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Volume 21 No. 2
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Heineken, Coke, Audi suffer MLS slump

Heineken got slowed down when it comes to recognition during its third year as an MLS sponsor.
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The third time isn’t always a charm.

Three brands that became MLS sponsors in 2015 — Coca-Cola, Audi and Heineken — each saw a decline during the past year in the percentage of the league’s fans who could correctly identify them as an official MLS partner, according to the results of the annual MLS sponsor loyalty survey, conducted recently for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.

Nearly 44 percent of MLS fans knew that Coke is the league’s official soda. That was the second-highest recognition rate in the survey, but it represented a survey-worst drop of 9 percentage points compared with the 2016 study. That decline, paired with Home Depot’s 2 percentage-point rise, meant that Coke’s two-season stint as the league’s most-recognized sponsor came to an end.

Ringing The Bell

The AT&T-MLS deal, in place for nine seasons, is the most-recognized wireless partnership in our sponsor loyalty series.

PROPERTY-BRAND (PARTNER SINCE) RECOGNITION RATE*
MLS-AT&T (2009) 41.1%
NCAA-AT&T (2001) 40.4%
MLB-T-Mobile (2013) 32.3%
NFL-Verizon (2010) 29.3%
NBA-Verizon (2015) 28.9%

* Surveys were conducted during each property’s most recent postseason. Response rates indicate the percentage of people polled who thought that the particular company was the league’s official wireless provider.


The good news for Coke, however, is that the brand’s awareness level is 15 percentage points higher than rival Pepsi received in 2014, the final season of the latter’s 14-year reign as the league’s official soda.

Audi’s drop was not as dramatic as Coke’s. A quarter of the fans recognized the German car maker’s official status, a drop of more than 7 percentage points over the past year. But 2018 could be a pivotal year for the brand’s soccer presence, as it is the final season of its current MLS deal. Additionally, D.C. United’s new $300 million Audi Field is scheduled to open next year, which should give the brand a boost in media exposure.

In the beer category, Heineken saw a little more success than its third-season brethren. Thirty-eight percent of avid fans were aware that the Dutch beer was an official partner, the fourth consecutive year of increased recognition by that segment. However, less than 28 percent of casual fans knew of the brand’s official status, a drop of 14 percentage points.

Allstate’s official deal with MLS continues to pay off in terms of sponsor recognition.
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Anheuser-Busch, on the other hand, saw an increase of more than 5 points in the percentage of fans who incorrectly thought the brewer was still the league’s official beer maker. Like Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch had been an MLS partner since 1996, the league’s inaugural season.

Year Three Slump

In their third season as an MLS partner, Coca-Cola, Audi and Heineken each saw a drop in the percent of the league’s fans who knew they were an official sponsor.

BRAND 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
Coca-Cola 43.6% 52.5% 45.4% 24.0% 15.7%
Heineken 32.9% 37.8% 31.2% 14.0% 6.3%
Audi 25.1% 32.4% 31.0% NA NA

NA: Not available; the brand was not tracked in the annual survey prior to 2015.


The results were also mixed for other sponsors.

AT&T, for example, not only maintained its stronghold atop the wireless communications category, its 9-year-old MLS partnership is the most-recognized such partnership in our sponsor loyalty series (see chart).

Etihad Airlines, however, did not fare as well. It was the only brand in the study to be topped by a category rival. Etihad, a partner since 2014, was correctly identified by less than 16 percent of the fans, a drop of 5 percentage points.

More than 21 percent of fans incorrectly thought that American Airlines, an official MLS sponsor from 2008-12, was the league’s official airline. That represented an increase of 7 percentage points compared with a year ago, the biggest improvement of any of the 70 brands (sponsors and nonsponsors) measured in the survey.

What Brands Do MLS Fans Consider Buying?

To read: 76 percent of MLS fans said they would be more likely to consider buying MLS’s official power tool if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate decreased to 27 percent when considering only those MLS fans who did not know that Makita is MLS’s official power tool.

CATEGORY (MLS SPONSOR) AMONG MLS FANS WHO CORRECTLY IDENTIFIED THE SPONSOR AMONG MLS FANS WHO DID NOT CORRECTLY IDENTIFY THE SPONSOR DIFFERENCE
Power Tool (Makita) 76% 27% +49 pct. points
Tire (Continental) 70% 29% +41 pct. points
Airline (Etihad) 53% 13% +40 pct. points
Beer (Heineken) 77% 41% +36 pct. points
Automotive (Audi) 73% 37% +36 pct. points
Insurance (Allstate) 74% 43% +31 pct. points
Bank (Wells Fargo) 66% 37% +29 pct. points
Wireless service (AT&T) 73% 50% +23 pct. points
Soft drink (Coca-Cola) 89% 68% +21 pct. points
Home improvement store (Home Depot) 87% 68% +19 pct. points

What Brands Do Fans Think Are MLS Sponsors?

To read: 44 percent of MLS fans said they think Heineken should be an MLS sponsor, compared with 19 percent who think Stella Artois should have an MLS deal. Those numbers became 66 percent and 19 percent, respectively, when considering only those MLS fans who correctly knew that Heineken is MLS’s official beer.

AMONG ALL MLS FANS AMONG MLS FANS WHO CORRECTLY IDENTIFIED THE SPONSOR
MLS SPONSOR/COMPETITOR RESPONSE RATES DIFFERENCE RESPONSE RATES DIFFERENCE
Heineken/Stella Artois 44% / 19% +25 pct. points 66% / 19% +47 pct. points
Coca-Cola/Pepsi 69% / 48% +21 pct. points 82% / 45% +37 pct. points
Home Depot/Lowe’s 53% / 40% +13 pct. points 62% / 33% +29 pct. points
AT&T/Verizon 57% / 48% +9 pct. points 70% / 42% +28 pct. points
Makita/ Dewalt 19% / 31% -12 pct. points 47% / 21% +26 pct. points
Audi/BMW 38% / 42% -4 pct. points 63% / 39% +24 pct. points
Allstate/State Farm 39% / 40% -1 pct. point 58% / 37% +21 pct. points
Wells Fargo/Bank of America 38% / 42% -4 pct. points 53% / 39% +14 pct. points
Etihad/Emirates 11% / 20% -9 pct. points 26% / 19% +7 pct. points
Continental/Michelin 19% / 38% -19 pct. points 30% / 36% -6 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.


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?

  Avid Casual
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
More likely 85% 83% 79% 62% 71% 52%
Unaffected / less likely 15% 17% 21% 39% 29% 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?

  Avid Casual
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
More likely 87% 83% 80% 63% 71% 52%
Unaffected / less likely 14% 17% 20% 37% 29% 48%

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
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
More likely 85% 81% 79% 63% 70% 50%
Unaffected / less likely 15% 19% 21% 38% 30% 50%

Which of the following is an official sponsor of MLS?

  Avid Casual
Home Improvement Store
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
Home Depot* 49.2% 45.0% 46.3% 39.5% 40.0% 40.5%
Lowe’s 17.6% 20.3% 16.9% 29.0% 18.0% 13.0%
Ace Hardware 9.5% 9.9% 11.4% 6.0% 9.0% 3.5%
Menards 9.5% 8.4% 4.5% 3.0% 6.0% 1.0%
I’m not sure 14.1% 16.3% 20.9% 22.5% 27.0% 42.0%
  Avid Casual
Soft Drink
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
Coca-Cola* 47.2% 55.4% 47.3% 40.0% 49.5% 43.5%
Pepsi 23.1% 17.8% 20.4% 20.5% 16.5% 13.5%
Mountain Dew 5.5% 4.0% 5.0% 6.0% 6.0% 2.5%
I’m not sure 13.1% 11.9% 14.4% 22.0% 20.0% 32.0%
  Avid Casual
Wireless
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
AT&T* 42.2% 43.1% 36.3% 40.0% 40.0% 37.5%
T-Mobile 14.6% 14.9% 11.9% 10.0% 11.5% 8.5%
Verizon 16.1% 15.8% 14.9% 15.0% 10.0% 8.5%
Sprint 7.5% 5.4% 8.0% 6.5% 6.0% 8.5%
I’m not sure 13.6% 12.9% 19.9% 20.0% 22.0% 34.0%
  Avid Casual
Beer
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
Heineken* 38.2% 35.1% 29.4% 27.5% 40.5% 33.0%
Budweiser 20.6% 15.3% 11.4% 22.0% 16.5% 12.0%
Corona 10.1% 9.9% 14.9% 12.0% 8.0% 4.5%
Coors Light 6.5% 8.9% 11.9% 4.0% 6.5% 5.5%
Miller Lite 6.5% 9.9% 7.0% 4.0% 5.5% 5.0%
I’m not sure 8.5% 11.4% 16.9% 22.0% 18.0% 35.0%
  Avid Casual
Bank
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
Wells Fargo* 25.1% 30.2% 28.4% 28.5% 31.0% 32.5%
Bank of America 20.6% 23.3% 16.4% 18.0% 18.5% 13.0%
Citibank 11.1% 11.4% 9.5% 9.0% 2.5% 4.0%
HSBC 4.5% 2.0% 3.5% 3.0% 1.5% 1.5%
I’m not sure 18.1% 17.3% 19.4% 29.0% 30.0% 41.5%
  Avid Casual
Automobile
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
Audi* 26.1% 29.2% 29.4% 24.0% 35.5% 32.5%
Toyota 23.6% 18.3% 15.9% 16.0% 10.5% 10.5%
Hyundai 7.5% 7.9% NA 9.0% 8.5% NA
BMW 8.5% 6.9% 7.5% 7.0% 5.5% 2.5%
Honda 6.0% 10.9% 6.0% 8.5% 8.0% 4.5%
Mercedes-Benz 8.5% 6.4% 9.5% 6.0% 3.5% 4.5%
I’m not sure 15.6% 14.9% 19.9% 26.0% 24.0% 40.0%
  Avid Casual
Tire
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
Continental* 23.1% 26.7% 23.9% 22.0% 26.0% 7.5%
Goodyear 19.6% 17.8% 18.9% 11.5% 13.0% 8.0%
Firestone 11.6% 10.4% 10.9% 12.5% 10.0% 5.5%
I’m not sure 16.1% 14.4% 20.9% 29.0% 28.5% 47.0%
  Avid Casual
Airline
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
American Airlines 28.6% 19.8% 13.4% 14.0% 8.0% 11.5%
Etihad* 15.6% 22.8% 17.9% 15.5% 18.0% 17.0%
United 9.5% 7.9% 6.5% 9.0% 8.0% 5.5%
Southwest 7.0% 10.4% 12.4% 10.0% 6.5% 7.0%
Delta 5.0% 10.4% 10.4% 10.0% 6.0% 2.5%
I’m not sure 16.6% 17.8% 23.4% 29.5% 33.5% 48.0%
  Avid Casual
Power Tool
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
Makita* 17.6% NA NA 18.0% NA NA
Bosch 15.1% NA NA 15.0% NA NA
DeWalt 16.1% NA NA 12.0% NA NA
Kobalt 8.0% NA NA 6.5% NA NA
I’m not sure 25.1% NA NA 35.5% NA NA
  Avid Casual
Insurance
  2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
Allstate* 33.7% 34.7% 33.8% 28.5% 31.0% 33.0%
Geico 12.1% 14.9% 16.9% 16.0% 15.5% 8.0%
State Farm 13.1% 12.4% 9.5% 8.0% 5.5% 4.5%
Progressive 11.1% 5.9% 7.5% 7.5% 5.5% 6.0%
I’m not sure 14.6% 15.3% 17.4% 26.0% 25.5% 38.5%

* Official MLS sponsor
NA — Not available; this category was not asked about in the annual survey prior to this year.