If you’ve been around Major League Soccer long enough, you’ve probably realized how infrequently you’ll see Real Salt Lake or other small market teams featured on the advertisements or given a national broadcast. And if you’ve noticed this, you’ve probably also been mildly frustrated by this.
I’m sure someone will see the title of this and automatically say, “Well of course they don't! The bigger teams make them more money and get better viewership.” And this is 100% true but is there a possibility that maybe they should feature the little guys too?
If you look at Major League Soccer, there are ads put out every single day almost for different events or games, but what has always remained the same is the handful of teams you will always see.
For example, take a look at this “MLS is Back” promotional photo from earlier this season.
This features exactly who you would expect it to. Arguably 5 of the 7 teams in this ad are the biggest markets in the league right now. But the issue is that this among many other ads put out by MLS this season have included both LA teams and New York teams more than any other teams in the league.
Now, let’s take a look at the “Soccer for all” video MLS put out this year.
This video is supposed to represent the entire league and show that we are united as one. Which it does, it’s a great advertisement. However, if you look at the lineup of everyone at the end, it doesn’t even feature all 23 teams. There are 20 teams, not featured here are the New England Revolution, Houston Dynamo (although featured for a split second in the middle of the video) and Sporting Kansas City.
So a video that’s uniting the league, doesn’t even feature all it’s teams and the teams who happen to not be featured would be considered smaller market teams.
Now I’m not just saying all of this to bash the league. Like I said before, I understand why MLS features the big teams and the big stars more than the small teams and the small stars. It’s all about the brand recognition and profit they could make. But what I want to talk about is what effect this could potentially have on the league.
The goal of any professional sports league outside of earning money is to create a competitive league. No one wants to watch a league where you can predict who is going to win every single game, unless you happen to be a fan of that team that wins every single game. The way sports capture our hearts is through this intense, heart problem causing, competition.
However, another crucial part to developing a league though is to have a dedicated fan base. This is where the lack of small market advertisements can truly come to hurt MLS in regards to a casual watcher.
The goal of any advertisement put out by MLS isn’t to get the die-hard fans to watch the matches. They’re going to anyway.
The goal of an ad is to get the person who's watching basketball on ESPN to consider watching Soccer Sunday. But if this person who lives in say, Denver, knows nothing about soccer but decides he wants to watch Heineken Rivalry week NYCFC vs NYRB, that’s great! MLS may have gotten a new fan! But MLS may have also just lost an opportunity to sell a ticket to a Colorado Rapids match. Now that this fan has watched a game they either didn’t establish have a connection to soccer at all and will never watch again or they do have a connection and its to NYCFC so they will probably rarely watch a game at the stadium because they’re more interested in seeing NYCFC on TV than the Rapids at Dicks Sporting Goods Park. That all could happen because of one advertisement.
Now again, I understand MLS is trying to make money and build the brand of the league, but isn’t there also a time and place for promoting your smaller teams? There's a time to give them national broadcast dates in hopes of convincing that random watcher from Salt Lake to go to an RSL game and maybe even become a regular attendee?
MLS and their social media and advertisements will always have the ability to reach more people than any one team will. Should the league decide to promote one of their smaller teams, who knows, they just might get some new fans and help to grow one of their small market teams into a big market team.
After all, more money for a team means more big name players want to come play there. The more big name players we get here not only the greater the competition level will get but the more well known this league will become around the world.
So no, I don’t think MLS hates RSL. I don’t think they’re intentionally keeping us out of ads. I think they’re just trying to push the big names that people know and that’s okay, but I also think there’s a certain point where you have to throw the small teams a bone and help them out too. Even if it’s just a national broadcast or too a season.