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Volume 22 No. 12
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Tony's Take: MLS sponsorship

Tony Ponturo is executive vice president of strategy for Turnkey Intelligence. He oversaw Anheuser-Busch’s marketing, media and sponsorship from 1991 to 2008.

It’s not often that you can say you were there when a major sports league was founded, but myself and many others in the industry share that privilege.

Founded in 1993 and prior to the U.S.-hosted FIFA World Cup in 1994, Major League Soccer had its first season in 1996. Anheuser-Busch was one of those early sponsors extending “our” voice around the game of soccer.

Thanks to early owners and leaders like Phil Anschutz, Lamar Hunt and Robert Kraft, the league was able to stay solvent and grow over time. Don Garber was named commissioner in 1999, coming directly from NFL International. Twenty-two years later, with 24 teams and counting, we see strong participation from fans and sponsors of this global sport. The evidence of this is seen in the excitement and enthusiasm around newest champion Atlanta United FC.

One may not be surprised that as an official league partner and headquartered in Atlanta, Coca-Cola had the highest recognition as a sponsor (50 percent) and posted a 6 percentage point improvement from the prior year. In addition to its activation with MLS, Coke’s decades-long support of soccer through the World Cup builds a strong connection to the sport.

As we look at the other recognized sponsors, we see partnerships that build programs.

Heineken, Audi and Wells Fargo all enjoyed increases in awareness due to strong activation efforts.

Target, a sponsor newly added to the study, saw strong sponsor breakthrough (28 percent). Target utilized a fully integrated marketing program — league sponsorship and Minnesota United jersey sponsorship, as well as TV support on Univision, Fox Sports and ESPN.

As any brand needs to stay true to itself and build upon its foundation with the consumer, one could argue that MLS, with support from sponsor marketing activation, is growing with a young, diverse consumer of the future.