We are less than two weeks for Major League Soccer kicking off its 2016 season with all 20 teams playing on March 6th. Three will be on national TV in the US and two will be on throughout Canada. Seattle hosting Sporting KC is the FS1 match with kickoff at 4 PM.
According to MLS new ad campaign on "Sundays, we stand out. We stand for all 90 minutes." It is a compelling unifying ad campaign. That's it's goal.
"For the upcoming season, we wanted to pivot to a unifier that was rooted in engagement and advocacy, not just a motivating statement," Vincent Giamartino, group account director at The Brooklyn Brothers, told Adweek.
While perfect for league messaging it misses on a key element. "Sundays, we stand as one," it declares. But we don't. In Seattle we aren't standing for MLS and we aren't standing for the Timbers. We are standing together as Sounders.
After 20 years of MLS the league and its ad partners are still trying to insist that it is our duty as soccer fans to support it because it is soccer, not because it is local. That's a miss. It's been a whole generation now. We're smart and engaged with soccer around the world.
Fans of the sport know that MLS isn't the best league in the world. Those that have accepted it do so for the same reason that people accept that their local college football team or minor league baseball team are also not the best in the world. We go and we watch because our team is us.
The league isn't us. Leagues are just contrivances to allow sporting competition (except for the SEC, it's got an odd following that the Pac-12 is trying to gain too). When a Sounders fan watches MLS it isn't because of a desire to stand with MLS or the sport. It's because the result matters to Seattle. We watch because we never know what a Giovinco, Keane, Valeri, Kamara, Larin, etc will do.
Centralizing the ad campaign removes the local feeling. Twenty variants of this isn't inspiring fans to go to their local MLS matches.
No one who isn't already a fan is going to pay attention to MLS because of this type of campaign. Those that already pay attention to MLS do so because of their local ties, not because of the league offices in New York City. Presenting a cookie-cutter advertising system for the entire league removes fan connections to the community. But that's why we go and that's why we watch. Saturday mornings we can watch better leagues without local connections (EPL, Bundesliga), same with Saturday nights (LigaMX).
MLS isn't a teenager anymore. Appealing to our loyalty just to get the ratings up won't work. Give us compelling stories that relate to the teams we watch by choice and we will watch more league matches. Provide an ever-increasing talent level and those not watching MLS, but watching the other 4 dozen soccer matches on TV each week will watch. Continue to expand into markets where fans show that they love and support local soccer and they will also watch the ESPN/FS1/UniMas games of the week.
They aren't going to do it out of loyalty to a league, or to show that Red Bull and New York City are really just different branches of the same tree. They're different. We're different. Embrace the different soccer cultures sprouting up in three Canadian and sixteen American cities. We are not one, but we definitely stand.
"Stand as one" is executed quite well, but miss the main mark about why we watch sports.
All sports are local.