MLS selling sponsorship of video replay stoppage time
Major League Soccer is actively selling a new piece of sponsorship inventory that some industry experts believe could be worth at least seven figures a year.
Starting this summer, MLS senior vice president of business development Carter Ladd and his team began exploring how to commercialize the stoppage time caused by video assistant referee, commonly referred to as VAR. The league had unveiled the replay system in August 2017 and waited until now before approaching the marketplace, in large part because it needed VAR to first materialize as a successful in-game component.
The league said one out of every three matches this season has included a video review, with an average length of three minutes. Potentially, a brand could be on screen during the entire length of that review, as well as get mentioned by broadcasters.
“There’s very, very few opportunities where a brand can become part of the fabric of the sport in a meaningful way,” Ladd said of a sponsor being potentially tied to VAR.
MLS will handle in-house the selling of video review. While the official sponsorship designation depends on the potential partner, there’s a possibility that a brand could have a direct affiliation for video review.
A partnership is customizable, Ladd said, so an integrated program could include a portfolio of assets. Among the possibilities are a branded environment around the referee review area; fan engagement and a digital content series; a strategic relationship with the Professional Referee Organization in the further development of VAR; and a relationship with the league’s broadcast partners.
Ladd pointed to the league’s current relationship with Tag Heuer, the official watch and official timekeeper, as an example for how a brand could be integrated into the match in a similar way around VAR. The luxury watch brand is visible on PRO referees’ wrists and jerseys along with the substitution board, among other match integrations.
“If there’s going to be some sort of product integration [with VAR], it’s got to be authentic,” he said. “It’s got to be endemic.”
Ladd declined to specify targeted companies, categories or who the league’s “couple of ongoing conversations” are with, but he did highlight that MLS doesn’t have a technology partner.
Zack Sugarman, senior vice president of properties at Wasserman, which represents a few of the league’s official sponsors, mentioned Intel and Microsoft as having an authentic tie-in. Insurance firms, eyewear companies and data shops, which could be more integrated into highlighting what’s occurring on the pitch around VAR, are also possibilities.
Sugarman said there’s the potential for a hefty amount of earned media for a brand, given the possibility of replays going viral. However, he also cautioned that this “could be a polarizing asset” because of the negative sentiment that is often tied to video replay and its potential to decide the outcome of a match.
“A brand needs to be ready and know that there’s good, bad and ugly that could potentially come with VAR,” he said. “It’s not going to be a piece of inventory that’s right for everyone.”