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What: The choices for brands looking to engage in soccer in North America are vastly different than five years ago.
Why it matters: Soccer in North America is a business not just worth watching but engaging in as an emerging market, with the region seen as an emerging market in the sport.

There is no doubt that over almost a quarter century, Major League Soccer (@MLShas built a North American brand that has elite status, proactive marketing, a young, engaged fan base and a diverse and growing ownership group that has put professional soccer not just on the map, but into the fabric of professional sports fandom.

Over that time the interest from the professional level to the grassroots in playing and engaging in soccer has risen on a path in North America that is even beyond the growth level of MLS as a property, something which many diehards had hoped for but sometimes not thought possible in the years prior to MLS launch and subsequent expansion as a property.

However with the meteoric growth of the MLS brand, and its clubs, athletes, coaches and partners, has come the realization by many of the elite clubs of the world that soccer in North America is a business not just worth watching but engaging in as an emerging market. North America as an emerging market in anything may literally seem foreign to many, but in the case of some global sports; not just soccer but sports like rugby and even in some isolated areas cricket, the market for monetization, and even expansion is more fertile than anywhere else on the planet that’s not China, and even China, in terms of commercial interests in sports business, in many ways cannot trump what North America can for now.

…[I]f you want to sell product and grow consistently in key markets in soccer, you look to MLS as your partner here. It all comes down to where you want to spend and how.
Aly Keita

In the eye of that growth area is also the sexy baubles of demos that brands, and teams, want: rising numbers of Latino fans, more engagement with women, and even a growth to be the choice of millennials who now have more discretionary income, and soccer, as MLS can attest to with the largest growth numbers in each of those categories for sports leagues, can talk to all of those more than most other professional sports in North America.

So if you are a brand, one with solid budgets, a look to engage wide audiences in all forms of media as well as at the grassroots activation level, and you want to make a big impact with a push towards a measurable ROI, and you also want to make sure you take care of your North American interests, you may pick soccer as your “all in sport,” right? The trends are going that way. But would you pick MLS? Maybe yes, maybe no, it depends on your scope.

The reason why you could look to soccer, or football, is that the marketplace today in North America has changed drastically in the past five years as the elite clubs, and leagues, of the world have put down roots and are looking to import their brand and experience and expertise into North America more than ever before.

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How and why? The why is pretty simple. A marketplace that is more savvy and more engaged in all things soccer than ever before. How? First start with media. NBC’s pioneering coverage of the Premier League (@premierleague), finding a live home for the EPL that became acceptable to fans on Sunday mornings, combined with ancillary programming both online and on broadcast, created the perfect test case to show that live soccer had an audience. That opened the door for other elite leagues to expand broadcast offerings with everyone from Fox to Turner to beIN to ESPN to Univision and Telemundo, and the ability to watch your favorite clubs, the most elite soccer stars of the world in real time without having to search out a pub or a small supporters group, made the best soccer in the world easy to find.

Then you lop on the move to digital and streaming not just by broadcast outlets but by other platforms (Bleacher Report Live, ESPN +, Eleven Sports), and suddenly you could almost find any club available on any device. This helped growth of soccer among a mobile friendly audience, especially down to the grassroots level, and also renewed easier alliance with the new immigrant, who craved soccer and the loyalty to his or her home club, and could now watch that club easily in their adopted home.

The explosion and availability of merchandise for global clubs also fueled the brand fire, with families getting access to club kits from around the world, and those kits became part of school apparel for boys and girls laying the game in cities big and small. You also lay on top of all of that access the influx of ownership dollars into elite global clubs by deep pocketed American owners, and the connection between clubs once far away and the suburban living room was easier once again.

Next step, as mentioned earlier, is the elite clubs and leagues of the world tracking fan loyalty in the digital space and seeing the opportunity for sales and brand growth in a country where they were not playing games, but where fans were watching and engaging. Into that mix came a number of clubs; most notable was FC Bayern Munich (@FCBayernUS), who enacted a very savvy supporters group campaign run through social media, whereby local fans could build their own sanctioned clubs.

The plan, which was well in advance of the clubs US tour, gave Bayern a leg up on local loyalty and set the way for what is arguably the most effective local supporter network for a non US team of any kind in North America, with followers of various sizes in every state in the U.S. and most Canadian provinces. That helped show the opportunistic door for what clubs, and leagues could do in North America, and really set the stage for anywhere from 10 to 12 non US soccer clubs setting down stakes in North America in the past few years, including the teams that have US owners.

With all that as the backdrop, the opportunities and choices for brands now looking to engage has changed a great deal, and presents some really unique challenges or opportunities. There was time not too long ago, when Coke (@CocaCola), a longtime World Cup sponsor, and Ford (@Fordand Chevrolet (@chevrolet), two dyed in the wool American brands, took on new sponsorship deals in the Premier League. Those were seen as game changing for their non U.S. scope. Today, the ability to engage with soccer fans around the world has made elite clubs even more attractive to US brands for activation, in part because of the deeper roots that the biggest clubs of the world, from Barcelona to Chelsea to Roma to Bayern, have planted on North American soil, and their ability to deliver ROI in the States, through media partnerships, through social, and culminating when the clubs play matches in the States on summer tours, that was not as realistic even five years ago.

That does not mean that the option of MLS, or even the U.S. Women’s National team this summer for World Cup, is less strong for brands, especially those hyper focused on local markets and on the North American footprint primarily, it just presents more options and choices today.

What Are the Differences and the Advantages?

“With La Liga (@LaLigaEN) having a bigger presence in the U.S. now, our offering is much more than it could have been a few years ago,” said Rebeca Díaz González (@rebsdg), who leads international business development for La Liga in the U.S. “We have what we think is really a compelling offering to bring to U.S. businesses in soccer: premium association of two of the big sports brands in the world in Real Madrid and FC Barcelona (as well as the other clubs of La Liga), an association with the best players and some of the most recognizable faces in sport, an eight month long advertising property that runs from August to March (keeping in mind the MLS season is virtually opposite of that), customization in content creation for U.S. partners (content, academies, media assets, activations and grassroots properties), and the cultivation of a young and diverse soccer fan base in the U.S. that appreciates the high level of play of La Liga. All of that makes us really well positioned to take advantages of opportunities here and into the future, and that’s very exciting for us.”

From a club level, FC Bayern Munich saw early on the advantage they had with companies like Audi (@Audi), Adidas (@adidas), T-Mobile (@TMobileand Allianz (@Allianz), as well as a partner in Qatar Airways (@qatarairwaysthat had its own agenda for U.S, growth. They leveraged those brand partnerships that had U.S. ties and marketing budgets (some of which, like Audi and Adidas, were already spending in the U.S. with MLS) to create programs that catapulted the visibility of FCB, not just to fans, but to casual consumers who were enjoying soccer but were not yet aware of the Bayern story.

“When FC Bayern came to the U.S. our aim was to grow the fan base in the Americas, form mutually beneficial partnerships and help to grow the sport of soccer on and off the field,” added Rudolf Vidal, President Americas, FC Bayern München. “After five very successful years, FC Bayern can now talk extensively about our reach, engagement and activation in the Americas as well as Europe and Asia highlighting the club’s global appeal. “Since 2014, the club’s following has almost tripled from 13M to 32M followers. We started with eight official fan clubs and now we have 147 fan clubs in 49 states. We have signed seven North American based partners as well as forming media partnerships with ESPN, FOX, Goal.com and Univision. Our growth in North America is extremely valuable to our internationalization strategy and is consistent with our club values…responsibility, partnership and innovation.”

Vidal’s statements and scope echo the excitement of many clubs who see the U.S. as very fertile ground for growth. However not being in market with teams (the rare crossover ownership groups include City Football Club, whose global ownership presence and brand influence ties together nicely with NYCFC (@NYCFCof MLS and Manchester City (@ManCity)) still gives MLS a distinct advantage for brands that cannot simply be equalized with big name stars and elite brands.

MLS vs. the World

Tony Ponturo

“With MLS as a brand you are buying that national presence with a very passionate local following, and that’s very important when you look at your budget and your return,” added Tony Ponturo (@ponturo), who for over 30 years built and grew the sports marketing platform of Anheuser Busch and now works on the consulting side for Turnkey Intelligence. “Manchester United, Real Madrid are global buys way beyond soccer, but if you want to sell product and grow consistently in key markets in soccer, you look to MLS as your partner here. It all comes down to where you want to spend and how.”

“We are always aware of competition from all forms of entertainment, not just soccer,” added MLS SVP of Partnership Marketing Jen Cramer. “When brands look for consistent, proactive partnership activation in soccer in the U.S., we are able to create an opportunity that reaches millions and is very customized to what their needs are. We live and breathe soccer in the North America all year round, and we know that what we offer for partners of all sizes, be they club sponsorships or as a league partner, really drive ROI. Our record speaks for itself, and we are both proud and excited about what the future holds.”

Jen Cramer

So is there a decision on where and when brands will spend, if they are steeped in American business? “Global football clubs bring with them the eyes of the world, and with that comes a big price tag,” added Chris Lencheski, a longtime sports marketer now teaching at Columbia University. “There are brands that can choose to go that route, and now you will see a bigger return in the U.S. because of the visibility of those clubs with media, social play, and as time permits, local summer tours. However as a market that is still growing, MLS continues to have the position of a cost effective, proactive property that gives you a return in very specific cities that you can tailor to. That also does not include the spends you can do around clubs in fervent markets like New York and L.A. and Atlanta and Portland and Seattle. There you can also take advantage of spends and exposure that can nicely complement all you are doing elsewhere. It’s not an easy balance, but it comes down to how and where you see your brand succeeding and there are pluses and minutes to both. It’s certainly does not have to be one or the other.”

The Pool Remains Deep and Very Wide for Brands

The good news is that for brands looking to activate in North America the choices are pretty vast, and are more unique than ever before. Do you want the allegiance of a global club with a footprint that resonates well beyond the shores? There are clubs, and even leagues, with offices here to talk to. Do you want to be hyper focused on the Americas, including Liga MX, that option exists and is growing. Do you want a hybrid? You can create that as well. It certainly is not an easy choice, but it is a buyers market, and the market is well stocked and growing it seems, each week.

What: La Liga’s deal to play regular-season games in the US and Canada is a huge risk for the league.
Why it matters: La Liga’s gamble to export to domestic league matches won’t do much to grow soccer in America.

Growing Soccer in America

In August, Relevent Sports and La Liga announced their plans to have regular season La Liga games played overseas in the United States and Canada. The move has been made in an attempt to raise the awareness of La Liga soccer and grow the sport in America. However, is this enough reason to bring Spanish domestic league soccer games across the Atlantic? Soccer is already one of the fastest growing sports in America. The number of boys and girls participating in high school has been on a steady rise since 2009 (https://bit.ly/2PCVDcj). The average attendance for MLS games currently stands at around 22,000, which is more than the NBA and NHL average attendances (https://bit.ly/2NgJgVL). The US, Canada and Mexico have just won a joint bid to host World Cup 2026 (@united2026) and Relevent’s ICC preseason tournament continues to set record numbers despite clubs rarely fielding star players on the tour. So does La Liga really need to have its games take place in North America to grow the sport?

Breaking Down La Liga’s Attempt to Reach North America

Speaking to the COO of Collegiate Sports Management Group and an adjunct professor with Columbia University’s Sports Management Program, Ray Katz (@realraykatz) believes that this is the kind of deal that could hurt the league. In his opinion, player relations could suffer greatly from staging games across North American. Additionally, he points out that there are better ways for Spain’s top-tier soccer league to reach new audiences. “If La Liga want to get their product out there, then the key is availability globally from a media perspective. Make the league available to people on any screen, and ideally free or as part of existing a solid OTT or cable subscriptions.”

At the moment, La Liga games are shown on Bein Sports Network, a network that has recently been dropped by one of America’s top cable providers, Comcast. To Katz’s point on availability, a lesson is there to be learned from NBC Sports. In 2013, NBC Sports captured the rights to show the English Premier League (EPL), perhaps Europe’s most popular soccer league. The network made all games available, free of charge, provided viewers had a cable subscription. It wasn’t until last year the network put up a paywall for games not televised on cable. But by then, NBC Sports’ brilliant coverage had made hundreds, possibly thousands, of Americans into fans of one team or another in the EPL. More importantly, it made fans out of people willing to pay to see their team play if they weren’t being televised on one of the network’s major channels.

Make the league available to people on any screen…

If NBC Sports had made a pay streaming service for games at the outset of their deal with the EPL, there is serious doubt as to whether the EPL would be as prominent as it is in the US. In contrasts to La Liga, it’s current spot on a TV network, not readily available to most is extremely damaging to the product in America. On this issue, Katz said, “…La Liga needs to centralize their TV strategy and negotiations instead of having individual teams make these deals. The NFL did this in the 1960’s and it yielded epic results.”

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It’s clear from this deal, La Liga wants to do what the National Football League (NFL) has done with their sport. The NFL has exported regular season games to Europe and Mexico for some time now and it has been met with huge success. However, Katz points out La Liga won’t experience that same success with this new venture. “There isn’t any other high-level American football played outside of the U.S so NFL games abroad, serve essentially as an “ambassador” for the sport itself. For La Liga, every country has their own reasonably strong soccer league so La Liga soccer won’t necessarily attract that many new fans unless there are games with Barcelona or Real Madrid.”

Barcelona FC and Real Madrid CF have a massive global following already and don’t need to hold games across the Atlantic to increase their presence. Ticket pricing has already been earmarked as a possible problem. Last year’s ICC tournament featured the first “El Clasico” to be played outside of Spain, when Barça and Real met in Miami. Tickets to that match started at a whopping $300. This figure would get you into all home games alone at most Spanish clubs. But this is what ticket prices will look like if Americans want to watch regular season La Liga games in their own backyard. On the issue of ticket pricing Katz explained “…the only people who will pay the exorbitant ticket prices, are people who are fans of La Liga already.

You have to find a well thought out, balance between generating revenue and selling tickets. It can’t be one or the other.

A Mountain To Climb

The deal lacks support from the La Liga Players Association (LLPA), who are willing to strike in an effort to keep La Liga games in Spain. Many are not surprised by this stance, given the number of matches and cup competitions soccer players are involved in. One game could make all the difference in a season. La Liga will also have steep competition with established American sports, given the NFL, NHL, and NBA could all be in full force when it seeks to stage its games.

LLPA President, David Aganzo, speaks to the press after La Liga’s Captain emergency meeting.

Additionally, the deal has to be approved by FIFA, UEFA, CONCACF, The United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the Spanish FA, Spain’s National Sports Council and its foreign ministry. FIFA will have the final say on the matter, but precedent doesn’t favor the deal either. The governing body’s former president Sepp Blatter condemned the EPL’s previous proposals to play matches overseas as “unacceptable” and an “abuse of football.” Despite all of this, La Liga recently announced that Barcelona against Girona will be the first game to be played overseas, with the Miami Dolphins Hard Rock Stadium the destination.


What: Chivas TV announces an alliance with Playmaker Media, part of NBC Sports, for the launch of Chivas TV 2.0; while Univision maintains U.S. broadcasting rights.
Why it matters: In 2016, Chivas TV bet on independent streaming and stopped broadcasting its games on open television in Mexico.

Amaury Vergara, Director of Chivas TV.

When the Chivas TV project was born a year ago, it was a small disaster—the signal was bad, its platform at the time was not ideal to support a large number of fans on it, and system faults caused inconvenience among end users. The Chivas team ended up closing deals with Cinépolis and Claro Video to be able to safely reach more people, both through TV and Internet.

“It was a year spent learning what the most real solution (to improve the platform) was in terms of investment and time,” Amaury Vergara, Director of Chivas TV, told Portada. “Broadcasting games every fortnight, [while at the same time] analyzing and planning improvements to the platform in order to comply with user requirements, is complicated,” he added.

Now, in its 2017 opening tournament, Chivas will be defending its League and Cup titles along with the debut of its broadcasts on a new world-class platform.

Chivas announced an agreement with Playmaker Media, a world-class platform backed by NBC, a pioneer in broadcasting sporting events online. Playmaker Media was launched in May 2016 to provide a point-to-point video support service to businesses in need of best-in-class live streaming and on-demand videos. Its portfolio includes the Olympic Games, the Tour de France, and World Cup Russia, with more than 100 million users connected simultaneously.

“We are looking for an ally that doesn’t sees us as only one more customer, but as [part of] a commercial strategy,” said Vergara. Chivas TV sought an ally that understood the team and was willing to commit long-term to the brand

We are looking for an ally that doesn’t sees us as only one more customer, but as [part of] a commercial strategy.

This means that NBC will be lending 100% of its infrastructure and support to reach the more than 80 million potential users in Mexico through mobile, and about 70 million users online. Of course, only a part of these numbers represent Chivas fans.

Chivas TV is the clearest example of the evolution of sports event broadcasting over the Internet. The team is globally innovative, being the only team so far – of any sport – that has decided to leave TV to broadcast its games exclusively on its own streaming platform.

It is the only team so far – of any sport – that has decided to leave TV to broadcast its games exclusively on its own streaming platform.

According to a statement by Amaury Vergara, Director of Chivas TV, the platform supports high and low-speed connections. Users in Mexico are affected by a lack of stable Internet connections, so NBC is promising that its platform will adapt automatically to the type of connection users have, be it cable, wireless or telephone.

For Vergara, the alliance with Playmaker and NBC “will place Chivas as a world-class platform.”

In commercial terms, Playmaker represents a strictly technical ally. “Everything related to sales and content remains in the hands of Chivas TV,” explained Vergara. What will be adjusted is the advertising, which will be maintained more comprehensively within the platform, so that it doesn’t invade the games but rather run alongside them.

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ChivasTVThe new and improved Chivas TV will cost 111 pesos per month and will be charged as a recurring payment. Users will have access to all LigaMX, Copa, U17, and U20 live matches.

As part of the promotion for the retooled Chivas TV, users who register now will be able to enjoy free access to the presentation of the team uniform, the Champion of Champions‘ match against the Tigres, and the friendly against Porto in Chivas Stadium.

In the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Chivas TV will offer different content, including live commentary and statistics, as well as post-match broadcasts and on-demand videos for its MX League and MX Cup home games. However, in these markets, Univision will continue to retain exclusive broadcast rights to the games.

“Univision has been a great ally, so we are open to negotiating for the league to continue its relationship with the channel,” Vergara said. There is still some time left on that contract, so the executive did not share what specific plans he may have in store with the U.S. channel.

For now, Chivas TV will broadcast portfolio matches in its U20 and U17 divisions, including live video and commentary, in the United States and Puerto Rico. The goal is for American users to become familiarized with using the platform, even if they cannot view the Chivas games live (although it does offer audio access to the games).

“What we want is to position the project as a digital platform, not as another channel,” Vergara adde.

What we want is to position the project as a digital platform, not as another channel.

The app is now available for IOS and Android.

What: NBC Sports Group announced today that it will host 2 versus 2 Rocket League Tournament, a new esports tournament, this summer.
Why it matters: This esports tournament will utilize FACEIT’s competitive gaming platform, and numerous NBCUniversal and Comcast regional, national and international assets.

NBC SportsNBC Sports announced it will broadcast an esports tournament later this summer. The featured game of the property’s debut season will be Rocket League. Developed and published by San Diego-based game studio, Psyonix, the game already has a community of more than 32 million players.

“Rocket League is an easy-to-understand game, which makes it the perfect introduction to esports for fans of all backgrounds and ages,” said Josh Watson, Head of Esports at Psyonix, in a statement.

Rocket League is an easy-to-understand game, which makes it the perfect introduction to esport.

In total, more than 40 hours of event coverage will be presented across live-streaming, video-on-demand, and linear platforms.

NBC Sports Group is also interested in reaching the US-Hispanic audience. “We are also excited to be adding Telemundo Deportes, given that the growing Spanish-language audience is an engaged, committed group of gamers. Further, there will be an international component with the broadcast of the Grand Finals on Syfy in the UK, Germany, Australia and multiple countries across Latin America,” stated Rob Simmelkjaer, Senior Vice President of NBC Sports Ventures.

The tournament’s structure will utilize NBC Sports Regional Networks, Telemundo Deportes and NBCU International to manage the Regional Qualifiers across the nation and in Europe through game-play, which will be played on the FACEIT platform beginning on July 22.

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“Our Rocket League esports ecosystem is thriving and we are excited to expand to the NBC Sports audience,” added Watson

The Grand Finals will feature 16 total teams competing on August 26-27 for the inaugural title and the $100,000 prize pool, which will be broadcast live in the U.S. on NBCSN.

Feature Image: @RocketLeague

In this regular feature, we look at the most watched soccer matches in the U.S. over the past weekend, the networks that came out on top and other relevant insights.

What match had the largest audience?

The game between Malaga and Barcelona, played on Saturday afternoon, was the most was the most watched during the weekend. 431,000 viewers broadcast the 31st game of the Spanish Liga Santander.

Which broadcaster came out on top?

The most watched network was NBC Sports, although BeIn Sports broadcast La Ligas’s match. because of their Premier League broadcasting right, NBC made it to number one with 1.3 million viewers.

What else is relevant?

Female soccer was the fifth most watched game, thanks to the match played by the U.S. against Russia. 400,000 viewers tuned ESPN to watch the encounter on Sunday afternoon.

ProgramEpisodeNetworkStartEndTotal Viewers (000)Viewers Age 18-49 (000)Day of the game

Source: SportsTVRatings.com (“All data ©Nielsen, provided by a variety of TV network sources and not directly from Nielsen”)


For our new regular weekly  feature we look at the most watched soccer matches of the weekend of March 11-12.

What match had the largest audience?

The match that had the most viewers in the U.S., according to Nielsen data, was  Burnley vs Liverpool with 434.000 viewers. The match was part of the British Premier League 28th round and was broadcast ive by NBC Sports.

Which broadcaster won?

BeInSports  was the most watched network among the ones broadcasting soccer in the U.S.  during the March 11-12 weekend with 1.1 million viewers through the weekend. BeinSports has the rights to the Spanish La Liga matches. La Liga has very popular clubs (e.g Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona) as well as popular players  (e.g. Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo). BeInSports was followed by Fox Sports and NBC Sports.

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What else is relevant?

Two matches of the FA Cup, the English tournament that is played through knockouts (as opposed to round robin like the Premier League) were among the top 10 most watched soccer matches. Both were broadcast by Fox Sports 1.

LeagueMatchNetworkStartEndTotal Viewers (000)Viewers Age 18-49 (000)Day of the game

Source: SportsTVRatings.com (“All data ©Nielsen, provided by a variety of TV network sources and not directly from Nielsen”)