There have been record crowds at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, a near full house at Yankee Stadium and anther one in the Nation’s Capital. Record TV ratings for a title game, a retired star with visions of running his own franchise, even a new deal with Microsoft and the season has barely begun. No it’s not baseball, its soccer, and the sport has again shown that as a brand it is again expanding its reach in the United States.
Soccer had a landmark 2012 in North America, one which saw more interest not just in the global game but even in MLS, than ever before. Record crowds turned out for a summer of some of the top clubs and national teams from around the globe coming to the U.S. for a celebration of soccer. Now with the World Cup just over a year away, “The Beautiful Game” seems to be taking up residence in the United States, as USA Soccer celebrates its centennial, now more than ever. “Because of the influx of a new immigrant population and the accessibility of the sport on the grassroots level, soccer is really here to stay,” said Chris Lencheski, CEO of Philadelphia-based Front Row Marketing, who represent several MLS clubs and international clubs in the business space. “Digital sports, television and the conscious efforts of some of the biggest sports entities on the planet…clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea, AS Roma and FC Barcelona…to stretch their brand into the States has created a new legion of fans who are savvy, demanding and have a passion and love for the game like others around the world have had for a long time. Soccer as a business in the states us still just getting started, but its upside is huge.”
One of those locations that the game is still evolving is ironically in New York, the most cosmopolitan of all cities. Mega-marketer Red Bull has had a stranglehold on the region with its New Jersey based franchise; bur has never really caught the attention of most media and many casual fans for a large stretch of time. However into that mix in recent weeks has come the announcement from major league soccer that two global brands, Manchester City and the New York Yankees, will pilot out a 20th Major league soccer franchise, which ratchets up the level in domestic play exponentially. Coupled with the fact that the lower level North American soccer league has made a good deal of noise with the re-launch of a new York Cosmos brand (even signing a deal with Emirates Airways this week), and soccer on Madison Avenue and on Broadway, is being talked about like it hasn’t been in over 20 years.
“The power of soccer in New York is tremendous, but it has been primarily at the grassroots level,” said Dan Mannix, CEO of Lead Dog Marketing, a top brand and marketing event company. “Having the support of Man City and the Yankees certainly increases the level of interest in the sport on all levels, and gives this new franchise a chance to capture an even bigger and more affluent audience for the sport down the road. It is a very exciting time for the game for sure.”
What will it take for soccer to continue to grow in the States? A healthy World Cup run for one, and qualifying is not yet over. The US team scored a surprise win over Germany in a friendly this past week after a lackluster performance before record crowds in St. Louis against Belgium so improved play is needed to capture casual followers. Success in New York, be it Red Bulls, New York City Football Club, the Cosmos or a combo of all, would help lift the sport as will the greater promotion of some of America’s rising faces. Major League Soccer continues to stay focused on its long term vision with steady growth, but the continued integration of new brands and greater technology and fan access will help with even more engagement that will lift the sport.
All in all, the spring has been a great next step for brand soccer, with hopefully a string and engaging summer to follow.