‘It’s an exciting time for Major League Soccer!’
With two new teams and two new stadiums debuting in 2017 — and a fan base that continues to grow — the head of Major League Soccer’s commercial division says the question is no longer if the league can make it but how big it can become.
There’s so much growth and momentum right now in Major League Soccer. Our 22nd season, now underway, features 22 clubs, including two new teams in Atlanta and Minneapolis-St. Paul, new stadiums in Atlanta and Orlando, Florida, a number of new, young stars, and our upcoming All-Star Game presented by Target versus Real Madrid on Aug. 2 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Our fan base continues to grow. Our players and fans are active in their communities, and we are seeing best-in-class youth academies producing stars of the future. All of this success has led to significant media attention and an increase in popularity.
While there is still a lot of hard work ahead, there are no longer any doubts about the league’s survival. Now the question is: How big can MLS become?
Twelve cities are vying to have an MLS club in their community. That’s a strong statement about the growth of the sport and the interest in MLS throughout the United States and Canada. Our expansion committee is focusing on three areas — the ownership group, the city/market, and the stadium plan — and we will announce two new markets in 2017, and two more teams, from that same group of 12 bids, at a later date.
On the media front, we’ve teamed up with Univision Deportes and Facebook, and at least 22 games this season will stream in English on Univision Deportes’ Facebook page. We are also taking a leadership role in world soccer by using Video Assistant Referees (VAR) — additional referees stationed in technology-enhanced booths who have real-time access to video technology to help referees reduce clear errors in four game-changing situations: goals, penalty decisions, direct red card incidents, and cases of mistaken identity.
Experience ‘the passion that lives in our stadiums’
I’m often asked about the difference between our fans and fans of other sports. Major League Soccer is much younger than the other more established professional sports leagues in the U.S. and Canada, and research shows there is very little crossover between fan bases.
A typical MLS fan is young, diverse, and digital. We have a very unique, dedicated, and passionate fan base. The supporter culture that exists in soccer and in MLS is something that’s really special, and the energy, fervor, color, and passion that lives in our stadiums during a game is something to see and experience.
The dedication of our fans to their clubs is incredible. They will stand and sing and wave flags for the entire game. They will work in hangars for hours on end making that week’s tifo — the huge pieces of art that supporters’ groups create to show support for their club. They will fundraise for fellow fans that are struggling and need help. I hear heartwarming stories like this every week, and I am amazed at the dedication and devotion these supporters have. It’s one of the reasons why sports matter.
‘We’re all in this together’
Corporate allies are essential to the success of our League. Wells Fargo recently signed on to be MLS’ official bank for another four years, and they’re also working with the Mexican National Team’s U.S. tour. We would like to thank them for their continued support of the sport, and for being a great teammate with us.
We’re all in this together. We’re all helping grow the sport of soccer in this part of the world. Sponsorships these days are multichannel; utilizing broadcast, digital, video, content, in-stadium, and on-site activation.
Wells Fargo also presents our annual MLS WORKS Community MVP contest, where each club is represented by a fan who has made a difference in their community through soccer. Each finalist gets $1,000, and the grand prize winner gets $25,000 to give to their favorite non-profit organization. We also team up with Wells Fargo in each All-Star host city to have an All-Star Day of Service benefiting local nonprofits.
Our sport brings the community together in a unique way and community service is a huge part of who we are as a league. MLS WORKS, our community outreach initiative, is dedicated to addressing important social issues, and serves as a platform for philanthropy both at the League and club level. It seeks to establish MLS as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport.
Our players and clubs are leaders in their cities. We recently launched the latest iteration of our Don’t Cross the Line initiative, which emphasizes our commitment to end discrimination and promote an atmosphere of diversity, equality, and inclusion throughout the soccer community.
Looking ahead to the future
We know that Major League Soccer will continue to grow, and expansion will remain a significant priority for us. We’ll continue to focus on youth development as players from our academies graduate to earn spots on their first teams. We’ve already seen nearly 200 MLS academy graduates sign professional contracts.
We’ll also be keeping a close eye on the exciting news that the United States, Canada, and Mexico are submitting a unified bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. I have fond memories of the 1994 FIFA World Cup — the last and only time the event was held in the U.S. — an incredible event which I was lucky enough to have worked on.
Our diverse fans will continue to experience our games in diverse ways — whether that’s attending live or watching on ESPN, FOX Sports, Univision, or through the Univision Deportes page on Facebook. Our games are shown in 170 countries and territories around the world.
It’s an exciting time for Major League Soccer!