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Volume 20 No. 42
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New deals pour in for MLS clubs

Major League Soccer clubs have cashed in on the league’s decision to open local marketing rights in the beer and soft drink categories.

This spring the league renewed sponsorships with longtime partners Anheuser-Busch and Pepsi and for the first time in the league’s 15-year history the deals allowed clubs to sign local partners in both categories. A source said clubs had been asking the league to free up the categories for at least five years in order to increase revenue and local activation. Under the new deal, teams have the ability to bring on multiple partners in both categories.

After the league signed a four-year extension with Anheuser-Busch for U.S. rights in March, six clubs signed local deals with A-B and seven more signed with other beermakers. After the league signed a similar four-year, soft drink extension with Pepsi in mid-April, five clubs signed local deals with Coca-Cola, four clubs deepened their stadium agreement with Pepsi to include marketing rights, and the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo signed deals with the Dr Pepper Snapple Group for 7Up and Dr Pepper, respectively.

Changes in the partnership with Anheuser-Busch at the league level allowed Chivas USA to sell a jersey sponsorship to Corona.
MLS officials declined to comment for this story. A source familiar with the league said that individual team marketing deals in both categories can range from $75,000 to well north of $200,000, depending on the depth of activation, the size of the local market and whether the deal includes pouring rights at the venue.

Chivas USA has been perhaps the biggest benefactor in the beer category, signing Grupo Modelo to a multiyear jersey sponsorship for the Corona Extra brand in January. Terms of the deal were not released, though similar deals are in the $1 million to $2 million range per year.

Dawn Ridley, vice president of business development for D.C. United, said the club’s recent deal with Pennsylvania-based beermaker Yuengling allows the club to better cross-promote its brand within the local market.

“It gives us a regional opportunity with [Yuengling], which we did not have before,” Ridley said. “They are not the kind of company doing a lot of national marketing, but they are very relevant in the D.C. area.”

D.C. United representatives declined to discuss terms of the Yuengling deal. Ridley said Yuengling will take on a presenting role of the team’s Hall of Tradition awards area at RFK Stadium, and the beer’s logo will appear on the team website and in stadium signage. The club does not own pouring rights at RFK, but the team’s contract with concessionaire Centerplate will allow Yuengling to distribute at the venue.

Like D.C. United, the Earthquakes signed a deal with San Francisco-based beer Gordon Biersch, and the Portland Timbers signed a founding stadium deal with Portland-based Widmer Brothers Brewing Co.

The 2010 MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids had a pre-existing founding partnership with Coke at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, and the club added marketing rights to the Coke deal in February. Coke two-liter bottles sold in Colorado Wal-Mart stores now feature Rapids branding. Coke also sponsors and locally promotes the team’s Family Nights ticket package, which sells a four-pack of tickets, meals and Cokes for $49. According to Rapids CMO Tim Hinchey, the Coke partnership allowed the club to lower the price of the package from $69 in 2010. The team sold 539 tickets at its largest Family Night game before the Coke partnership. With the partnership, the club sold 3,484 family night tickets to a May 22 game.

“[The Coke partnership] allows us to get out into the community in a way we couldn’t before,” Hinchey said.

The Chicago Fire boosted its stadium pouring deal with MillerCoors to include marketing rights, as did the Philadelphia Union with Anheuser-Busch.

FC Dallas, the Los Angeles Galaxy and New England Revolution are still without partners in either category. Tom Payne, president of the Galaxy, said the team’s strong national TV schedule — 11 of its 34 games are nationally televised — has limited the club’s options in the categories. Only league partners are able to activate in-stadium during nationally televised games.

Representatives from FC Dallas and the Revolution said the clubs are pursuing deals in both categories.