SBJ/May 20-26, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Demonstrations key to Microsoft’s MLS deal

Major League Soccer has signed Microsoft to a multiyear sponsorship that will focus on the technology company’s Windows 8 brand. According to an industry source, the agreement — including Microsoft’s commitments to spending on broadcast and digital advertising — is for mid-seven figures annually.

Among the deal points, Windows 8 will be featured on LED signage on MLS’s nationally televised games on ESPN, NBC Sports Network and Univision. The brand also will be featured as an in-game segment sponsor on the broadcasts.

Windows gets LED board space in MLS stadiums as part of the deal, Microsoft’s first with a North American league.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Windows 8 becomes the official operating system of MLS with the deal.

According to Microsoft, a key element of the sponsorship will be on-site product demonstrations of Windows 8, using an MLS app, before and during matches at stadiums.

“With these trial experiences at the matches, we’ll present Windows in a way that [fans] can digest it easily,” said Kathleen Hall, general manager of Windows consumer marketing. “Soccer is a global game, and we’re a global brand, with a billion-plus users around the world. We want to emotionally connect people to our brand.”

The first such on-site activation was slated for this past weekend, at the New York Red Bulls-Los Angeles Galaxy match at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. One hundred “brand ambassadors” were scheduled to show off the product to fans outside the stadium and on its concourse, using Microsoft’s Surface tablets. The activation was being managed by the collaborative agency partnership of Gilt Edge Soccer Marketing and Eiger Marketing Group.

The schedule of future on-site activations has yet to be determined, but Hall said Microsoft hoped to be at all MLS stadiums during the season. An MLS spokesman said there were no potential team-level sponsor conflicts for Microsoft’s league-level deal. Microsoft also aims to activate at the MLS All-Star Game and MLS Cup.

A first version of the free MLS app for the Windows 8 platform went live in the Windows Store at the beginning of this season. An enhanced version, featuring video highlights during games; live scores; statistics and play-by-play of every match; and news and opinions from the league’s website, will be available in the coming months.

“This is a deal that shoots straight to the core of who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish with our fan base,” said Kathy Carter, president of Soccer United Marketing, MLS’s commercial arm. “With Microsoft, we’re kindred spirits in our desire to improve the way soccer fans can interact with our game.”

Negotiations for the deal, which was done without agency involvement, began in September. Other than developing apps, Microsoft does not sponsor any sports leagues in North America. In the company’s sole team sponsorship, Xbox is the shirt sponsor of Seattle Sounders FC, with an agreement that expires at the end of the 2013 season.

“Xbox and the Sounders have a great relationship and, sure, that helped grease this deal a bit,” Hall said. “But I have to say, the people at MLS … brought to life the word ‘partnership.’ There’s things they want to get out of it, and there’s things we want to get out of it. They want the people who watch the game to have a deeper and richer experience. That’s what we’re going to help them do.”

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