SBJ/February 11-17, 2013/People and Pop Culture

Howard Handler, CMO, Major League Soccer

Howard Handler just completed his first year as chief marketing officer of Major League Soccer. Over a career spanning more than 25 years, he has helped build brands as diverse as Madison Square Garden, MTV, the NFL, “Saturday Night Live,” Virgin Mobile and Quaker Oats.

Photo by: MLS

Logic can get you from point A to B, but imagination can take you anywhere. In our business, you need both, and a little luck.



On working in soccer:
Soccer is a global language, and the people involved are true believers. The passion and level of commitment to make MLS the league of choice for fans and players in the U.S. and Canada is a big driver of our growth. It’s contagious.

On the changes in sports business: Live sports is now the undisputed king of media. Digital and social innovation, and the availability of better data, has affected everything: the fan experience, the way we market and sell, our ability to create content, and a greater immediacy and overall sense of urgency.
 
On MLS’s coming 18th season: Incredible rivalries are taking root. We just announced Rivalry Week [week 3 of the season, in mid-March]. All of our television partners are in. The buildup to World Cup 2014 heats up in 2013. The U.S. men’s national team is attempting to qualify for Brazil, a national team in which MLS is now an important cornerstone.

On MLS’s ‘Supporters’ culture: It’s our “special sauce.” Our clubs are followed by a rapidly expanding, diverse group of Gen Y fans who celebrate the game, who care deeply about their teams and provide an exhilarating live experience.
 
Go Big M: We are a Maize and Blue family. I met my wife, Wendy, at Michigan, and now both of our kids are in Ann Arbor. I regularly follow Michigan football, hockey, lacrosse and soccer.

My fantasy dinner guests would be: Muhammad Ali, Ray Charles, George Harrison and Richard Branson. Ali for his transcendent social impact; Ray for his genius and soul; George because, to me, his journey was the most extraordinary; Richard because he is the consummate entrepreneur, a citizen of the globe and always takes big bites out of life.

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