SBJ/April 9 - 15, 2007/This Weeks News

MLS gets Visa, Dick’s in the game

If soccer sponsorship sales counted like goals, Major League Soccer would be up 3-1 to start the season.

Burger King is in talks to return for 2007
in the quick-service restaurant category.

Soccer United Marketing has netted MLS two new corporate partners, Visa and Dick’s Sporting Goods, and is nearing a renewal with Burger King.

RadioShack, a partner since 2003, is the only sponsor to drop its support of the league. The move follows a series of layoffs and store closures last year.

Financial terms of the new deals were not available, but the additions and subtractions have MLS up 20 percent in sponsorship revenue compared with this time last year, according to Kathy Carter, SUM’s vice president.

The deals are the first of a new structure for MLS, in which corporate partners receive league rights but do not get exclusive category rights with each team, as partners have in the past. Also absent are media rights because those are now owned by league broadcast partners ESPN, Fox Soccer Channel, Univision and HDNet.

Instead, the partners receive intellectual property rights, player rights, hospitality and some local marketing rights.

Visa’s new partnership makes it the official payment services provider of MLS and other SUM properties, including the U.S. Soccer Federation, Mexican national team and Interliga, a Mexican club team tournament.

The deal came together near the end of 2006 and was believed to be a domestic investment in soccer to support its broader, international sponsorship of the World Cup. Visa had been awarded those rights by FIFA from 2007-14 but lost a court battle to MasterCard, the former World Cup partner, and had to give up that partnership.

Visa declined to comment on its new deal with MLS, but Carter said the company will offer pre-sale advantages for MLS events, including the All-Star Game and MLS Cup. GMR handles Visa’s activation.

SUM also is developing Hispanic platforms for the company, Carter said, adding that the card company will activate around Futbolito, a 4-on-4 Hispanic soccer tournament, with gift programs that will be handed out on-site.

Dick’s Sporting Goods’ partnership is the culmination of a large investment in U.S. soccer that began last year when it bought the naming rights to the Colorado Rapids’ new stadium for the next 20 years. Since then, it has added the rights to be the halftime sponsor of ESPN’s “MLS Primetime Thursday.”

As the official sporting goods retailer, Dick’s will offer MLS merchandise in stores in certain markets, especially around major events. Dick’s began such offerings last year in Dallas during the MLS Cup.

Burger King, which signed a six-month, seven-figure agreement to become the league’s first official quick-service restaurant last year, is in negotiations to return in 2007. Last year, Burger King offered in-store and online promotion of a $100,000 sweepstakes, and also gave away Burger King- and MLS-branded soccer balls and “Have It Your Way” gift cards valued at $2.

Plans are still in the works for how Burger King will activate this year.

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