SBJ/March 5-11, 2012/In-Depth

MLS shares the soccer spotlight in new KickTV video site on YouTube

A couple of caveats about Kick TV, the latest venture from Major League Soccer’s digital division: It isn’t really about MLS, and it’s not on your TV.

Instead, Kick TV is part of Google’s $100 million, 100-channel venture to kick-start its YouTube online video site into an infinite series of themed channels. MLS Digital pitched the idea of Kick TV to Google and YouTube as a global soccer site featuring news and analysis, instructional sessions and full-length versions of memorable games from past seasons.

Kick TV launched in February, with a separate MLS Digital crew responsible for all of the content while YouTube handles ad sales and contributes Google’s promotional power. MLS and Google will share ad revenue.

The soccer site features news and analysis, memorable games and instructional sessions.
Chris Schlosser, general manager of MLS Digital, said the biggest worldwide soccer stories will take precedence. That means plenty of coverage of the Barclays Premier League and the UEFA Champions League as well as MLS.

“This is not an MLS-U.S. soccer channel,” Schlosser said. “This is a channel that is covering the global sport of soccer.” As an example of the distinction, the official MLS site, MLSsoccer.com, won’t include a link to Kick TV, he said.

Features include “The Mixer,” which is just what its name implies, a blend of topical news and stories from the soccer world shot in magazine-show format. Co-hosts include Jimmy Conrad, a retired MLS player who played in the World Cup as part of the U.S. national team, and Steve Nicol, the beloved Liverpool player from the 1980s who went on to coach the New England Revolution for 10 years. Additional Kick TV shows will be produced by freelancers overseas, Schlosser said.

Kick Classics are uncut games from past years, with a heavy emphasis in the first few weeks on MLS friendlies against European powers and past MLS matches. Pop-up anecdotes and factoids have been added to the archival game broadcasts.

MLS Digital plans to hire 20 full-time staffers to work on the YouTube channel, which is free for users and relies on advertising alone for revenue. An unspecified number of contractors will also be hired for the New York-based venture. Executives at MLS Digital and YouTube declined to discuss revenue and profit forecasts. Viewer numbers for YouTube are public and will be available soon for Kick TV.

Sports ranks as one of YouTube’s most popular categories. In addition to MLS, the site has recently launched similar ventures with Red Bull, Tony Hawk, Bleacher Report and Alli Sports.

Soccer clips already rank high on YouTube viewership, but a consolidated site with the sheen of professional production could command a bigger and more loyal audience, executives at MLS and Google believe. The sport’s global dominance is key. Seventy percent of YouTube’s 4 billion daily views come from beyond the U.S.

Claude Ruibal, head of sports content at YouTube, knows the world of soccer — and soccer’s hold on the world — well. He spent several years leading Coca-Cola’s global soccer marketing campaigns.

Ruibal mentions intense interest among fans for the smallest scrap of news or soccer-related clips as the basis to be bullish. Independent team sites for FC Barcelona and Real Madrid attract significant clicks and viewership merely by posting footage of players walking through the tunnel to the pitch, for example. “Fans can’t get enough,” he said.

Beyond the global soccer site, MLS Digital has made changes to its leaguewide online offerings. Denver-based Double Encore redesigned the MLS apps for 2012, a year after the number of downloaded MLS applications doubled.

In addition, NeuLion teamed with the league to relaunch its subscription service, including a monthly option for the first time. The subscription service, known as MLS Live, is $59.99 for the season or $9.99 a month. The full-season package consists of 230 games and is available online and on the iPad, iPhone, Roku and Panasonic TVs.

ISM, a London company, has produced a new fantasy game for MLS, the company’s first U.S. project. Other clients of ISM include UEFA and the Premier League.

Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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