Major League Soccer bets big

It was a big week for Major League Soccer, which not only kicked off the playoffs, but also prepared for the future with announcements that Chivas USA would be folding, a new Los Angeles FC would be moving in for the 2017 season and an overall realignment would shuffle the season setup. The new LAFC features an ownership group that includes Henry Nguyen and Peter Guber as well as star power such as Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra as well as Tony Robbins.

With a new TV deal in store next season, Cynopsis Sports asked Eric Krasnoo, VP, MLS Digital Properties, about last week’s announcements and the future of the league.

Krasnoo on the 2014 season: 2014 was a year of tremendous growth across our digital platforms with significant increases in users, social participation and mobile activity. Driven by both the World Cup and continued interest in MLS, every month in 2014 significantly outpaced 2013 in terms of Unique Users and Page Views. This pattern of digital growth is happening at both a League and Club level, so we are obviously excited to see increased scale and engagement everywhere we look. When you consider MLS has the youngest and most tech savvy fans in sports, it’s easy to see where the growth has come from. Our Millennial and Hispanic fans all significantly over index in use of mobile, streaming and social, plus they are most likely to interact with sponsors on social platforms, which makes our brand enticing to our partners and advertisers.

On sponsors: We are always looking for ways to authentically incorporate our sponsors and advertisers into our media platforms. While we’ve had the AT&T Goal of the Week program for a few years now, we saw exponential growth in 2014 with the continued success of the MLS digital sites coupled with incorporating Goal of the Week into our broadcast partners’ linear and digital platforms. With a cohesive cross-platform strategy, we were able to deliver increased engagement for AT&T.

A fantastic example of how we’re looking to push digital boundaries with our partners was using EA Sports’ FIFA game in selecting a roster spot for our 2014 AT&T MLS All-Star team. Goals scored in the video game using MLS players during a specific promotional window leading up to the All-Star Game were tallied up with the top scorer being added to the roster.

Also, adidas’ sponsorship of 24 under 24, a feature on our digital platforms that crowns MLS’ best young player, was a perfect and seamless way for adidas to align their messaging with young, homegrown stars in our league. Fans love to participate in the conversation around this series which we feel is a testament to the future stars within MLS.

On new partners: The biggest change in 2015 is that our new broadcast relationships (ESPN, Fox, Univision) will allow us to look more holistically across all media platforms including linear TV, web, mobile and social. The ability to bring fully integrated opportunities to our MLS partners that includes media (both inside and outside the white lines) and traditional rights/activation is something we’re excited about. Our partners have invested in the sport of soccer and we will continue to use our media assets as an important megaphone as we work with them to develop their strategies and narratives for our 20th season.

On growth: We have a new brand that will spearhead our outreach and allow us to connect with our clubs, partners and fans in a totally unique way. We will continue to highlight what a differentiating experience we have at MLS — the intoxicating stadium environment, the unique supporter culture, driven by Millennials, and the access we provide in North America to a club in your home town. In addition, we are celebrating our 20th season next year with two new teams (New York City FC & Orlando City SC) and a number of world stars (Kaka, David Villa, Frank Lampard) making their debut in the league. These elements will allow us to reach both existing and new fans by telling a compelling story that is relevant to them.

On the new LA franchise: The ownership group led by Henry Nguyen, Peter Guber and Tom Penn is going to be terrific. They’re going to build a new state-of-the-art stadium and the rivalry that will be built between LAFC and LA Galaxy will be exciting. The new Los Angeles team’s brand identity will be announced at a later date. They will start play in MLS in 2017, the same year that Arthur Blank’s team in Atlanta will join, bringing MLS to 22 clubs. We’ll add two more clubs before 2020 to get to 24.

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