MLS All-Star Game Becoming League's Signature Event, With Weeklong Festivities
As the MLS All-Star Game "has grown, the league has been able to bring in better and better international teams, and the game has become" the league's "signature event to showcase its growing pool of talent on an international stage," according to Jamie Goldberg of the Portland OREGONIAN. Tonight's All-Star Game at the Timbers' Providence Park, which pits the league's All-Stars against Bundesliga club Bayern Munich, "will be broadcast in more than 150 countries and is expected to be among the most viewed All-Stars Games in MLS history." Timbers Owner Merritt Paulson said, "We're doing more than the league has ever done. It's not just the marquee game. It's going to be a real week-long deal" (Portland OREGONIAN, 8/4). The AP's Anne Peterson reported tonight's match has "long been a sellout and secondary market tickets were going for as much as $1,500." The city of Portland's "affection for the Beautiful Game has grown in the last four decades -- pushed also by the success" of the Univ. of Portland's soccer program -- but it has "exploded since the Timbers made the jump to MLS" in '11. The league "never could have anticipated the surge that resulted in the game's popularity in the Pacific Northwest, with young urbanites jumping aboard and lending a kind of hipster-cool vibe to being a supporter" (AP, 8/3). The OREGONIAN's Goldberg noted when MLS announced Bayern Munich as the opponent in December, the league "couldn't have predicted that the game would turn into a quasi-rematch" of this summer's U.S.-Germany match in the FIFA World Cup. But now MLS is "hoping to build off the momentum generated by the World Cup as it tries to use the All-Star Game to showcase MLS on an international stage" (Portland OREGONIAN, 8/2).
HERE FOR THE PARTY: In Portland, Sara DiNatale noted the city's Pioneer Courthouse Square is hosting the MLS Experience, which has been "taking over the square" every day from 12:00-9:00pm PT leading up to the game. The square has hosted "concerts, autograph sessions and DJs as part of the MLS Experience, the hub for All-Star week activity" (Portland OREGONIAN, 8/3). Also in Portland, Matthew Kish noted corporate sponsors have hosted "dozens of events" around the match. adidas on Saturday had a brand-sponsored "replica of Providence Park in Pioneer Square," while Nike hosted a "soccer-like street-ball tournament on a barge in the Willamette River." Sunday's activities included a "Volkswagen-sponsored bike tour of Portland," as well as a "free concert" in Waterfront Park featuring the Flaming Lips, sponsored by AT&T and Samsung. MLS has hosted an "all-day festival each day." Last night's festivities included "free access to Providence Park for the practices of the all-stars as well as Bayern Munich" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 8/1). A Portland OREGONIAN editorial stated the extracurricular activities "should be fun," but in the U.S., the "most effective approach to attracting casual fans has been to build a league's brand around superstars." That makes the actual All-Star game one of MLS' "most important marketing tools" (Portland OREGONIAN, 8/3).
CHANNELING PORTLANDIA: ESPN FC's Graham Parker wrote the game is "only one part of a week that, at its best, showcases a club's relationship to its city." All-Star host cities such as Portland and K.C. "have in common a sense of dialogue between club and fans, particularly the millennials who are the most visible presence on the streets for the week's events." Portland has an "almost unrivaled, theatrical game-day experience within the league that will doubtlessly be showcased this week, but it also has a fan base whose involvement transcends the 90 minutes of the game." The Timbers fans' relationship with the club's ownership "isn't always easy, given Paulson's occasional take-no-prisoners PR style, but it feels like a three-dimensional one" (ESPNFC.com, 8/5). Meanwhile, in Orlando, Paul Tenorio notes as part of MLS expansion club Orlando City SC's funding agreement with Orange County for a downtown stadium, MLS "agreed to bring the All-Star game to Orlando within the next five years." Orlando City is "still early in the process of identifying an ideal year to bid," but it is "aiming to host the game" in '17 or '18. Orlando would "ideally not host the game" in '15, when it is "playing in the renovated Citrus Bowl." The team also would "prefer not to host the game" in '16, its "first year in the new soccer-specific stadium" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/6).
YOUNG & THE RESTLESS? FOXSPORTS.com's Kyle McCarthy wrote the decision to stage Monday's MLS Homegrown Game, which includes top players in academy programs, "makes sense, but the logistics and the opposition (the Portland Timbers U-23 side) prompted technical staffs around the league to raise some concerns about the exercise." Crew MF Wil Trapp said, "I think it’s necessary to come and show the young audience and the United States in general where we are at in terms of our homegrown talent.” McCarthy wrote it is a "case MLS wants to make on a grander stage, but this particular night did not advance it much" (FOXSPORTS.com, 8/5). SI.com's Liviu Bird wrote the Homegrown Game is "on par" with the NBA and MLB's Rising Stars games, but "take them for what they are for the pros involved: showcases, not tryouts." Having a Homegrown Game featuring MLS academies "shows how far" the U.S. has come in "developing players -- and the long road still ahead" (SI.com, 8/5). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Singer noted Chipotle title-sponsored the Homegrown Game, which is the brand's "largest sports partnership." The pitch for the game also featured a "huge Chipotle logo" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/5).
JUST (DON'T) DO IT: In Portland, Allan Brettman noted adidas is Bayern Munich's kit supplier, but at the Univ. of Portland's Merlo Field, where the team is practicing, "Nike rules." UP AD Scott Leykam said that the school worked with MLS to "sell temporary signage to Bayern Munich sponsors or partners." Signage has been "affixed to sideline railings for Bundesliga, AT&T, Bayern jersey sponsor T-Mobile, and Bayern Munich part-owner Audi." adidas, "which is Bayern's uniform supplier and also a club part-owner, is conspicuously absent" (OREGONLIVE.com, 8/5).