The MLS All-Star game pitted the best of the American league against the English Premiere League champions Manchester United. It’s somewhat high stakes for the young U.S. soccer league, which they lost decisively 4-0 against perhaps the most popular European team in the world, but there are upsides regardless.
“Some professional sports teams or leagues might use Bobblehead Night to drive consumer awareness and demand. We actually bring in an international club and create an event,” says Dan Courtemanche, VPof marketing and communications for MLS. “It’s almost event marketing 101. It drives sales and demand.”
The event also gives MLS a chance to show off Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. “We could have gone up the road to the New Meadowlands Stadium and sold that out at 80,000. And certainly from a revenue standpoint, that would have been more advantageous,” says Courtemanche. “But from a marketing standpoint, this provides us the ability to showcase this stadium for the metropolitan New York City area, and really build the profile of the local team, the New York Red Bulls. We can show the in-stadium atmosphere, and people can sample what they can expect week in and week out with the Red Bulls.”
Still, despite pressures to be competitive, additional coverage of soccer on Fox Soccer Channel, Univision and ESPN is seen as beneficial to MLS in the long run. “We’re a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all boats, so the more people who are paying attention to soccer, the better it is for us,” he says. “We encourage fans of European or Latin American soccer to continue watching those matches. It might be your hometown club, where your family grew up in Buenos Aires or London. But you live in this country now. Watch those games on Saturday morning on Fox Soccer or ESPN, and then on Saturday night come out to an MLS game and experience it live at the stadium.”
MLS has done more on social media and ratings are good after a positive performance for the U.S. in both the Women’s and Men’s World Cup tournaments, but ultimately MLS is shooting for the top. “Our goal is to be the best soccer league in the world,” said Courtemanche bluntly. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s not going to happen in three-five years. But could it happen within the next 10-20 Most definitely. Americans have a mentality that they want to see the best. We certainly have some incredible players, guys that can keep you on the edge of your seat, competing in Major League Soccer. But our challenge remains that some people view other leagues as being of better quality. So, we need to solve that problem.”