MLS sponsors were correctly identified as such by the league’s fans at a higher rate than the companies’ rival brands across all categories, according to the results of this year’s MLS Sponsor Loyalty survey conducted for SportsBusiness Journal/Daily by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.
|AT&T had an MLS performance worth cheering, improving more than any other brand.
For example, the number of fans who correctly identified AT&T as an MLS sponsor was three times higher than the number of fans who thought Verizon had the league’s wireless rights — despite the fact that Verizon holds a slightly greater market share of U.S. wireless subscribers than AT&T (33 percent for Verizon, 31 percent for AT&T through the first nine months of 2012). AT&T, the league’s telecommunications partner since 2009, saw a 15.7 percentage-point improvement in its score from last year, the most movement of all 56 brands measured in this year’s survey.
Fifth-year sponsor Volkswagen is also making the most of its league-level deal. Similar annual surveys have been fielded for the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR and PGA Tour since 2007, and only Chevrolet’s NASCAR relationship this year (40.1 percent) ranks in the automobile category above the 28.5 percent mark earned by VW with MLS here. That VW recognition comes as only 3 percent of all cars sold in the United States through October were VWs, according to Autodata research.
Among other key findings:
■ Visa has been MLS’s official payment services partner since 2007, and its 39.8 percent overall recognition rate this year is the highest mark for any credit card in the history of the survey across all leagues. More than 44 percent of avid fans recognized the relationship, the highest rate of any of the league’s sponsors among avid fans.
■ Anheuser-Busch, an MLS sponsor since the league’s inaugural 1996 season, had its best survey ever, netting 38.3 percent of fan mind share, a year-over-year increase of 13 percentage points. Blaise D’Sylva, vice president of media, sports and entertainment marketing for A-B, said the foundation for the beermaker’s connection with soccer fans comes from the individual markets.
“One of the things you’ll find about MLS fans is that they are incredibly passionate at the local level,” D’Sylva said. “We have nine team deals, and we know this fan base loves to go to games, so a lot of the activation we do is at the local level, from the use of ticket promotions and player appearances, to MLS’s 300 partner pubs where we provide Budweiser-branded glasswear and coasters.”
■ Allstate, the league’s official insurer, saw its awareness levels increase nearly 14 percentage points, to 34.8 percent among all fans. In 2010, one year before signing on with the league, the brand’s overall awareness level was 8 percent. “When Allstate became the official insurance sponsor of MLS, we set out to establish our presence quickly and in a big way so we could communicate Allstate’s brand message of ‘protection’ to a greater audience of soccer fans,” said Caitlin Morse, marketing manager at Allstate. “In 2012, we activated at more soccer events than last year, so we’ve inherently reached more consumers.”
■ With a full decade of MLS sponsorship under its belt, positive identification of Panasonic as the league’s consumer electronics sponsor was almost equal to the combined totals of rivals Samsung and Sony.
■ Pepsi, another sponsor since the league’s debut, had its best showing ever in the survey this year. Its 31.1 percent recognition rate is up from 15.8 percentage points in 2008. Sierra Mist, the brand promoted throughout the league by Pepsi between 2004 and 2008, generated a 10.3, matching its average dating to 2007. The company has touted its Pepsi Max product since 2009.
■ Gatorade finished its 10th season as an MLS partner with a 2.7 percentage-point increase in its recognition rate, to 30.5 percent. However, that mark is 5 percentage points lower than what it posted in the inaugural MLS survey in 2007. In addition, the awareness rate for Gatorade with MLS is lower than what the brand sees among fans for its league deals with the NFL (56.7 percent), NBA (53.8) MLB (44.2) and NHL (32.3).
Respondents were analyzed based on their general avidity levels. Fans termed as “avid” responded “4” or “5” to the question “How big a fan are you of MLS?,” then 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 termed as “casual” responded “3” to the first 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 sponsors, respondents selected from a field of companies and brands provided to them. The percentages listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 4.9 percent.
Major League Soccer, seven 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?|
|Unaffected / less likely||20%||19%||20%||43%||50%||45%|
|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||24%||22%||26%||44%||51%||48%|
|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||18%||21%||23%||41%||46%||47%|
SPONSORSHIP SIGNIFICANCE AND ASSESSMENT
Subject: How much more likely are fans to consider purchasing/using an MLS sponsor’s product/service if they are aware of the relationship?
To read: 60 percent of MLS fans said they would be more likely to consider purchasing an item that is made by MLS’s official consumer electronics sponsor if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate increased to 71 percent when considering only those MLS fans who correctly knew that Panasonic is MLS’s official consumer electronics partner.
|Category (MLS Sponsor)||Among All MLS Fans||Among MLS Fans Who Correctly Identified Sponsor||Difference|
|Consumer electronics (Panasonic)||60%||71%||+11 percentage points|
|Credit card (Visa)||59%||67%||+8|
|Sports/energy drink (Gatorade and Red Bull)*||66%||72%||+6|
|Soft drink (Pepsi Max)||69%||74%||+5|
|Wireless service (AT&T)||59%||64%||+5|
|Athletic apparel (Adidas)||68%||71%||+3|
* If a fan selected either Gatorade or Red Bull, that fan became part of the second grouping in the survey.
Subject: What brands do fans think should be MLS sponsors?
To read: 43 percent of MLS fans said they think Anheuser-Busch should be an MLS sponsor, compared with 25 percent who think MillerCoors should have an MLS deal. Those numbers became 66 percent and 20 percent, respectively, when considering only those MLS fans who correctly knew that Anheuser-Busch is MLS’s official sponsor in the beer category.
|Among all MLS fans||Among MLS Fans Who
Correctly Identified Sponsor
|MLS Sponsor/Competitor||Response Rates||Difference||Response Rates||Difference|
|Anheuser-Busch/MillerCoors||43% / 25%||+18 percentage points||66% / 20%||+46 percentage points|
|Gatorade/Powerade||60% / 39%||+21||80% / 36%||+44|
|Visa/MasterCard||59% / 36%||+23||73% / 34%||+39|
|AT&T/Verizon||50% / 34%||+16||67% / 30%||+37|
|Allstate/State Farm||38% / 27%||+11||56% / 22%||+34|
|Volkswagen/Honda||30% / 25%||+5||52% / 25%||+27|
|Pepsi/Coca-Cola||51% / 53%||-2||69% / 43%||+26|
|Adidas/Nike||55% / 55%||0||72% / 52%||+20|
|Panasonic/Sony||28% / 32%||-4||50% / 30%||+20|
Notes: Fans could select both the official sponsor and the competitor if they chose to do so. The one specific competing company listed was selected by Turnkey for consideration in the survey file.
Which of the following is an official sponsor of MLS?
|I’m not sure||22.7%||13.0%||28.0%||37.1%||40.7%||35.8%|
Visa was the most recognized brand in our study among MLS fans for the third consecutive year. The company sold out of the 2012 MLS Cup ticket packages that were offered to Visa Signature cardholders for purchase; the packages included lower-bowl tickets and a parking pass. Select Visa cardholders experienced on-field access to watch players warm up at the MLS All-Star Game. The San Jose Earthquakes gave their Visa-cardholding fans access to presales throughout the season to events such as the Earthquakes vs. Houston/Mexico vs. Senegal U-23 doubleheader played at AT&T Park in San Francisco and MLS Cup home playoff games.
|I’m not sure||19.2%||19.0%||28.5%||36.1%||41.2%||41.3%|
AT&T saw the biggest improvement over 2011 of all the brands that were measured in the survey. ESPN analyst and former MLS player Alexi Lalas appeared at AT&T stores in the Philadelphia area as a lead-up to this year’s AT&T MLS All-Star Game. Also during All-Star Week, AT&T, the Philadelphia Union and MLS W.O.R.K.S. teamed up to build Community Field, a playground and small soccer field at Science and Discovery High School in Philadelphia. In addition, AT&T again this year sponsored the AT&T Goal of the Week and the AT&T Goal of the Year awards, and it was a founding partner at the new BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
|I’m not sure||21.7%||15.5%||28.0%||36.6%||37.7%||37.3%|
Budweiser got a bang for its MLS buck this season, as both clubs competing in the Dec. 1 MLS Cup championship game were in brewer Anheuser-Busch’s portfolio of sponsored teams. A-B also is a founding partner of The Home Depot Center, which hosted MLS Cup as Los Angeles’ home venue. In Houston, the company gained exposure at the Dynamo’s new BBVA Compass Stadium, via dasherboard signs and A-B’s sponsorship of one of the venue’s party decks. A-B signed a four-year deal in 2011 with Soccer United Marketing, the commercial arm of MLS, reportedly worth a total of $10 million-plus for the league.
|I’m not sure||17.2%||21.0%||42.0%||37.6%||46.2%||55.2%|
The sixth annual Sueño MLS 2012 presented by Allstate youth skills competition was held in Seattle, Los Angeles and Dallas this summer. The ultimate champion out of 500 entrants was crowned on Sunday, May 13, live on Univision’s “República Deportiva” broadcast. MLS sponsors Adidas, Degree Men, Gatorade, Pepsi and Volkswagen also activated with the competition. Allstate signed a four-year deal with MLS in February 2011, and it activates its “You’re in Good Hands” motto through sponsorship of the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award.
|Four Points by Sheraton||12.1%||12.0%||4.5%||11.4%||11.6%||3.5%|
|I’m not sure||39.9%||25.0%||44.5%||61.4%||54.3%||62.2%|
The hotel category is once again open for MLS after Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, parent company of Four Points by Sheraton, ended its sponsorship with the league following the 2011 season. Sheraton had been the league’s official hotel sponsor since 2010.
|I’m not sure||14.1%||14.0%||21.0%||27.2%||28.1%||25.9%|
Both Gatorade and Red Bull saw increases among MLS fans in recognition numbers in this year’s survey, with Red Bull scoring its highest marks ever in the survey. FC Dallas midfielder Brek Shea was featured in a series of videos from Gatorade in which he discusses his training methods and preparation. Gatorade also provided players with pink sideline towels during the MLS W.O.R.K.S. charitable initiative’s breast cancer awareness campaign. Red Bull during the season sold cans of its product featuring images of New York Red Bulls players Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez.
|I’m not sure||22.7%||22.5%||27.5%||39.1%||43.7%||45.8%|
At the 2012 MLS All-Star Game, Volkswagen treated VW owners with VIP parking and at the Soccer Celebration, the activation site adjacent to PPL Park, Volkswagen entertained fans with a 22-person foosball table. The automaker has been the title sponsor of the MLS MVP award and has been the jersey sponsor of D.C. United since the 2008 season.
|I’m not sure||16.7%||NA||NA||26.2%||NA||NA|
Adidas and MLS in July announced that the league will incorporate the Adidas miCoach Elite System datatracking technology, which provides real-time performance metrics, leaguewide for the 2013 season. At the team level, the Los Angeles Galaxy ran a monthlong contest on Facebook this season in which fans could design the team’s third Adidas uniform kit for the 2013 and 2014 campaigns. Nearly 8,000 entries were submitted, and team added more than 50,000 Facebook followers during the campaign.
|I’m not sure||27.8%||NA||NA||46.5%||NA||NA|
Panasonic in October 2011 renewed its partnership with MLS and added the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams as part of the deal. MLS Live, the league’s subscription service for out-of-market games, archived games and highlights, is available through apps on the iPhone, iPad and Panasonic Viera Connect televisions. Panasonic was MLS’s first partner in the consumer electronics category in 2003.
|I’m not sure||19.7%||15.0%||15.5%||38.1%||34.2%||36.3%|
Pepsi has been an MLS sponsor since the league’s 1996 inaugural season. It renewed its deal through 2014 in April 2011, for an estimated $3 million annually. For the second straight year Pepsi staged Clasico de Calle, a skills competition in search of the top street soccer players in California. The promotion received online exposure through the Pepsi and MLS websites, with five grand-prize winners ultimately receiving a trip for two to the All-Star Game in Philadelphia, where Pepsi recognized the winners during the event’s TV broadcast.
* Official MLS sponsor
NA: Not applicable. Fans were not asked about their awareness of sponsors in this category prior to this year.