With one year completed in its new media deals, Major League Soccer opened the doors this weekend to a new season with the hopes of growing recent audience momentum across its platforms. Bolstered by 2015 viewership upticks across ESPN, UniMas and FOX Sports, the league is now expanding is digital assets, which also spiked last season. MLS recently announced a renewal of its partnership with NeuLion for MLS Live, which saw a 60% spike in subscriptions on a year-over-year basis, with the duo launching a number of enhancements for fans of MLS LIVE, including closer integration with MLSsoccer.com. In addition, the league a launched a new app update.
Cynopsis Sports asked Chris Schlosser, Senior Vice President & General Manager, MLS Digital, about the league’s digital strategy this season, discussing trends, advertisers and how
Schlosser on lessons learned in 2015: Our 20th season last year was our best to date. We continue to grow. The League set an attendance record. New world-class players joined. A state of the art new venue in San Jose opened (with North America’s longest outdoor bar!). That venue will also host the AT&T MLS All-Star Game on July 28 versus Arsenal FC. On the digital side, MLS Digital is playing a leading role in driving MLS’ explosive growth, providing regular content experiences that engage deeply with today’s North American soccer fan base mobile-first, socially savvy, multicultural, Millennial. Last season our content and product strategy saw unprecedented increases in video views (up 400%), unique users (up 30%), social reach (up 87%), and Spanish-language traffic (up more than 1000%).
On digital content: We created a record 600+ hours of original programming, published 10,000 original articles, covered multiple competitions, and produced a breakthrough live series for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, delivering the deepest storytelling available anywhere to MLS fans. We also launched a unique strategic partnership with Twitter for our inaugural #DecisionDay (based on its success it will be back in 2016), developed new products for Periscope and Instagram, participated in the Facebook video alpha program, and innovated on Snapchat to engage fans in new ways. We also launched 20 all-new responsive sites, a revamped suite of mobile apps, a Spanish-language site in partnership with Univision and a new e-commerce platform, MLSstore.com.
On MLS Live: MLS Live has become one of the most vital elements of being a fan. Wherever you are you can watch MLS matches. On the road, in the airport, on your couch we even see people in the stands watching one MLS game with their smartphone streaming a second match. It’s great. It’s also more than just video streaming. MLS Live also gives fans control of how they watch with interactive fan touch points such as key play markers, slow motion viewing, real-time live stats, DVR fan controls and social media integration. We’ve seen a 60% growth in subscriptions on a year-over-year basis. NeuLion are great partners. They provide a first-class service.
On club initiatives: Across the League our Clubs are investing to create deeper digital teams. We are seeing an exponential increase in content created at a local level. We work very closely with our Clubs, amplifying the great content they’re creating. This year we’ll once again have two Heineken Rivalry Weeks. Those were a huge hit last year and our numbers spiked during those weeks. I’m really looking forward to May 21 at Yankee Stadium when the Red Bulls visit NYCFC. That was one of my favorite memories from last season an absolutely packed Yankee Stadium that was electric.
On sponsors: We had a great experience with Audi during last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs. They also just announced their Audi Player Index that they’ll be bringing to MLS this year. You can learn more about it on our site. A number of MLS partners have really stepped up their digital presence: Southern New Hampshire University is running a series called In Session. TAG Heuer has recently come on board as a partner and they’ll be doing a lot with us around time and how it impacts our sport. Referees this year will be wearing TAG Heuer’s Connected watches. More and more of our partners are investing with us to create unique content that authentically connects our partners with our fans. We’re fortunate to have a group of blue chip partners who believe in the sport and realize that our fan base is young and digitally savvy.