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Major brands drawn to MLS

News, 09 March 2015

NEW YORK: Soccer has long been a minority sport in the US but major brands are partnering with Major League Soccer (MLS) in the expectation that the momentum of last summer's World Cup will continue into the new season which started yesterday.

On Friday, Audi, the upmarket carmaker, became the latest brand to join forces with MLS, in a multi-year partnership agreement that makes it the League's Official Automotive Partner and the presenting sponsor of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Audi will also air MLS-themed television commercials during nationally televised games on ESPN, FOX and the Univision Networks, tweaking them during the course of the season to reflect key moments on the pitch and using real fan footage.

The move continues a soccer theme the brand has been working on in the US for the past year.

Another partner is Heineken, the beer brand, which has long supported soccer in Europe and now sees a groundswell of support in the US, helped by social media.

"The big difference that we've seen is, in the past, you'd get the World Cup bump and then it would kind of dissipate," Quinn Kilbury, senior brand director at Heineken told Advertising Week.

"I think that soccer fans in the US are finding their voice because big media companies like Twitter are allowing a place for those conversations to occur," he added. By his estimation there are 11m US soccer fans on Twitter and 22m on Facebook.

The two new teams making their debuts in MLS – Orlando City SC and New York City FC – are attracting particular types of fan.

In Florida, 40% of Orlando's fans are millennials, while in New York, 60% of the 14,000 season tickets sold have gone to people who have never previously purchased season tickets for a sports team.

"The reality is we're not going to get hardcore baseball fans and convert them to being soccer fans," said Toby Craig, head of marketing communications for the team.

"What we've certainly seen is that there are a lot of people in New York who are big sports fans but for various reasons haven't had a team to call their own –they're finding that now with us."

Data sourced from MLS, Ad Week; additional content by Warc staff