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Volume 22 No. 19
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MLS sets digital showcase for Rivalry Week

MLS will work with Twitter to include live-streams of warmups and press conferences.
For MLS Chief Marketing Officer Howard Handler, the success the league has seen with its Rivalry Week platform since debuting in 2013 comes from something that’s developed off the field. “That magic and energy that happens with our fans,” he said.

That energy is something the league hopes to put front and center through primarily a digital outreach for this season’s first slate of rivalry games, set to be played this coming weekend.

“That’s the kind of thing that for people that have yet to discover MLS or commit to a favorite team, it strikes them. It’s louder, it’s younger, it’s sort of self-invented,” he said. “For Rivalry Week, we’re just trying to create the best cross-section of that to have the best possible showcase for the big audience that will be watching.”

This weekend marks the first time MLS will be featured on Fox’s over-the-air network, which will air Saturday’s matchup at Yankee Stadium between New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls. But more broadly, the league will be working with Twitter — including its Periscope platform — to showcase content. That digital coverage will include streams of player warmups, video of players walking out onto the field, sideline reports by MLS staffers and the post-match press conference. Additional postings will aim to spotlight the atmosphere in and around the stadium on game day.

“What we want to do is take viewers inside the New York derby, to showcase all of the excitement and the energy, with all of it being live,” Handler said. “It’s one of our goals to throw off some sparks when we’ve got the world’s attention.”

The league will kick off the coverage with both clubs taking part in a news conference live from Twitter’s New York headquarters on Thursday. Twitter will assist MLS by adding an auto-generated emoji whenever someone includes #RivalryWeek as part of a tweet starting Thursday morning.

But MLS also wants to capture those fans intrigued by the New York coverage and keep them with the league, so it’s introducing the MLS Matchmaker, a web-enabled digital game Handler is calling a “fan converter.” The game, which will be available via mlsmatchmaker.com and pushed through the league’s social and digital channels, will help fans identify what could be their favorite club through a series of questions that they can swipe yes or no to, with a result then produced for them.

“It’s inspired by Tinder, but a lot different than Tinder,” Handler said, laughing. “It’s basically, Who’s your ultimate match?”

MLS experimented with a similar idea last year, featuring only a few questions and a less intensive process. But Handler said that effort still garnered tens of thousands of interactions, leading the league to further its push on this front this year. Heineken, which sponsors Rivalry Week, will support the game by promoting at points-of-sale and through other marketing channels.

Among additional Rivalry Week efforts, MLS is working with Heineken on a branded Heineken House, taking over an existing event space and making it a home for viewing parties, video game tournaments and other events during the weekend. The house will be located at Siren Studios in West Hollywood, Calif., pegged to the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes meeting for the first time this year.

Back in New York, MLS will try a new interactive experience: a life-sized foosball table in Herald Square in which participants will be strapped into the game and can compete as if they were figures in the table-top version. Handler said the game, which will be set up for a full day, will hopefully prompt those who participate to choose a side in the New York rivalry as well create some general buzz in the city.

“We like to try to find things that capture the spirit of the rivalries — things that are fierce, intense, sometimes nasty, and full of drama and excitement, and let fans really get in on that action,” Handler said.

This is the first of two Rivalry Week slates in the MLS season. A second set of matches follows in August.