SBJ/20100607/SBJ In-Depth

MLS plans to ride the coattails of World Cup

Major League Soccer plans to take a different approach to the FIFA World Cup when the event kicks off Friday, shutting down the domestic season for two weeks as it looks to use the South African tournament to its advantage.

Unlike the summers of 1998, 2002 and 2006 — when MLS stuck with its schedule as some of its top players were busy playing on sport’s grandest stage — the league hopes to piggyback on this year’s World Cup as a way to appeal to a broader fan base and enhance its relationship with the international soccer community.

“It’s certainly not an easy task to shut down our league for a specific period of time,” said Kathy Carter, executive vice president of Soccer United Marketing, “but the World Cup will grow the popularity of our sport and our players. We believe in the saying, ‘The rising tide lifts all boats.’”

With several MLS players expected to play key roles for their national teams in South Africa, including Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan and Chivas USA defender Jonathan Bornstein (United States), New York Red Bulls defender Andrew Boyens (New Zealand) and Kansas City Wizards midfielder Roger Espinoza (Honduras), the World Cup provides the league an opportunity to connect with World Cup viewers.

This advertising campaign is one way Major League
Soccer is connecting to the World Cup.

An MLS marketing campaign linked to the World Cup began with a TV spot that aired Memorial Day weekend, while the entire campaign started this past weekend. The league also has created a speakers bureau that positions current and former MLS players as international soccer experts.

On a local level, the league office is working with its 18 clubs to create events and maximize the exposure of the World Cup. For example, teams are distributing ESPN World Cup collateral materials, including viewing guides, at MLS stadiums.

“The clubs know their markets and they are creating a variety of events around the tournament,” Carter said.

The Red Bulls have constructed a World Cup countdown clock at the new Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Similarly, the Colorado Rapids have encouraged Denver-area businesses to air World Cup matches in their offices “so that their staff can bond around the sport of soccer,” Carter said.

All MLS teams are involved with viewing parties of World Cup games. Some of the teams will host such events at their home stadiums, while others are electing to partner in their communities to bring events to restaurants, pubs or public spaces. The San Jose Earthquakes, for example, have partnered with sponsors and the city of San Francisco to air free coverage of the tournament in front of City Hall.

“Every four years, the World Cup elevates the sport of soccer to a higher level in the United States,” Carter said. “People from all backgrounds, ages and origins embrace the tournament and consume the games as passionate fans. Soccer fans are united, skeptics are converted and the sport grows in our country. It is an opportunity to connect Major League Soccer and our clubs with World Cup viewers and fans in an authentic and meaningful way.”

Brian Helfrich writes for sister publication SportsBusiness Daily.

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