palau, VP at Tecate, Heineken Ed Carias, Sr. Brand Manager at el Jimador Tequila – North American Region, Brown-Forman (Shortlisted candidates will be voted on by Portada’s audience in May.) DESCRIPTION: Nine shortlisted nominees for the Golazo 2018 Soccer Marketing pitch battle it out in front of a jury! Who will come out on top? HOW BRANDS SHOULD LEVERAGE SPORTS CONTENT Mike Tasevsky, SVP of U.S. Sponsorship at MasterCard Felix Palau, VP of Tecate at Heineken John Alvarado, VP Brand Marketing at Crown Imports Ed Carias, Sr. Brand Manager at el Jimador Tequila – North American Region, Brown-Forman DESCRIPTION: Sports marketing experts discuss opportunities for brands to leverage sports content in order to better connect with the U.S. and Latin American consumer. HAPPY HOUR IN HONOR OF THE LAUNCH OF PORTADA’S SPORTS MARKETING PROGRAM Enjoy a glass of wine and toast to the launch of Portada’s new sports marketing initiative. Register at early bird price here!
In this regular feature we look at the most watched soccer matches over the past weekend, the networks that came out on top and other relevant insights.
Which match had the largest audience?
Last weekend the English Premier League came in first on our list, thanks to the match played between Arsenal and Liverpool, which drew 614,000 viewers on Saturday (see table below).
Which broadcaster came out on top?
Thanks to the fact that it holds the rights to the English Premier League matches, NBC Sports Network was the most-watched network with more than 2.1 million viewers.
BeInSports Español came second with 546,000 viewers thanks to its coverage of the Spanish Liga Santanter.
What else is relevant?
The MLS managed to make it into the top ten twice, once with the Orlando City SC vs. New York City FC match, and a second time with Atlanta United vs the New York Red Bulls. Between both matches, the league drew 786,000 viewers.