Seattle Sounders FC of Major League Soccer are one of the year’s big marketing success stories. An expansion team, they’ve sold every available seat and then some; they sold a huge number of season tickets; they’ve become the hot ticket in Seattle. They’ve created a compelling atmosphere inside the stadium. Paying special attention to the on-the-field product, they’ve made the playoffs and may well set even more records.
Yet Major League Soccer hasn’t enjoyed the same success everywhere.
The league has lost significant attendance in some markets, beyond what you might expect from the economic downturn. They’ve experimented with marketing plans that focus on youth soccer players, on Latinos and on young adults, with spotty results. And some of the product is, frankly, disappointing.
What type of marketing effort should the league make in this day and age?
Even with tens of millions of people who play and love soccer in the US, marketing a professional soccer league a big problem. Product quality is an issue. MLS must compete with readily available competition via television from Europe, South America and Mexico. The US soccer market is incredibly diverse and there’s no easy way to reach all the segments.
I chanced upon a compelling take on MLS’ challenges and a possible solution at USSoccerPlayers.com, the official site of the US National Soccer Team Players Association. These people have the most at stake – they’re the ones who play soccer for a living. See the commentary by L. E. Eisenmenger of Examiner.com here.
Eisenmenger suggests marketing to adults via transparency; that is, removing the mysteries of business machinations from the fans (much as the Sounders have done), using social media and other techniques to attract folks from all segments of the US soccer spectrum. Eisenmenger says ignore the templates of established US pro sports leagues, and build a unique brand from the ground up.
It’s a lot different course than what anyone would have suggested a few years ago. And yet, with the new and growing power of social media, Eisenmenger makes a compelling argument. If you’re a soccer fan, or even just a marketing fan, I think you’ll enjoy her take.