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Volume 22 No. 8
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Heineken, Coca-Cola score early with MLS

It didn’t take long for Heineken and Coca-Cola, two of Major League Soccer’s newest corporate partners, to make an impression on the league’s fans, according to results of the eighth annual MLS sponsor loyalty survey, conducted for SportsBusiness Journal/Daily by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.

When Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser, category-exclusive partners since the league’s inception in 1996, opted not to extend those relationships after their contracts expired following the 2014 season, the league acted quickly to fill the voids.

Former MLS players Cobi Jones (left) and Brian Dunseth were part of Rivalry Week promotions.
On the beer front, MLS secured a five-year deal with Heineken valued at more than $50 million. The deal began in January 2015, and by last fall, fans clearly recognized that a transition had occurred. More than 31 percent of the more than 400 MLS fans polled in the 2015 study correctly identified Heineken as the league’s official beer. That compares to 26 percent of all fans in the 2014 survey who correctly identified Anheuser-Busch as the league’s beer sponsor at that time.

Heineken is also the presenting sponsor of MLS Rivalry Week, featuring regional matchups, and at the team level, it’s the official beer of the Chicago Fire, D.C. United, New York City FC and Orlando City SC, and the official imported beer of the Columbus Crew, Houston Dynamo and New York Red Bulls.

What Heineken did in the survey’s beer category, Coca-Cola did in the soft drink category. The company in April signed a multiyear deal to be the league’s official nonalcoholic beverage sponsor. By fall, 45 percent of the fans surveyed correctly identified Coca-Cola as a league sponsor, the highest response rate in this year’s survey. By comparison, Pepsi’s highest level of recognition among fans was 39 percent, coming in 2013.

Coca-Cola has been gradually increasing its presence in MLS over the past few years, complementing its historically strong presence in the global soccer space. The company has been a global partner of FIFA since 1974 and UEFA since 1988. In MLS, in addition to the league deal, Coca-Cola now has team-level sponsorships with six clubs.

And to MLS fans, the new league-level engagement fits — according to the survey, at least. In 2013, when asked whether Coca-Cola should be an MLS sponsor, 42 percent of the fans polled replied in favor. That number increased to 62 percent in 2014 and 72 percent last year. No company scored higher.

The Sponsor Loyalty Survey series, which debuted in 2007, also includes annual studies of MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, NASCAR, NCAA and PGA Tour fans.

Other findings from this year’s MLS study:

In each of the measured categories, the league’s official sponsor received the highest response score — meaning more fans correctly identified MLS’s sponsors than thought (incorrectly) that a competitor held those rights.

AT&T wrapped up its seventh season as an official MLS sponsor with a 37 percent recognition rate among all fans, up from 2014.

More than one-third of the respondents correctly identified Allstate’s official status with MLS. The insurance company has been a league sponsor since 2011.

First-season sponsor Audi garnered a 31 percent recognition rate, the highest ever for an automobile brand in the history of the MLS survey. Volkswagen, a league partner from 2008 through 2014, previously held that distinction, earning a 29 percent awareness rate in 2012.

In the third year of a deal that runs through 2016, Wells Fargo earned an awareness level of nearly 31 percent.

Etihad Airways wrapped up its second season as the league’s official airline by leading the field of airline competitors in the survey. American Airlines had been the league’s partner from 2008 through 2012 and led the category by double-digit percentages in each of those years.


For this project, Turnkey Intelligence 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. The 2015 survey was conducted Dec. 1-7, a period leading up to and following this year’s MLS Cup. The 2014 survey was fielded Nov. 11-14, in advance of the MLS conference finals. The 2013 survey was also fielded in mid-November.

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.

More than 220 sports and entertainment entities use Turnkey’s custom research services and/or Audience Portal technology on an annual basis. Among those clients are the MLS league office and 18 of the league’s 20 clubs.


Are you more or less likely to consider trying a product/service if that product/service is an official sponsor of MLS?
  Avid Casual
  2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
More likely 79% 81% 79% 52% 52% 48%
Unaffected / less likely 21% 19% 21% 48% 48% 52%
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?
  Avid Casual
  2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
More likely 80% 83% 79% 52% 57% 54%
Unaffected / less likely 20% 18% 22% 48% 44% 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?
  Avid Casual
  2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
More likely 79% 82% 77% 50% 53% 49%
Unaffected / less likely 21% 18% 23% 50% 48% 52%


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 shopping at the official home improvement sponsor of MLS if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate increased to 68 percent when considering only those MLS fans who correctly knew that Home Depot is MLS’s official partner in that category.

Fast-casual restaurant (Chipotle) 57% 75% +18 pct. points
Wireless service (AT&T) 56% 68% +12 pct. points
Home improvement (Home Depot) 57% 68% +11 pct. points
Bank (Wells Fargo) 52% 62% +10 pct. points
Insurance (Allstate) 53% 62% +9 pct. points
Airline (Etihad Airways) 49% 57% +8 pct. points
Beer (Heineken)^ 59% 66% +7 pct. points
Automotive (Audi)^ 56% 63% +7 pct. points
Tire (Continental) 51% 58% +7 pct. points
Soft drink (Coca-Cola)^ 64% 70% +6 pct. points

* Business segment defined by Turnkey. The official sponsorship designations for the listed companies might be more specific in their definition.
^ New MLS sponsor in 2015

Subject: What brands do fans think should be MLS sponsors?
To read: 72 percent of MLS fans said they think Coca-Cola should be an MLS sponsor compared to 38 percent who think Pepsi should have an MLS deal. Those numbers became 84 percent and 31 percent, respectively, when considering only those MLS fans who correctly knew that Coca-Cola is MLS’s official sponsor in the soft drink category.

Coca-Cola/Pepsi^ 72% / 38% +34 pct. points 84% / 31% +53 pct. points
Heineken/Stella Artois^ 39% / 13% +26 pct. points 58% / 14% +44 pct. points
Home Depot/Lowe’s 49% / 35% +14 pct. points 65% / 26% +39 pct. points
AT&T/Verizon 56% / 40% +16 pct. points 73% / 35% +38 pct. points
Chipotle/Panera Bread 33% / 22% +11 pct. points 53% / 22% +31 pct. points
Allstate/State Farm 38% / 31% +7 pct. points 53% / 25% +28 pct. points
Wells Fargo/Bank of America 35% / 39% -4 pct. points 54% / 36% +18 pct. points
Etihad Airways/Emirates 9% / 13% -4 pct. points 24% / 7% +17 pct. points
Audi/BMW^ 30% / 36% -6 pct. points 46% / 30% +16 pct. points
Continental/Michelin 14% / 30% -16 pct. points 35% / 22% +13 pct. points

^ New sponsor in 2015
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?

  Avid Casual
Soft Drink 2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
Coca-Cola* 47.3% 29.5% 20.9% 43.5% 18.5% 10.5%
Pepsi 20.4% 27.5% 38.3% 13.5% 30.0% 40.5%
Mountain Dew 5.0% 5.5% 3.5% 2.5% 6.0% 3.5%
Sierra Mist 2.5% 7.0% 9.0% 3.0% 2.5% 8.5%
I’m not sure 14.4% 19.5% 15.9% 32.0% 35.0% 30.0%

After a 19-year partnership with PepsiCo brands for the league’s soft drink category, MLS in April announced a switch to Coca-Cola. The four-year deal also made Coca-Cola the official nonalcoholic beverage partner of the U.S. Soccer Federation. At the 2015 All-Star Game, Coca-Cola showcased its Share a Coke marketing campaign, with cans featuring the names of the league’s all-star players.

  Avid Casual
HOME IMPROVEMENT 2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
Home Depot* 46.3% NA NA 40.5% NA NA
Lowe’s 16.9% NA NA 13.0% NA NA
Ace Hardware 11.4% NA NA 3.5% NA NA
Menards 4.5% NA NA 1.0% NA NA
I’m not sure 20.9% NA NA 42.0% NA NA

Home Depot was the league’s second most recognized partner in this year’s survey (trailing only Coca-Cola) with more than 43 percent of all fans (avid and casual combined) correctly identifying it as MLS’s home improvement sponsor. The Atlanta-based company has been an MLS sponsor since 2008 and was the original naming-rights sponsor of the current StubHub Center, home of the LA Galaxy, from 2003 till 2013. In addition, Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank owns expansion club Atlanta United FC, which is due to begin MLS play in 2017.

  Avid Casual
WIRELESS 2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
AT&T* 36.3% 38.0% 40.8% 37.5% 28.0% 34.0%
Verizon 14.9% 14.5% 18.4% 8.5% 16.0% 11.0%
T-Mobile 11.9% 12.5% 10.4% 8.5% 7.5% 5.0%
Sprint 8.0% 11.5% 5.5% 8.5% 7.5% 7.5%
I’m not sure 19.9% 16.0% 18.9% 34.0% 34.5% 36.5%

AT&T is MLS’s official “communication services” sponsor and lead sponsor for the league’s All-Star Game. Online voting for the 2015 AT&T MLS All-Star Game ran May 28-July 3 through, social media sites and playing “EA Sports FIFA 15.” Fans could vote for one forward to play in the All-Star Game by scoring goals in the video game on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3. One goal equaled one vote, and fans were able to score/vote as many times as they wanted.

  Avid Casual
INSURANCE 2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
Allstate* 33.8% 33.0% 36.8% 33.0% 26.0% 34.0%
Geico 16.9% 15.5% 12.4% 8.0% 11.5% 10.0%
State Farm 9.5% 12.5% 7.0% 4.5% 9.0% 4.5%
Nationwide 6.0% 8.0% 7.5% 4.0% 7.0% 7.0%
I’m not sure 17.4% 20.0% 26.4% 38.5% 38.0% 37.0%

MLS in May launched a program called Every Save Makes a Difference, a collaboration of MLS Works (the league’s community outreach initiative), Allstate and Univision Deportes. For each save made by a team (according to the Allstate Official Saves Tracker) in games broadcast on Univision, UniMás or Univision Deportes, $500 was donated to that team’s designated community organization.

  Avid Casual
FAST-CASUAL RESTAURANT 2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
Chipotle* 32.3% NA NA 34.5% NA NA
Panera Bread 13.4% NA NA 6.5% NA NA
Five Guys 9.0% NA NA 5.5% NA NA
Steak ’n Shake 8.5% NA NA 1.5% NA NA
Qdoba Mexican Grill 4.5% NA NA 3.5% NA NA
Moe’s Southwest Grill 5.5% NA NA 1.5% NA NA
I’m not sure 26.9% NA NA 47.0% NA NA

MLS and Chipotle Mexican Grill agreed to a multiyear sponsorship deal in March 2014 that made the company the league’s “official fast-casual Mexican restaurant.” Out of that deal, the Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game was born. The match, played during all-star week, features the league’s top homegrown players — those MLS players who began with their clubs’ development academies. Last year, Chipotle partnered with Soccer for Success (the youth development initiative of the U.S. Soccer Foundation) as the official beneficiary of the 2015 Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game, and a $20,000 donation was presented to the program during the match. In addition, the 2015 Chipotle MLS Homegrown Flyaway Sweepstakes was held May 2-July 5. Fans could enter by texting a keyword or entering online through Chipotle’s website, and the winner received a trip for four to the Homegrown Game and the All-Star Game.

  Avid Casual
BEER 2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
Heineken* 29.4% 16.5% 7.5% 33.0% 11.5% 5.0%
Anheuser-Busch 11.4% 24.5% 36.3% 12.0% 26.5% 34.5%
Corona 14.9% 8.5% 7.5% 4.5% 5.5% 4.0%
Coors 11.9% 11.0% 8.0% 5.5% 7.5% 10.0%
Miller 7.0% 11.5% 10.0% 5.0% 6.0% 8.0%
I’m not sure 16.9% 21.0% 23.4% 35.0% 40.5% 36.0%

Heineken overtook Anheuser-Busch as the most recognized brand in the beer category in its first year as an official MLS sponsor. After signing a five-year, $50 million deal with the league in late 2014, Heineken secured seven team-level deals to add to its overall MLS portfolio. As part of its deal with the Chicago Fire, Toyota Park’s Second Star Club was renamed the Heineken Second Star Club, and there is also the Heineken Terrace group hospitality area at the stadium. Additionally, the beer maker replaced Microsoft Windows as presenting sponsor of MLS Rivalry Week matches.

  Avid Casual
AUTOMOTIVE 2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
Audi* 29.4% NA NA 32.5% NA NA
Toyota 15.9% 8.0% 16.9% 10.5% 12.0% 8.0%
Mercedes-Benz 9.5% NA NA 4.5% NA NA
Honda 6.0% NA NA 4.5% NA NA
Volkswagen 5.5% 19.5% 23.4% 4.5% 14.0% 24.0%
BMW 7.5% NA NA 2.5% NA NA
I’m not sure 19.9% 23.0% 26.9% 40.0% 44.5% 47.0%

MLS in March signed a four-year deal with Audi of America making it the league’s official auto sponsor and presenting sponsor of the playoffs. Volkswagen had been MLS’s auto sponsor since 2008. At the start of the 2015 regular season, Audi debuted a 30-second national TV spot titled “The Game.” The ad was updated throughout the season with new key moments and fan footage. The automaker has three MLS team-level deals, as well.

  Avid Casual
BANK 2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
Wells Fargo* 28.4% 24.5% 28.9% 32.5% 20.0% 23.0%
Bank of America 16.4% 22.0% 20.4% 13.0% 13.5% 14.0%
Citibank 9.5% 11.5% 7.5% 4.0% 8.0% 6.5%
HSBC 3.5% 3.5% 3.5% 1.5% 2.0% 3.0%
I’m not sure 19.4% 25.5% 30.3% 41.5% 51.0% 47.0%

Wells Fargo became the exclusive “retail banking and commercial lending” sponsor of MLS in 2013. As an All-Star Game activation in 2015, Wells Fargo placed cardboard cutouts of MLS players around the game’s host market, Denver. Fans could win tickets to the All-Star Game or all-star jerseys and scarves by takings photos of the player cutouts and sharing them on Twitter.

  Avid Casual
AIRLINE 2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
Etihad Airways* 17.9% NA NA 17.0% NA NA
American Airlines 13.4% NA NA 11.5% NA NA
Southwest 12.4% NA NA 7.0% NA NA
Delta 10.4% NA NA 2.5% NA NA
I’m not sure 23.4% NA NA 48.0% NA NA

The 2015 season was Etihad Airways’ second as an official MLS partner. When the deal was signed in March 2014, it was touted as the airline’s first multiyear sports sponsorship in the United States. Etihad in 2015 also became one of New York City FC’s founding partners and jersey sponsor as part of a five-year agreement.

  Avid Casual
TIRE 2015 2014 2013 2015 2014 2013
Continental* 23.9% NA NA 7.5% NA NA
Goodyear 18.9% NA NA 8.0% NA NA
Bridgestone 12.4% NA NA 10.0% NA NA
Firestone 10.9% NA NA 5.5% NA NA
I’m not sure 20.9% NA NA 47.0% NA NA

Continental Tire has been an official MLS partner since 2010. In addition, in 2015, the company became the official tire of the American Youth Soccer Organization. The second season of “What’Cha Got” in 2015 starred 14 MLS players competing in an autocross-type competition that was featured during Sunday night postgame broadcasts on Fox Sports 1. The players competed for a chance to win a yearlong lease of a Lamborghini fitted with Continental’s ContiSportContact 5P tires. D.C. United’s Perry Kitchen was the competition winner and received the keys to the car during halftime of MLS Cup.

* Official MLS sponsor
NA: Not applicable. The particular company and/or the entire category was not featured as part of the survey in this particular year.