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Volume 21 No. 33
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MLS and R/GA team up for showcase

MLS is a league that has prided itself on its willingness to experiment with technology both on and off the field, ranging from being first users on digital and streaming platforms to video-assisted replay.

It took another step in that direction during its all-star week in Atlanta, hosting what it called its first-ever Innovation Showcase.

The invite-only event, attended by league executives, representatives from other soccer organizations such as CONCACAF, UEFA and U.S. Soccer and members from MLS’s clubs, was done in conjunction with R/GA Ventures.

The two partnered in June to launch a technology accelerator and give MLS a look at startups in several strategic areas, such as fan engagement and the use of on-field data.

Five startups presented to the group, including one focused on creating a virtual sportscasting studio to let fans create their own commentary tracks and another that aimed to facilitate fan research through a mobile response and reward app. There was no winner chosen, but the league hopes it will serve as a jumping-off point for further conversations.

MLS Business Ventures President and Managing Director Gary Stevenson said that at its core, the partnership is about MLS “trying to find solutions to problems we have through emerging technologies that can get us there faster.”

While this is the first manifestation of the partnership, Stevenson said that R/GA has been seeking startups that can help the league in areas such as fan engagement and in-stadium experience. The league then is able to evaluate if it might be worth piloting or experimenting with the different startups, as well as to potentially make investments.

Stephen Plumlee, R/GA global chief operating officer, said that while the partnership is still in a very early stage, he is bullish on MLS for its “limitless” potential.

“The demographics are there, the potential of the sport is there, and the leadership and owners are very sophisticated, so all of the ingredients are there to do great things,” Plumlee said. “Our goal is to help them further move the needle.”