Soccer has steadily gained a following in the U.S. over the last few years. The Major League Soccer fan base has grown 30% since 2013, according to Nielsen SportsDNA, and sponsors are seeing the results. Midway through the 2017 Major League Soccer regular season, sponsors have garnered more than $30.7 million of in-match television broadcast exposure.
With interest in the sport growing, the league has expanded in recent years. And for sponsors, even new teams can create big wins. In fact, first-year Major League Soccer team Atlanta United is among the top four teams for collective QI Media Value delivered to sponsors to date, alongside veteran clubs New York City FC, DC United and Orlando City SC. QI Media Value is Nielsen Sports’ global industry standard for sponsorship measurement taking into account the quality and weight of exposure, audience size, and cost per thousand.
Nielsen Sports added Major League Soccer to its Sport24 syndicated sponsorship media valuation platform in North America this year, tracking all televised matches for every sponsorship exposure on in-venue signage, broadcast graphics, jerseys and equipment.
“The Sport24 model allows users to understand the market value of sponsorship assets, benchmark against competitors, and evaluate the performance of all sponsorship locations,” said Peter Laatz, executive vice president, Nielsen Sports North America. “Major League Soccer teams are using insights generated from our analysis to adopt best practices and shape their sales story within a rapidly growing sport in the U.S. and Canada.”
So how are brands already finding sponsorship success in Major League Soccer?
Adidas tops all Major League Soccer sponsors in QI Media Value and time on screen this season with 24 more hours of television time during matches than the next most exposed brand. As the official athletic sponsor and product supplier of the league, Adidas outfits all team uniforms and supplies the official match ball. Unlike European football clubs that make their own deals on sportswear, Major League Soccer follows the model of the other professional sports leagues in the U.S. with league-wide contracts.
Apparel and sports equipment brands are a clear fit for soccer sponsorship; however, brands across industries are benefiting from consumers’ interest in the sport. Other top industries receiving sponsorship exposure through Major League Soccer broadcasts include automotive, telecommunications, tires and beer.
And all brands can find opportunities for returns from a variety of sponsorships during the game. Field-level signage continues to drive the most sponsorship value for partners in Major League Soccer. With the most continuous time on screen, both the static field-level board and LED field-level board rank first and second, respectively, in most valuable assets. Jersey sponsors rank fourth in exposure value through the first quarter of the season on broadcast television during matches, but they drive the most holistic value when taking into account exposure via outside media and fan jerseys.
The most valuable match in the first several weeks of this season was a nationally televised game on May 27 between Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes. In home markets, Atlanta United FC has the highest average local home audience, followed by Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers.
The Major League Soccer regular season runs from March to October, and the MLS Cup will be awarded at the conclusion of the playoffs in December. So brands looking to reach fans across this sport still have plenty of sponsorship opportunities before next season.