Digital MLS: How Did They Do?

The posting has been a bit light this week; there has been a “new arrival” in the family which has changed sleep/work patterns a bit, but we expect to be back on schedule next week.  For now, check out this March interview we did with SUM Digital Strategy Director Chris Schlosser about MLS’ plans for digital media and online advertising in 2009.  Read the interview, and give us your thoughts….how did MLS do? Did you notice the ads?  Did you use the Brand Thunder Booms or notice the revised website?

Chris Schlosser is the Director of Digital Strategy for SUM,  a graduate of Columbia Business School and a former employee at Microsoft in Seattle.  While at Columbia, Mr. Schlosser formed a relationship with Sunil Gulati and ultimately came to work at SUM.  He was kind enough to answer a few questions from about MLS’ digital strategy. SUM recently announced the initiation of an online ad network that targets a variety of sites that soccer fans frequent.  What are the benefits to the sites and SUM in participating in the network?  What are the benefits for fans?

Chris Schlosser: Over the past seven years SUM has built significant relationships with the US commercial community, we spend every day selling soccer to Fortune 100 companies. We are using this network of clients and our experience selling soccer to drive incremental revenue for our member sites. There are lots of other ad networks out there but I can guarantee you that none of them have more experience or more focus on selling soccer. In addition to driving revenue we are working with a number of our partners on content sharing and joint marketing to grow the collective soccer audience. From a fans perspective the SUM Digital Network should over time provide significantly better content and features, as revenue grows it is our hope that this will enable our member sites to invest more money in content and features which will increase traffic and continue to drive value for both fans and the commercial community.

F.B.  How will the ads be targeted?  Who will decide which ads get placed on which sites?

C.S.  Our sales team will work with our advertising clients to create custom ad plans tailored to efficiently meet the needs of our clients. Many of our official site partners (MLS, EPL, US Soccer, etc.) have significant corporate sponsorships already in place, many of these sites maintain a category system with certain sponsors retaining exclusivity, we are used to working in this environment and will work across our network to protect existing commercial relationships. We also are focused on premium ad placements and clients, we are not going after the “fat belly” ads that are so common on many sites today.

F.B. Far more than most sports fans, MLS supporters take a direct interest in the League’s efforts to generate revenue.  How will the League be compensated?  How about the sites?

C.S. Our fans are amazing, in fact a recent SBJ study stated that MLS fans show more brand loyalty than any other sports fans in America, we even out indexed NASCAR which is built around branded experiences. We see the digital space as a significant revenue opportunity over the next 3-5 years and are investing accordingly. As a member of our network sites will see incremental revenue compared to what they are currently seeing from remnant networks or in house sales teams. Additionally SUM will see revenue from more deals and larger deals as we continue to build our presence in the digital space.

F.B. What other electronic innovations should fans be looking out for in 2009?

C.S. We have a ton planned for 2009, including some very interesting launches. You will see us launch redesigned club pages for 11 of our 15 teams this afternoon, additionally we are launching improved video experiences, team social networks (see for an early example), customizable and shareable highlight videos, and much more. 2009 will be an exciting year on MLSnet and our team sites. One great example of how the league is focused on improving the online experience for fans is that we are going to double the quality of our live game streams while keeping the same cost to fans as last year at only $19.95 for the season. That means you can watch more than 100 games for less than 20 bucks, now that is a great deal.

F.B.We’ve heard about the League’s new relationship with Brand Thunder.  We will the first “booms” be unveiled?  Who will be responsible for content?  The League?  The Teams?

C.S. The first browser should launch this week, we have a league deal but will work with each team to manage content and design on the browser.