Major League Soccer officials expect Wednesday’s AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., to have the largest sponsor activation and branding campaigns of any event in the league’s 15-year history. All 23 league partners will activate around the game, which will pit MLS’s top players against Manchester United.
“The New York City market is so different because of the scale and size, so a lot of our partners are wanting to extend their presence in the market,” said David Wright, vice president of global sponsorship for Soccer United Marketing.
Anheuser-Busch and Pepsi have both launched mass-media branding campaigns around this year’s event, with A-B promoting the event on a video board in Times Square and Pepsi advertising the game on the Seventh Avenue subway lines, which stop in Times Square, as well as on the New York-New Jersey PATH trains and the train station at Journal Square in New Jersey. Title sponsor AT&T will brand a hot-air balloon to fly over Red Bull Arena in the days leading up to the event.
MLS scheduled five days of sponsor activation and fan events in New York City, and the events are based around a free soccer-themed expo being held at the 82 Mercer convention building in SoHo. Called the Hub, the expo was to have been open Saturday and Sunday to the public. Visa is promoting the game with All-Star-branded food trucks outside the expo, tequila maker el Jimador is distributing mixed drinks at the expo, and Xbox will display its Kinect product there. The league will also host its semiannual partner summit in SoHo on Tuesday.
MLS partners also organized 21 community events in the lead-up to the game. Allstate Insurance is hosting a viewing party at the South Street Seaport for 5,000 fans, the Home Depot has organized a community building project in Washington Heights today, and Volkswagen was to have hosted a youth soccer clinic at Pier 46 on Sunday. In 2010, MLS held a fan expo surrounding Reliant Stadium in Houston the day of the event, and attracted 9,500 fans.
Partners are also promoting the event at points of sale, and according to Wright, 2,400 retail locations in the New York City metropolitan area will feature branding for the game.
Castrol, which became partners with MLS in 2010, promoted the 2011 game at 3,500 AutoZone stores nationwide with a sweepstakes awarding travel for four to the game. According to Carolyn Eckert, promotions, creative and sponsorship manager for Castrol, the company received 135,000 entries. “We see [the sweepstakes] as a success because the majority of entries came through purchases,” Eckert said.
Eckert said Castrol’s activation at this year’s game shows how far the company’s soccer strategy has progressed in a year. Last year, Castrol had a small tent in the pregame expo. This year Castrol is using the event to launch its Castrol Index website, which uses an algorithm to rate player performance. It is also hosting a national sales meeting at the event and partnering with Volkswagen to promote the game at dealerships in the greater New York City area.
MLS last held its All-Star Game in New York City in 1997 at Giants Stadium. Former MLS Commissioner Doug Logan said that instead of acting as a marketing platform for partners, the event was geared around extending the MLS brand to casual viewers.