Sponsor Insights

MLS Sponsorship Spending Sets a New League Record In 2022

There’s no denying the seemingly unstoppable momentum of Major League Soccer, as evidenced by the fact that brands spent a record $461M in sponsorships across MLS clubs this year. Let’s take a look at three reasons behind this new benchmark. 

The number of brands sponsoring MLS increased by roughly 25% in the last three years.
A few factors fueled MLS sponsorships’ growth, starting with the addition of six league-level sponsors this year: Avant, IHG, Socios, Sorare, Doordash, and Caterpillar. Meanwhile, the Alcohol, Media and Technology categories added the most brands during the 2022 season.

Digital assets grew within MLS venues.
Digital advertising in MLS increased more than 18% in 2022 across 13 different digital asset classes. The video board reigned supreme, as more than 500 brands utilized it this season—a 20% rise over last year.

adidas and Continental Tire remained the most active brands–followed by Socios.com, which aims to become MLS’ next long-term partner.
adidas, the league’s longest tenured partner at 26 years, and 12-year partner Continental Tire both have sponsorships with every MLS team. A newcomer this season, fan engagement platform Socios.com became both an official MLS partner and Official Fan Loyalty Partner of 26 MLS clubs–signaling its serious long-term sponsorship plans within the league.

MLS Report 2022

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Brands Spend a Record $461M in Sponsorships Across Major League Soccer Clubs in 2022.
Technology and Utilities categories topped the sponsorship growth chart, accounting for 15% of new brand sponsors.

The MLS 2022 Marketing Partnerships Report analyzes 1,750 partnership deals across the league, clubs and athletes during the 2022 season. The report uncovered that $461 million in club sponsorship revenue was generated across 1,300 unique brands. The beverage-alcohol category and media brands topped the charts with the most active brands.

Key findings from the report include:

Sporting KC, Philadelphia Union and Austin FC attract nearly 100 brand deals each
All three clubs exceeded 90 sponsorship deals for the 2022 season, eclipsing the league average of 62. Sporting KC leads in terms of deal volume, with new partners including Don Neron Tequila, Socios.com, Google Fiber, and Compass Minerals, its new front jersey partner. Austin FC quickly surpassed all other MLS clubs in terms of sponsorship category diversity in just its second season.

U.S. World Cup player DeAndre Yedlin of Inter Miami CF leads with the most new brand collaborations this year
Returning to the MLS this year after a 7-year hiatus, DeAndre Yedlin has inked five brand endorsements this season. Yedlin partnered with three league sponsors–Heineken, Audi, and DoorDash–in addition to Quaker State and Captain Morgan. LAFC player Giorgio Chiellini took the lead in endorsements with 18, and the number of branded social posts with 28.

Cryptocurrency and FinTech propelled Finance to the top of 2022’s list of most searched categories
Crypto sponsorship deals within MLS quintupled to five from just one last year. Cryptocurrency was the most searched financial category within the SponsorUnited platform as more than 250 cryptocurrency brands worldwide were searched, with Coinbase, Crypto.com, and eToro leading the way. 

International and domestic brands ramp up activations with MLS
For the 2022 season, MLS gained six new league partners: Avant, IHG, Socios.com, Sorare, Doordash and Caterpillar. Brands like the Japanese beverage company Asahi tapped into the North America market for the first time through MLS, in addition international brands including Volkswagen, Bermuda Tourism Authority, and Inter&Co. The five most active brands among the league and individual athletes include Heineken (785 social posts), Audi (658 posts), BodyArmour (618 posts), Bank of Montreal (403 posts) and Delta (390 posts).

“MLS continues to impress with its increasing popularity, game attendance, and sponsorships, propelling the league to be the fastest growing in the world,” said Bob Lynch, Founder and CEO of SponsorUnited. “It’s clear to see how MLS franchise median value grew 5x more than other U.S. pro leagues through new investments made from companies like DoorDash, as well as continued support from brands like Adidas, who has been a league partner for the past 26 years. It’s an exciting time for MLS and I’m looking forward to seeing the continued momentum.”

Methodology:
This report was compiled using SponsorUnited’s proprietary platform data from January 15, 2022, through November 8, 2022. Social data compiled from property or person-controlled Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn accounts and social activity.

MLS All-Star Skills Challenge

SponsorUnited was on the ground at the 2022 MLS All-Star Skills Challenge. Below are the top 3 most commonly seen brands during the Minneapolis-based event.

Event Activations:
AT&T
Old Spice
Bounty

ESPN Broadcast:
AT&T
GMC
Frontier Communications

Check out the graphic below to see how these brands activated during the event.

MLS ALL-Star Week (7)

CONCACAF | Instant Replay

In addition to being the first MLS club to win CONCACAF Champions League, the Sounders will also be the first to represent the league at the FIFA Club World Cup.

We highlight some of the activations and FS1 broadcast ads during the Sounders 2022 CONCACAF Champions League victory, which saw a record-breaking crowd of 68,741 fans.

CONCACAF Finals

Four Brands Enter MLS With New Partnerships After Season Openers

Three weeks into the 2022 MLS season, new brands have been seen entering the MLS sponsorship space for the first time, partnering with teams after the season opener on February 26th. Nashville FC named cryptocurrency brand, Valkyrie Invest, as a founding partner a week into the 2022 season. Nashville FC became the first MLS team to accept a full partnership fee in bitcoin. 

Part of the partnership includes club naming rights to Nashville FC’s new 850-seat premium club, which will be renamed to the Valkyrie Premier Club. Valkyrie Invest was the #23 most searched brand this past week on the SponsorUnited platform seeing a jump from #7,492 the previous week. Many other brands have entered the MLS for the first time during the 2022 season.

Nashville SC X GEODIS
With Nashville SC set to begin play at their new stadium during the 2022 season, the team has secured a venue naming rights partner, GEODIS, which will rename the field to GEODIS Park. GEODIS is an international brand headquartered in France with their eyes set on an expansion in the United States as they have recently opened a new warehouse in New York.

Charlotte FC X Ruoff Mortgage
Ruoff Mortgage was named the Official Mortgage Company of Charlotte FC as part of a multi-year partnership less than a week into the club’s inaugural season. This deal marks the brand’s first partnership with an MLS club.

NYFC X Flo
Flo was named the Official Electric Vehicle Charging Partner of the 2021 MLS Champion, the New York City Football Club. The partnership marks the brand’s first Major Pro Sports partnership in the United States although they currently have a deal in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks in Canada.

Chicago Fire X Wintrust Financial Corporation
Chicago based company, Wintrust, entered the MLS for the first time in a multi-year partnership with the Chicago Fire FC, becoming the Official Banking Partner of the team. The brand will leverage assets which include exclusive pitch entitlement for all home games played at Soldier Field, as well as key signage throughout the stadium including the player tunnel and in-stadium LED signage.

Electric Vehicles Head Towards Sponsorships

The 2021 MLS Cup Champions, the New York City Football Club, signed a partnership deal with FLO, an electric vehicle charging network and provider. While they have a deal with the NHL (Vancouver Canucks), this partnership marks the first U.S. Major Pro Sports deal for the brand. 

FLO will be the Official Electric Vehicle Charging Partner of NYCFC. Their deal with the Canucks includes virtual signage on the broadcast as well as dasher board signage. SponsorUnited highlighted the EV brands that entered the sponsorship world in 2021 in our Automotive Sponsorships 2020-2021 Annual Report. As mentioned in the report, there were seven brands at the time making an impact in the EV space leading the way for more brands to enter into new partnerships.

Rivian teamed up with Professional Fishing Athlete, Camille Egdorf for the release of their first teaser video while well known brand Tesla, jumped into the NIL space securing a deal with USC defensive lineman Nick Figuerora. Lucid Motors made a big splash in 2021 spending on broadcast media with commercials during Super Bowl LV as well as the Rose Bowl and on Saturday Night Live on NBC.

D.C. United Partners With XDC Network

The Cryptocurrency space and NFT’s continue to develop a strong presence in the sponsorship industry. Within the last 12 months, over 40 brands in these categories have signed a venue naming rights deal or a jersey partnership globally. 

Most recently, D.C. United secured the first ever Crypto deal in the MLS with a new primary jersey partnership with XDC Network while also following the blueprint set by Socios.com in the global football market.

XDC Network will be developing a “Fan Token” program which will give fans the opportunity to gain rewards through engagement opportunities, exclusive experiences, and special access to content from the team. The brand will also be providing the landscape for fans to buy, sell, trade or interact with NFTs on the XDC Network through a video platform where fans can also learn more about blockchain technology. This is a first-of-its-kind deal for XDC Network as they have officially entered the sponsorship space within the five major pro sports leagues in the US.

The partnership between these two organizations follows the playbook set by global football teams and Socios.com who have had “Fan Token” during previous seasons. Socios.com expanded into the United States during 2021 having deals within the NHL and NBA but has yet to sign a deal within the MLS.

D.C. United & XDC Network

Official League Partners | MLS Annual Report

See a glimpse of the MLS League Partners from our newly released MLS 2021 Marketing & Partnerships Annual Report. SponsorUnited highlights the brand’s start year and focused initiatives of the partnerships.

MLS Official Sponsors

Most Searched | MLS Report

Coinbase, Crypto.com and FTX all landed in the top five most searched brands by MLS executives utilizing the SponsorUnited platform. Although vacant of a league sponsorship, it seems as if cryptocurrency is ready to take off within the league as XDC Network has signed the first deal for the category with a team this week. As the most searched sub-category on the SponsorUnited platform, expect a big footprint in the near future as players have also already started to accept crypto as their salary. 

Although players are accepting salaries in Cryptocurrency, it does not mean they actively have a partnership. Walker Zimmerman is the only MLS athlete with a deal as he has social media posts with Coinmerge promoting their platform. Outside of the MLS, the other four major pro sports in the US have over 25 active Cryptocurrency brands led by FTX and Crypto.com. 18% of their deals include Event Entitlements such as Voyager being the presenting sponsor of the Dallas Mavericks game on October 27th against the Houston Rockets. During this game, Voyager not only was the presenting sponsor but had 9 total assets during the game including signage, a promotion sponsor as well as a sponsored attendee take home item which gave fans a code to get $100 in crypto. 

It is not uncommon for Cryptocurrency brands to have a promotion tied to their deals. Within major pro sports, five brands total for over 8 promotions including with the MLB league, athletes within these leagues and teams such as the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers.

Jersey Sleeves | MLS Annual Report

Five new front-of-jersey sponsors were added to the mix this season, including YETI, MTX Group, FLEX, XBTO and Victory Project. 

Local brands are more likely to invest as a primary jersey sponsor for their MLS clubs. Of the 27 MLS teams, more than half of the main jersey kit sponsors are headquartered in their local market. 

In 2020, nearly 50 different brands signed on to jersey sleeves. This season, 75% of sleeve sponsorships were exclusive to a single brand resulting in higher visibility. Over 80% of MLS teams had at least one jersey sleeve partner during the 2021 season, only 5 teams had multiple jersey sleeve partners. 

While looking for a jersey sleeve partnership, brands should also be searching for ways to get assets such as social media posts, rotating billboard signage, digital billboards and 360 rotating ribbon board signage into their deals. Over 90% of the jersey sleeve deals include social media posts and rotating billboard signage. Heading into their inaugural season in 2022, Charlotte FC signed a jersey sleeve deal with Centene Corporation and a primary jersey partnership with Ally Financial.