Bringing the Fans to MLS: Fans Maturing?

We have repeatedly posted about the internal tension in MLS when chasing fans and selling tickets.  In its early years, the league targeted families and some ethnic communities.  Through our interviews with league and team officials, it has become clear that most franchises have aggressively shifted their sales efforts to grabbing “hard core” soccer fans that elevate the in stadium experience and become loyal followers of the teams.  While these franchises continue to pursue group sales, they recognize that these one-off purchasers do not drive merchandise and concessions over the course of the season.

The Sports Business Journal recently published an interesting piece looking at the maturation of the MLS fan base.  According to some of the date in the article (based on research done by Scarbourough Research) shows that 36 percent of MLS fans earn more than $75k per year.  Another referenced study shows that 47 percent of MLS fans are between 18 and 44 with less than 10% between 13-17.  These studies reveal that MLS has successfully and frequently focused on the young adult market.

The article does a good job discussing the difficulties in turning the youth soccer/group sales market into season tickets and return customers.  Although a cost effective means of sales (youth tournaments are great marketing opportunity), such sales have often failed to cement relationships (although Erik Stover notes that youth sales accounted for a quarter of their sales).   From the fan terrace in Colorado, to the Nordecke in Columbus, the Rev Girls and a bar scene in Dallas, teams have been pushing the 20 something experience.

Another component of the article provides data about the number of MLS fans in the league’s various markets.  Based on telephone data, the SGMA survey shows that there are more than 2.3 million self described MLS fans in the New York/New Jersey/PA area and less than 140,000 in Salt Lake City.  Other areas with more tha 1 million fans are Los Angeles and Chicago.  Portland/Vancouver (combined), Columbus and Kansas city are the other regions with less than 210,000 MLS fans.

This is the next generation of marketing in MLS.  The league appears stable and this group of fans will be the backbone of the league in the coming decade.  For our previous series of posts on this topic, click here.

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