Coke bubbles to top of mind with soccer fans
In its sophomore year as an MLS sponsor, Coca-Cola not only has become the brand that soccer fans most likely associate with the league, but the relationship has become one of the soda maker’s most-recognized league-level partnerships.
According to results of the annual MLS sponsor loyalty survey, conducted for SportsBusiness Journal/Daily by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, more than 55 percent of the league’s avid fans correctly identified Coca-Cola as the league’s official soda, the highest response rate in this year’s 10-category study.
The Sponsor Loyalty Survey series, which debuted in 2007, also includes annual studies of Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL, NHL, NASCAR, NCAA and PGA Tour fans.
Coke’s rise among MLS fans has been swift.
From the league’s inception in 1996 through 2014, rival PepsiCo held category exclusivity with MLS, yet in 2013 Pepsi’s recognition among fans peaked at 38 percent among avid fans and 41 percent with casual fans.
Looking beyond soccer, Coke’s MLS awareness levels among avid fans are higher after two seasons than they were in our comparable annual surveys of NCAA and PGA Tour fans, even though both those soda deals began in 2002. Only Coke’s nearly two-decade-long NASCAR relationship generates a higher recognition level for the brand (see chart).
Coke is one of three MLS partners in the survey that also have league-level partnerships with other properties.
AT&T and Allstate each partner with both MLS and the NCAA, and enjoy higher recognition levels among avid soccer fans than they do with avid college sports fans.
The upward trajectory of so many of the league’s sponsors — the official partner in eight of the 10 categories measured saw an increase in awareness among the 400 fans surveyed — was further evident when analyzing the assessment portion of the study: A record 80 percent of the study’s fans said they “Are more likely to consider trying a product/service if that product/service is an official sponsor of MLS.”
Home Depot and Allstate were the only two sponsors measured that saw a decline in overall awareness, and each of those decreases was less than a percentage point.
Other findings from this year’s study:
■ Heineken’s awareness among casual fans has more than tripled since the 2014 survey, the season before it replaced Budweiser as the league’s official beer. Nearly 41 percent of fans in that group recognized Heineken’s official status, five percentage points higher than Bud ever received.
■ 32 percent of the 400 fans surveyed correctly selected Audi as the league’s official vehicle, the highest ever return in the MLS study’s automotive category. Volkswagen, a league partner from 2008 through 2014, earned a 29 percent awareness rate in 2012.
■ Third-year partner Etihad Airways was correctly identified by one-fifth of the respondents. That rate was tops in the airline category but well below the high of 31 percent reached in 2008 by then-sponsor American Airlines.
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.
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||17%||21%||19%||29%||48%||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||17%||20%||18%||29%||48%||44%|
|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||19%||21%||18%||30%||50%||48%|
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: 69 percent of MLS fans said they would be more likely to consider shopping at the official home improvement store of MLS if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate increased to 77 percent when considering only those MLS fans who correctly knew that Home Depot is MLS's official home improvement partner.
|Category (MLS Sponsor)||Among all MLS Fans||Among MLS Fans who correctly Identified the sponsor||Difference|
|Home improvement store
|69%||77%||+8 pct. points|
|Wireless service (AT&T)||69%||75%||+6 pct. points|
|Insurance (Allstate)||68%||71%||+3 pct. points|
|Soft drink (Coca-Cola)||73%||75%||+2 pct. points|
|Beer (Heineken)||72%||74%||+2 pct. points|
|Fast casual restaurant (Chipotle)||71%||73%||+2 pct. points|
|Tire (Continental)||65%||63%||-2 pct. points|
|Bank (Wells Fargo)||65%||61%||-4 pct. points|
|Automotive (Audi)||71%||66%||-5 pct. points|
|Airline (Etihad)||63%||54%||-9 pct. points|
Subject: What brands do fans think should be MLS sponsors?
To read: 66 percent of MLS fans said they think Coca-Cola should be an MLS sponsor compared to 40 percent who think Pepsi should have an MLS deal. Those numbers became 79 percent and 32 percent, respectively, when considering only those MLS fans who correctly knew that Coca-Cola is MLS's official sponsor in the soft drink category.
|Among all MLS Fans||AMONG MLS FANS WHO CORRECTLY IDENTIFIED THE SPONSOR|
|MLS Sponsor/Competitor||Response Rates||Difference||Response Rates||Difference|
|Coca-Cola/Pepsi||66% / 40%||+26 pct. points||79% / 32%||+47 pct. points|
|AT&T/Verizon||51% / 37%||+14 pct. points||70% / 29%||+41 pct. points|
|Heineken/Stella Artois||35% / 15%||+20 pct. points||51% / 12%||+39 pct. points|
|Home Depot/Lowe's||44% / 26%||+18 pct. points||56% / 25%||+31 pct. points|
|Allstate/State Farm||35% / 28%||+7 pct. points||48% / 21%||+27 pct. points|
|Audi/BMW||31% / 29%||+2 pct. points||51% / 24%||+27 pct. points|
|Chipotle/Panera Bread||26% / 25%||+1 pct. points||37% / 18%||+19 pct. points|
|Wells Fargo/Bank of America||31% / 39%||-8 pct. points||42% / 28%||+14 pct. points|
|Etihad/Emirates||9% / 14%||-5 pct. points||22% / 16%||+6 pct. points|
|Continental/Michelin||15% / 32%||-17 pct. points||26% / 24%||+2 pct. point|
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||11.9%||14.4%||19.5%||20.0%||32.0%||35.0%|
|Before the season, Coca-Cola was named the official carbonated beverage and bottled water partner of Orlando City SC and employed in-stadium activations at the Mane Street Fan Zone at Camping World Stadium. As part of a promotion highlighting the FIFA 17 video game, EA Sports and Coca-Cola distributed more than 25 million Big Gulp cups featuring four MLS players in 7-Eleven stores nationwide. Coca-Cola signed on as an MLS partner in 2015, and has been a FIFA World Cup partner since 1974. Former league partner Pepsi has five MLS team-level deals.|
|HOME IMPROVEMENT STORE||2016||2015||2014||2016||2015||2014|
|I'm not sure||16.3%||20.9%||NA||27.0%||42.0%||NA|
|Home Depot was the league's second-most-recognized partner for a second year in a row, trailing only Coca-Cola. The Atlanta-based company, official home improvement retailer for MLS since 2008, is a founding partner of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, future home of the expansion Atlanta United FC. Atlanta United is owned by Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank.|
|I'm not sure||12.9%||19.9%||16.0%||22.0%||34.0%||34.5%|
|This season AT&T launched its Soccer Everywhere hub on the company's website with exclusive content, highlights and interviews, and an MLS All-Star original series. During AT&T MLS All-Star Week festivities, Flo Rida and Belanova performed a free concert presented by AT&T at Plaza de Cesar Chavez in San Jose. Fans also could face off with MLS players at the AT&T Gaming Zone. AT&T has been a league sponsor since 2009.|
|I'm not sure||11.4%||16.9%||21.0%||18.0%||35.0%||40.5%|
|As part of this season's Heineken Rivalry Week, the Heineken House was set up at Siren Studios in Hollywood and hosted viewing parties, video game competitions and other events. In March, Heineken launched the Soccer is Here campaign with year-long activations and contests, and featured New York City FC forward David Villa, U.S. Women's National Team midfielder Carli Lloyd and former U.S. Men's National Team forward Landon Donovan in TV spots.|
|FAST CASUAL RESTAURANT||2016||2015||2014||2016||2015||2014|
|Chipotle Mexican Grill*||32.7%||32.3%||NA||38.0%||34.5%||NA|
|Steak 'n Shake||13.4%||8.5%||NA||4.5%||1.5%||NA|
|Moe's Southwest Grill||6.9%||5.5%||NA||4.5%||1.5%||NA|
|Qdoba Mexican Grill||3.5%||4.5%||NA||3.0%||3.5%||NA|
|I'm not sure||20.8%||0.0%||NA||32.5%||47.0%||NA|
|In March 2014, Chipotle Mexican Grill became the official Fast Casual Mexican Restaurant of MLS with the company's largest, single sports sponsorship. Chipotle saw increases among both avid and casual fans in this year's survey. The third annual Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game took place during 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Week events at Avaya Stadium.|
|I'm not sure||15.3%||17.4%||20.0%||25.5%||38.5%||38.0%|
|Allstate has been an MLS partner since 2011, and in May, the insurer was named an official partner of the U.S. Soccer Foundation's Passback program. Community collection events were hosted ahead of select Men's National Team and MLS matches and during select Copa Alianza Tournaments. The Portland Timbers, LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls hosted the 10th year of the Sueño MLS Presented by Allstate where participants try to earn an invitation to a weeklong trial with their respective youth development host club. The Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year award is presented annually to the league's top goalkeeper.|
|I'm not sure||14.9%||0.0%||23.0%||24.0%||40.0%||44.5%|
|In March, Audi launched the Audi Player Index — a new statistical tool that tracks position-specific player stats in near real-time during MLS matches. Fans could visit MLSsoccer.com/Audi to follow stats throughout the season. For the 2016 season, Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco was the top-ranked player in the Audi Player Index. The new soccer-specific stadium for Orlando City SC that is scheduled to open for the 2017 MLS season will be the home of the Audi Sport Club and will have its own dedicated entrance to the air-conditioned indoor space with reserved outdoor seats. Audi also is presenting sponsor of the MLS playoffs.|
|Bank of America||23.3%||16.4%||22.0%||18.5%||13.0%||13.5%|
|I'm not sure||17.3%||19.4%||25.5%||30.0%||41.5%||51.0%|
|Fans could vote online in the 2016 MLS WORKS Community MVP Contest presented by Wells Fargo that recognizes individuals who use soccer to make a difference in their community. The winner, New England Revolution Community MVP Stephen Schirra, was announced at halftime of the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game and received a $10,000 donation for his charity — Around the Worlds, Around the World. Wells Fargo has been the exclusive retail banking and commercial lending sponsor of MLS since 2013.|
|I'm not sure||14.4%||20.9%||NA||28.5%||47.0%||NA|
|New England Revolution forward Juan Agudelo was named this season's winner of the Continental Tire-sponsored What'Cha Got competition that pitted 14 MLS players competing in an autocross-type competition. The contest aired weekly on Fox and Fox Sports 1 as part of the Soccer Sunday lineup. For winning the contest, Agudelo received a yearlong lease of a 2017 Audi R8 with Continental's ContiSportContact 5P tires. Continental Tire was named the official tire of MLS in 2010.|
|I'm not sure||17.8%||23.4%||NA||33.5%||48.0%||NA|
|In 2014, Etihad Airways signed the airline's first sports sponsorship in the U.S. as the official airline of MLS. Etihad is a New York City FC founding partner and jersey sponsor and also sponsors the league's Player of the Month award.|
*Official MLS sponsor
NA-Not available; this category was not asked about in the annual survey that year.