For the second year in a row, the number of MLS fans who could correctly identify the league’s sponsors in select business categories exceeded the number of fans who thought, incorrectly, that other companies had those league ties — with Visa leading the way as the league’s most recognized sponsor.
Those are among the results of the 2013 MLS Sponsor Loyalty Survey, conducted for SportsBusiness Journal/Daily by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.
Visa has been MLS’s official payment services company for seven seasons. More than 43 percent of the 400 fans surveyed this year correctly identified Visa as holding the MLS sponsorship in that category.
Not only has Visa’s score gone up among MLS fans in recent years, but this was also the fourth consecutive survey that Visa has posted the league’s top result. Additionally, Visa’s score this year is the highest mark for any credit card in the history of the Sponsor Loyalty Survey series. Similar annual surveys have been fielded for the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR and PGA Tour since 2007. (Previous best score for Visa: 43.3 percent, among NFL fans earlier this year — compared to 43.4 percent among MLS fans here.)
The majority of Visa’s MLS-generated exposure in 2013 came via stadium signage seen during broadcasts by the league’s TV partners: NBC, ESPN and Univision. The company also sponsors the San Jose Earthquakes, the Houston Dynamo and the U.S. Soccer Federation.
A Visa spokesman said via email that the company in 2013 expanded its activation across all of its U.S.-based soccer sponsorships and made a concerted effort to team with fellow MLS partners on various activations. As part of that effort, the company gave commemorative MLS Visa gift cards to fans who used Visa credit cards to purchase and customize jerseys at select MLS matches and matches for the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams. The gift cards provided a rebate for the cost of the jersey customization as well as being a souvenir from the game.
During All-Star week in Kansas City this summer, Visa and MLS co-hosted contests at several area retailers to drive both MLS merchandise sales and Visa purchases. At the five-day fan festival leading up to the All-Star Game, the league awarded $50 Visa gift cards to winners of various contests. Fellow MLS sponsor Xbox also included a $100 Visa gift card as part of a sweepstakes that awarded one fan an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the 2013 MLS Cup championship.
|Continental Tire’s “The Ultimate Soccer Mom” spot gave Red Bull prominent exposure.
Another league partner that has seen sustained improvement in the survey is Red Bull. The eponymous New York MLS franchise appeared on six nationally televised games this season, one more than the Red Bulls had in 2012. The brand also received exposure from a two-part series of commercials that ran during NBC’s MLS telecasts this season, produced by Continental Tire, another league partner. In a spot titled “The Ultimate Soccer Mom,” Dax McCarty and Heath Pearce from the Red Bulls and Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius from D.C. United get a ride to a soccer game in a minivan adorned with Continental-brand tires. All four were wearing their MLS team warm-up apparel. A follow-up spot, “After The Match,” shows the same “soccer mom” picking them up, and McCarty and Pearce’s Red Bull jerseys are seen prominently.
Among other key findings:
■ Volkswagen’s numbers were down slightly compared with 2012, but the brand’s awareness levels are still double what it generated in 2008, the first season of its official league deal, and it still ranks first among all brands in the automotive category.
■ Pepsi, a sponsor since MLS’s 1996 debut, had its best showing ever in the survey this year. Its increase in score of 8 percentage points was the biggest such movement of any of the 74 brands measured in the survey.
■ Anheuser-Busch, also an MLS sponsor since 1996, saw a decline of 3 percentage points compared with last year’s record-high mark, but its score is still up 10 points over what was posted in 2011.
■ Gatorade finished its 11th season as an MLS partner with a 3.5 percentage-point decrease in its recognition rate, to 27 percent 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. This year’s survey was conducted Nov. 12-17, during the MLS conference finals. Last year’s survey also was fielded in mid-November in the days leading up to the conference finals.
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, several 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.
IMPACT ON SAMPLING AND SUPPORT
|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||21%||20%||19%||52%||43%||50%|
|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||22%||18%||21%||46%||41%||46%|
|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||23%||24%||22%||52%||44%||51%|
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: 57 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 68 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 THE SPONSOR||DIFFERENCE|
|Sports/energy drink (Gatorade and Red Bull)*||62%||80%||+18 pct. points|
|Bank (Wells Fargo)||49%||62%||+13 pct. points|
|Insurance (Allstate)||54%||65%||+11 pct. points|
|Consumer electronics (Panasonic)||57%||68%||+11 pct. points|
|Tequila (El Jimador)||51%||61%||+10 pct. points|
|Wireless service (AT&T)||57%||66%||+9 pct. points|
|Payment services (Visa)||59%||68%||+9 pct. points|
|Beer (Budweiser)||59%||63%||+4 pct. points|
|Soft drink (Pepsi)||66%||70%||+4 pct. points|
|Automotive (Volkswagen)||52%||50%||-2 pct. points|
* 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: 53 percent of MLS fans said they think Visa should be an MLS sponsor compared with 31 percent who think MasterCard should have an MLS deal. Those numbers became 69 percent and 25 percent, respectively, when considering only those MLS fans who correctly knew that Visa is MLS’s official sponsor in the payment services category.
|AMONG ALL MLS FANS||AMONG MLS FANS WHO CORRECTLY IDENTIFIED THE SPONSOR|
|MLs SPONSOR/COMPETITOR||RESPONSE RATES||DIFFERENCE||RESPONSE RATES||DIFFERENCE|
|Visa/MasterCard||53% / 31%||+22 pct. points||69% / 25%||+44 pct. points|
|AT&T/Verizon||51% / 35%||+16 pct. points||69% / 28%||+41 pct. points|
|El Jimador Tequila/Juarez Tequila||25% / 15%||+10 pct. points||51% / 10%||+41 pct. points|
|Anheuser-Busch/MillerCoors||35% / 21%||+14 pct. points||58% / 21%||+37 pct. points|
|Gatorade/Powerade||55% / 32%||+23 pct. point||66% / 30%||+36 pct. points|
|Pepsi/Coca-Cola||50% / 42%||+8 pct. points||68% / 34%||+34 pct. points|
|Allstate/State Farm||40% / 28%||+12 pct. points||60% / 28%||+32 pct. points|
|Wells Fargo/Bank of America||30% / 26%||+4 pct. points||47% / 16%||+31 pct. points|
|Volkswagen/Honda||27% / 25%||+2 pct. points||52% / 23%||+29 pct. points|
|Panasonic/Sony||28% / 31%||-3 pct. points||51% / 31%||+20 pct. points|
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 the MLS?
|I’m not sure||21.4%||22.7%||13.0%||35.0%||37.1%||40.7%|
Visa was the most recognized brand in our study among MLS fans for the fourth consecutive year. The company sponsors private advanced ticket sales for Visa cardholders leading up to the MLS All-Star Game, playoffs and all other premier league events. At this year’s All-Star Game in Kansas City, select Visa cardholders had on-field access to watch players warm up. Additionally, MLS Works, the league’s community outreach initiative, awarded a $500 Visa gift card to the fan with the best moustache who was entered in an online contest as part of the league’s Soccer Kicks Cancer campaign last month.
|I’m not sure||15.9%||19.7%||15.0%||30.0%||38.1%||34.2%|
Pepsi had signage at more than 60 Kansas City-area retailers and sampling at Sporting Park for this year’s MLS All-Star Game. The brand also this fall kicked off a yearlong “Live for Now” global marketing campaign featuring FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi. A 30-second spot titled “The Trick” opens to Messi performing fancy footwork with a can of Pepsi, with fans around the world then seen doing their own similar tricks.
|I’m not sure||18.9%||19.2%||19.0%||36.5%||36.1%||41.2%|
AT&T this year continued its title sponsorship of the MLS All-Star Game as well as the Rookie of the Year and fan-elected Goal of the Year awards. In July, the company also teamed with the league and EA Sports for a first-of-its-kind exposure effort: The “In the Game” Challenge gave fans the opportunity to vote one forward into the All-Star Game by scoring goals in EA Sports’ “FIFA Soccer 13.” Montreal Impact forward Marco Di Vaio was the winner, with fans using Di Vaio to score 73,838 of the more than 489,000 total goals scored in the contest.
|I’m not sure||23.4%||21.7%||15.5%||36.0%||36.6%||37.7%|
Anheuser-Busch sponsors 11 MLS clubs, FIFA, and other international soccer clubs and organizations. At the end of every Philadelphia Union and Vancouver Whitecaps home game, fans vote via their mobile devices for the Budweiser Man of the Match. Then, one chosen fan gets to meet that player after the game and receives two field seats and a VIP tour for a future match.
|I’m not sure||26.4%||17.2%||21.0%||37.0%||37.6%||46.2%|
Allstate is in the middle of a four-year deal signed in February 2011 to be the official auto, home and life insurance sponsor of MLS, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Mexican national team. The company activates its “You’re in Good Hands” motto through title sponsorship of the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award. The Northbrook, Ill.-based company also sponsors the Chicago Fire and D.C. United.
|I’m not sure||16.4%||14.1%||14.0%||30.5%||27.2%||28.1%|
Gatorade has been an MLS partner since 2003, and for the second straight year it activated its “Beat the Heat” campaign with the league. The program, in its ninth year overall, seeks to educate players on the need to rehydrate often. As part of the effort, the brand makes available what it calls the Gatorade Heat Safety Kit, via gatorade.com and MLSsoccer.com. As for Red Bull, which has been an official MLS sponsor since 2008, it posted its highest marks ever in this year’s survey. The brand has been lead sponsor of the club in New York since 2006 and held naming rights for Red Bull Arena since it opened in 2010.
|I’m not sure||26.9%||22.7%||22.5%||47.0%||39.1%||43.7%|
Volkswagen was title sponsor of the 5K run that debuted as part of the festivities around the MLS All-Star Game this year. The company also was the jersey sponsor of D.C. United since the 2008 season, but ended that deal after this season. Among VW’s competitors, Toyota near the end of the regular season put its name on FC Dallas’ stadium (previously known as Pizza Hut Park), adding to an MLS naming-rights portfolio for it that also includes the Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park and Toyota Plaza at PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union.
|I’m not sure||25.4%||27.8%||NA||44.5%||46.5%||NA|
Panasonic, with 11 years of MLS sponsorship under its belt, posted a recognition rate as the league’s consumer electronics sponsor that’s greater than what rivals Samsung and Sony received combined. At the team level, the company is a technology partner and sponsor of Red Bull Arena (home to the New York Red Bulls), PPL Park (Philadelphia Union) and Sporting Park (Sporting Kansas City). Panasonic also this spring announced a three-year global partnership with FC Barcelona.
|Bank of America||20.4%||NA||NA||14.0%||NA||NA|
|I’m not sure||30.3%||NA||NA||47.0%||NA||NA|
Wells Fargo became an MLS sponsor in July, its first such deal with any sports league. As part of that deal, it became the presenting partner of the MLS Works Community MVP program, recognizing an individual in each MLS team market who “goes above and beyond to make a difference.” Two weeks later, it announced a sponsorship of the Mexican national team for that squad’s annual U.S. tour. Both agreements run through 2016. At the team level, Wells Fargo has been a sponsor of the San Jose Earthquakes since 2011. Its Wells Fargo Goals for Education activation, which calls for the bank to donate $250 for every Earthquakes goal scored, resulted in a donation of more than $8,000 this season to Bay Area schools.
|I’m not sure||29.4%||NA||NA||46.5%||NA||NA|
El Jimador joined the league sponsorship roster in 2011 and this season was the presenting sponsor of the MLS Stream of the Week, a free live MLS matchup available on MLSsoccer.com. Former MLS star Alexi Lalas is a brand endorser. Additionally, as sponsor of the U.S. men’s and women’s national soccer teams and the annual U.S. tour of the Mexican national team (elements that are part of the MLS agreement), El Jimador released limited-edition logoed bottles this summer in several MLS markets.
* Official MLS sponsor
NA: Not applicable. Fans were not asked about their awareness of sponsors in this category in this year’s survey.