New MLS sponsors move the needle with fans
Allstate and Sheraton, MLS’s newest marketing partners, drew immediate recognition from fans this year for their involvement with the league, according to the results of a Turnkey Intelligence sponsor awareness survey conducted exclusively for SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily.
In addition, more than two-thirds of avid fans surveyed said they are somewhat or more likely to “consider trying,” “regularly consume” or “recommend” a product/service that is formally aligned with MLS, while approximately half of casual fans said they would do the same. Those rates are higher than what was recorded in our similar studies of MLB, NHL, NFL and NBA fans’ sponsor loyalty and are close to the marks posted by fans of NASCAR, long considered a leader among leagues for the loyalty of its fans to its sponsors.
|Four Points, in its first full year as official hotel, was among the leaders in recognition gains. |
Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide was a league sponsor during the 2010 MLS playoffs. In April, it committed to a multiyear deal to leverage its Four Points by Sheraton brand as the league’s official hotel. The brand subsequently hosted viewing parties this season at Four Points properties in Los Angeles, Seattle, Kansas City, Columbus and San Jose, bolstered by a multiplatform media buy.
“We had an ongoing presence on MLSSoccer.com as well as club sites,” said Elizabeth Poon, Starwood associate director, global and North American division. “The brand advertised throughout the season and further amped up communication efforts around All-Star [Game] with a sweepstakes for a chance to go to the game and MLS Cup.”
Sheraton’s 2011 response rate among all fans, 11.8 percent, was almost 8 percentage points higher than what it recorded in the 2010 survey. Only Allstate and non-league-sponsor Subway (up 8.6 percentage points) had bigger increases.
|Pepsi’s lack of exclusivity showed up on foxsoccer.com, where Fergie drank Dr Pepper next to a Pepsi promotion. |
As for tenured partners, MLS before the 2011 season extended its longtime relationships with both Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch, but with a significant amendment for each. The beverage providers no longer receive the right to automatic exclusivity at the team level. For the first 15 years of the league, teams still had to make their own deals if they wanted an official soda or beer partner, but the deal had to be with Pepsi or A-B.
Anheuser-Busch, an MLS partner since the league began in 1996, was correctly selected as the league’s beer sponsor by 29.7 percent of casual fans, tops among that demo. However, the brand has experienced a trend of divergent awareness since our inaugural study in 2007. While casual fans have increased their recognition gradually since 2008, only 21 percent of avid fans correctly identified the brand this year, down 10.9 percentage points from 2007.
Pepsi’s lack of exclusivity was also present on foxsoccer.com, a media partner for the league since 2007 before its partnership ended at the conclusion of the season. Despite a media buy by Pepsi and the fact that the two entities teamed for a contest that sent a fan and a guest to the MLS Cup, static side-panel ads on foxsports.com/soccer ran side by side with a video ad featuring the Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie drinking a Dr Pepper.
Overall, however, neither A-B nor Pepsi seemed to suffer in the eyes of MLS fans: 27 percent of the 400 fans surveyed correctly identified Pepsi as the league’s official soft drink (33.5 percent among avid fans, 20.6 percent among casual fans), while one-quarter of the fans did the same for A-B (21 percent of avids, 29.7 percent of casual). Both overall rates were statistically unchanged from our 2010 survey.
Visa was the No. 1 overall brand, in terms of recognition among all fans, with 35.1 percent of all fans aware of the brand’s official status. Visa also had the biggest drop of all official sponsors, though, with a decline of 5.1 percentage points among all fans.
For this project, Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of more than 400 members of the Toluna Online panel who were at least 18 years old.
Respondents were screened and analyzed based on their general avidity levels. Fans categorized as “avid” were those who responded “4” or “5” to the question “How big a fan are you of MLS?”, claimed to “look up scores several times a week or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 10 games per season” and “have a favorite team.” Fans categorized as “casual” responded “3” to the same initial question, then claimed to “look up scores several times a month or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 3 games per season” and “have a favorite team.”
When asked to identify official sponsors, respondents selected from a field of companies and brands that was provided to them for each business sector.
The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 4.9 percent. Ad spending totals are from Nielsen and represent estimated spending on MLS broadcasts on Fox Soccer Channel, ABC, ESPN/ESPN2, TeleFutura and Galavision based on network-provided rate cards.
The survey was not conducted in 2009.
Major League Soccer, three MLS clubs and U.S. Soccer are among the more than 70 major league teams, league offices and sports brands that are clients of Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.
|Are you more or less likely to consider trying a product/service if that product/service is an official sponsor of MLS?|
|Are you more or less likely to regularly consume a product/service if that product/service is an official sponsor of MLS?|
|Unaffected / less likely||22.5%||23.0%||34.5%||49.7%||45.3%||51.0%|
|Are you more or less likely to recommend a product/service to a friend or family member if that product/service is an official sponsor of MLS?|
|Unaffected / less likely||22.0%||25.5%||36.5%||50.8%||48.3%||50.0%|
|Are you more or less likely to consciously support a company by purchasing its products/services if the company is an official sponsor of MLS?|
|Unaffected / less likely||20.5%||23.0%||NA||46.2%||47.3%||NA|
|I’m not sure||15.0%||15.5%||17.5%||34.2%||36.3%||36.4%|
Pepsi in April renewed its league deal for another four years, through 2014, worth an estimated $3 million annually. Pepsi’s MLS partnership dates to the league’s 1996 inaugural season and trails only the NBA’s Sprite relationship as the longest-tenured league-soda deal in major U.S. sports. The soda maker this year teamed with MLS TV rights holder Fox Soccer for a Pepsi Max online sweepstakes that sent one fan and a guest to the 2011 MLS Cup at Home Depot Center. Rival Coca-Cola, meanwhile, has marketing deals with three of the league’s newer teams — Seattle, Portland and Philadelphia — and pouring rights at three other stadiums.
|I’m not sure||18.0%||29.0%||29.0%||45.7%||43.8%||41.4%|
American Airlines, a league sponsor since 2008, sponsored a contest on apparel site soccer.com this year in which AAdvantage members could win a trip anywhere in the continental United States and $1,000 to spend on soccer.com. American’s own website featured the 2011 MLS Cup Experience sweepstakes in which one grand-prize winner was awarded a three-day, two-night trip for two to Los Angeles with flights on AA, accommodations, and two tickets to the MLS Cup at Home Depot Center. Also on the site this season was a promotion to win a trip for two to London for a VIP soccer experience. In addition to its league-level deal, American is the official airline of FC Dallas, D.C. United, New England and Chicago — along with Fulham FC of the English Premier League.
|I’m not sure||25.0%||44.5%||41.5%||54.3%||62.2%||50.5%|
Four Points by Sheraton in April announced a partnership marking Four Points’ return as the official hotel brand of MLS. Four Points first joined as a partner during the 2010 playoffs. The brand this summer touted a sweepstakes at fourpoints.com/mls for fans who booked reservations and stayed at any Four Points property in North America between June 1 and July 15. The grand prize was an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the league’s 2011 All-Star Game. Fifty other guests won a pair of tickets to a regular-season game of their choice. In addition, Sheraton’s parent company is Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, and Starwood Preferred Guest members are now able to transform their frequent-stayer points into VIP opportunities at MLS events as part of the SPG Moments program.
|I’m not sure||13.0%||28.0%||22.0%||40.7%||35.8%||38.4%|
Visa was the most recognized brand in our study among MLS fans for the second consecutive year. In September, the company signed a multiproperty partnership extension with MLS, renewing through 2014 its status as the official payment services company of MLS, U.S. Soccer and the Mexican national soccer team’s U.S. tour. Visa has been partners with all three organizations since 2007. Visa cardholders this year also had access to a private, advanced ticket-sale offering for the 2011 All-Star Game through the websites of MLS, its clubs, and several of the league’s other marketing and media partners.
|I’m not sure||14.0%||21.0%||19.5%||28.1%||25.9%||36.4%|
Gatorade trailed only Visa as the sponsor that is identified correctly most often in this year’s study. Los Angeles Galaxy and U.S. national team star Landon Donovan is a Gatorade endorser. The brand this year also signed endorsement deals with goaltender Tim Howard of the men’s national team as well as with U.S. women’s team stars Hope Solo and Abby Wambach. Red Bull has been the league’s official energy drink sponsor since 2008.
|I’m not sure||24.5%||40.0%||28.0%||52.8%||47.8%||41.4%|
There is no league-level sponsor among shipping companies, but UPS has team-level deals with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders. The Sounders and UPS co-sponsored a book drive this season.
|I’m not sure||22.5%||27.5%||26.9%||43.7%||45.8%||41.4%|
In the third year of a four-year contract as the league’s official vehicle, Volkswagen was again the most recognized automaker in the study. The company has been the jersey sponsor for D.C. United since 2008 and has an interactive VW showroom at the team’s home, RFK Stadium.
|I’m not sure||19.0%||28.5%||36.5%||41.2%||41.3%||45.5%|
Throughout the regular season, AT&T offered fans the chance to vote for the AT&T Goal of the Week and AT&T MLS Goal of the Year through online and text voting. Nearly 50,000 text votes from 9,000 unique users were ultimately submitted. MLS fans could also check out the AT&T MLS Goals of the Month, AT&T Game of the Week and Inside U.S. Soccer offerings through AT&T U-verse. In addition, AT&T arranged a live Twitter fan chat (@ATT) with MLS legend Alexi Lalas during the MLS Cup finale and the 2011 All-Star Game — an event for which AT&T was the title sponsor, giving it a jersey patch on each player in the game.
|I’m not sure||15.5%||28.0%||17.6%||37.7%||37.3%||35.4%|
The league this spring signed a four-year extension with Anheuser-Busch for U.S. rights and gave local rights to the clubs for the first time in the league’s 15-year history. The brewer ultimately secured seven team-level deals for the year, including one founding partner deal with Real Salt Lake. The league-level deal also included a multiyear renewal of Budweiser’s sponsorship of the U.S. men’s national team and Bud Light’s sponsorship of the U.S. women’s national team. Budweiser is title sponsor of the MLS Golden Boot Award, given annually to the league’s top scorer. In addition, A-B owns 50.2 percent of Grupo Modelo, the Mexican-based maker of Corona, which in turn has deals with four MLS clubs, including jersey and presenting sponsor rights of Chivas USA.
|I’m not sure||21.0%||42.0%||NA||46.2%||55.2%||NA|
Allstate signed a four-year deal in February to become the league’s official insurance sponsor, a deal that also gives it rights to the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams and 11 youth national teams. With MLS, the “You’re in Good Hands” brand sponsors the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award. The renewal also includes sponsorship of the Mexican national team for its friendly matches on U.S. soil. Prior to the Allstate deal, the league had been without an insurance partner since 2003, when New York Life finished a four-year deal.
|I’m not sure||22.0%||29.0%||13.0%||49.3%||54.7%||24.9%|
It has been four full seasons since the league has had an official quick-service restaurant, following Burger King’s departure in 2007. McDonald’s leads the QSR pack with three team-level deals, while Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King and KFC sponsor two teams each.
|Bank of America||21.5%||23.5%||NA||18.1%||17.9%||NA|
|I’m not sure||23.0%||29.0%||NA||51.3%||45.3%||NA|
The bank category is open at the league level, and only D.C. United (TD Bank) and the Houston Dynamo
(Wells Fargo) have deals with a bank that has a substantial presence beyond its immediate market. Bank
of America this year signed one-year endorsement deals with women’s national team stars Alex Morgan,
Hope Solo and Abby Wambach.
* Official league sponsor; NA: Not applicable; was not listed as a response option in this year’s survey.