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MLS SET TO KICK OFF: IS U.S. FINALLY READY FOR PRO SOCCER?
Published April 4, 1996
Major League Soccer debuts Saturday when the D.C. United play the San Jose Clash in front of an expected sellout crowd of 32,000 at SJU's Spartan Stadium. With critics saying this could be the last legitimate chance for success of professional outdoor soccer in the U.S., MLS investors are relying on a single league structure, an integrated marketing approach and extensive TV exposure to sell the game and its stars to U.S. and international fans. MLS is also counting on high-profile corporate sponsors and a 64-game TV package on ESPN, ESPN2, ABC and Univision to spark enthusiasm and increase visibility. MARKETING: The league exceeded its sponsorship and licensing goals with up to $50M in total marketing revenue, according to MLS Exec VP Randy Bernstein. Bernstein says the integrated marketing approach has been vital to success in signing up such companies as Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, and MasterCard for up to $2M each. Bernstein: "It's a great opportunity to build brand awareness at the highest level with the least threat of ambush." Sponsors can sign deals with MLS, its teams and TV partners, and be included in all league promotions. MLS has signed sponsors to three-or four-year deals, safeguarding against losing them after Year One. Official sponsors will have one 30- second spot on national coverage, at least five minutes of ID on the "clock wrap," and other marks, including signage. They will also have the right of first refusal on Univision and local TV broadcasts. Official sponsors are American Honda, A-B, AT&T, Bandai, Fuji Film, and MasterCard. Corporate partners, signed for a reported $500,000 per for up to four years, include All Sport, Kellogg, and Naya Spring Water. MERCHANDISE: Some teams have expressed frustration with the lack of available merchandise at season's start, and one complained they haven't even received team uniforms. But Bernstein promises MLS merchandise, backed by 25-30 licensees, will hit stores within a month. The delay was "deliberate" with hopes that limited distribution would create higher demand. Bernstein: "We cannot flood the market." Licensed merchandise will be available soon in sport and soccer specialty stores and catalogues, but not right away in mainstream retailers. On the field, corporate logos will be affixed on six team's uniforms. The logo will be 3-by-12 inches on the back of uniforms under the numbers and 2-by-3 inches on both the right sleeve and left leg. LOCAL MARKETING: Each team has certain marketing categories open for local packages. In these deals, teams keep all revenues under a certain threshold. Categories open include financial services, banks, insurance, supermarkets, and petroleum. In Boston, the Revolution has inked deals with Bank of Boston, Dunkin' Donuts, Friendly's and McDonalds. The soft-drink category is sold as a split category due to stadium pouring rights. Teams can sell soft drink rights locally on a non- exclusive basis (THE DAILY). NEWEST PARTNER: MLS announced yesterday that Allsport Photography Inc. has agreed to a multi-year supplier-level deal to become "Official Photographer" (MLS).