By Barry Janoff
November 20, 2016: As Major League Soccer prepares for its conference finals and MLS Cup championship, sponsors and marketing partners are reaping the rewards for what has been a time of steady growth for the league.
As MLS commissioner Don Garber recently told Forbes, “If MLS was a publicly traded company, now would be a really good time to buy.”
MLS teams are worth, on average, $185 million, up 18% from 2015 and up 80% from 2013, according to Forbes.
Attendance is also on the rise, with the league drawing more than 7.37 million fans this season, for an average of 21,692; up from 7.35 million total and a 21,546 average in 2015 and a 19,149 average in 2014.
That is particularly good news for such companies as adidas, Anheuser-Busch, Heineken, Comcast, Brown-Forman and PepsiCo, which are among the league’s most active supporters.
Food companies and restaurants top the list of most active sponsor categories among companies aligned with MLS.
But adidas, as the official kit supplier and game ball provider for MLS, is the single most active brand with the soccer circuit and 100% of its clubs, according to a new report from research and consulting firm IEG, Chicago.
The sports apparel and footwear company has its three-stripe logo on the jerseys of all 20 MLS clubs.
After adidas, the most active brands aligned with the league and/or its clubs are Anheuser-Busch (48%), Advocare (48%), Heineken (43%), Comcast (38%), Brown-Forman (33%), PepsiCo (33%), Great Clips (33%), DraftKings (29%) and Papa John’s (29%).
Chipotle is the most active non-endemic MLS sponsor, with 52% of properties with a sponsor in the restaurant category reporting a sponsorship with the company, according to IEG.
Audi is currently getting high visibility among fans and consumers as the presenting sponsor for the MLS playoffs and the MLS Cup championship (scheduled for Dec. 10). The MLS Final Four are Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC (East) and Seattle Sounders versus Colorado Rapids (West).
Food is the most active category, with food companies “5.8 times more likely to sponsor MLS than the average of all sponsors,” according to the IEG 2016 MLS Sponsorship Report.
After food, the most active categories in MLS are quick-serve restaurants (5.1 times more likely to sponsor MLS than the average of all sponsors), medical/health (4.5), insurance (3.5), automobiles (3.2), beer (3.2), non-alcoholic beverages (2.9), telecom (2.8), sports apparel and equipment (2.8) and baking (2.6).
IEG did not indicate how much was spent in total sponsorships on the MLS. In a report earlier IEG wrote that sponsorship spend on soccer in the U.S. in 2016 is expected to set a record of $333 million, up nearly 10% from 2015. Those numbers encompass all pro soccer leagues, including MLS, NASL, USL, the National Women’s Soccer League and the Women’s Premier Soccer League.
All 20 MLS teams in 2016 had jersey-front sponsorships. Broken down by category, airlines, banks/financial services, food, insurance, medical, pharmaceutical and telecoms each had 10% of jersey deals.
The other 30% is claimed by such categories as men’s grooming, oil, corporate solutions and gaming (Seattle Sounders Microsoft’s Xbox), according to IEG. (See full list below.)
Of the league’s 20 clubs, 16 currently play in stadiums that have sold naming rights. The four that do not play in such venues are DC United (RFK Stadium), NYCFC (Yankee Stadium), Portland Timbers (Providence Park) and the Vancouver Whitecaps (BC Place).
In addition, three MLS expansion teams already have stadium naming-rights deals in place: Atlanta United (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and Minnesota United (TFC Bank Stadium), both joining in 2017; and Los Angeles FC (Banc of California Stadium, now under construction), scheduled to join the league in 2018. (See full list below.)
During the 2016 season, MLS official sponsors included adidas, Advocate, Allstate, AT&T, Audi, Chipotle, Coca-Cola, Continental, DraftKings, EA Sports, Etihad Airways, Heineken, The Home Depot, Johnson & Johnson, Makita, Mondelez International (Chips Ahoy, Ritz, Trident), SeatGeek and Southern New Hampshire University.
MLS Jersey Sponsors (2016)
Chicago Fire Valspar (Paint)
Colorado Rapids TransAmerica (Financial Services)
Columbus Crew Barbasol (Men’s Grooming)
DC United Leidos (Security, Health, Engineering Solutions company)
FC Dallas Advocate
Houston Dynamo BHP Billiton (Oil)
Los Angeles Galaxy Herbalife
Montreal Impact BMO (Bank of Montreal)
New England Revolution United Health Care
NYCFC Etihad Airlines
New York Red Bulls Red Bull (Energy Drink)
Orlando City FC Orlando Health
Philadelphia Union Bimbo Bakeries
Portland Timbers Alaska Airlines
Real Salt Lake LifeVantage
San Jose Earthquakes Sutter Health
Seattle Sounders Xbox
Sporting Kansas City Ivy Funds
Toronto FC BMO
Vancouver Whitecaps Bell (Telecom)
Atlanta United American Family Insurance
Los Angeles FC TK
Minnesota United (from NASL) Atomic Data
MLS Stadium Naming Rights (2016)
Chicago Fire Toyota Park
Colorado Rapids Dick’s Sporting Goods Park
Columbus Crew Mapfre Stadium
DC United RFK Stadium
FC Dallas Toyota Stadium
Houston Dynamo BBVA Compass Stadium
Los Angeles Galaxy StubHub Center
Montreal Impact Saputo Stadium
New England Revolution Gillette Stadium
NYCFC Yankee Stadium
New York Red Bulls Red Bull Arena
Orlando City FC Camping World Stadium
Philadelphia Union Talen Energy Stadium
Portland Timbers Providence Park
Real Salt Lake Life Rio Tinto Stadium
San Jose Earthquakes Avaya Stadium
Seattle Sounders Century Link Field
Sporting Kansas City Children’s Mercy Park
Toronto FC BMO Field
Vancouver Whitecaps BC Place
Atlanta United Mercedes-Benz Stadium (2017)
Los Angeles FC Banc of California Stadium (2018)
Minnesota United (from NASL) TFC Bank Stadium (2017)
Eastern Conference Finals: Montreal Impact versus Toronto FC Leg 1 Nov. 22, Leg 2 Nov. 30