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Product-Led Fan Growth & Engagement

Prepared by Bilaal Ahmed


Major League Soccer (MLS) has experienced impressive growth over the last decade, with attendance up 67% and 10.2 million expected in 2022. However, there remains a significant opportunity to convert casual American soccer fans into loyal MLS supporters. While MLS has seen impressive gains in attendance and revenue, there is substantial untapped potential amongst casual American soccer fans that can be unlocked through technology and strategic marketing alliances. This strategy focuses specifically on leveraging web, mobile and social platforms – as well as collaborations with relevant partners – to convert passive fans into passionate supporters.
Through personalized experiences, innovative features, and powerful collaborations, MLS can solidify its position as a leading soccer league that resonates with a diverse and growing fan base.


Utilize technology and marketing partnerships to convert casual fans into loyal supporters
This plan’s strategic intent is not just about expanding the fan base; it's about fostering a deep, enduring connection with the MLS that resonates with the unique preferences and passions of diverse fan segments. At the heart of this strategy is the integration of digital media with fan experience. This focus acknowledges the central role that digital platforms play in modern sports engagement, especially among younger and tech-savvy audiences.

Target Personas

Americans Interested Primarily in Global Soccer Leagues: This segment represents soccer enthusiasts who are already engaged with the sport on a global scale but have not yet fully embraced MLS. This group closely tracks European stars and leagues via streaming platforms and websites. They view MLS as a retirement league and perceive the quality of play to be weaker. Strategies to change this perception include showcasing MLS rising stars and improvements in quality of play. Promotions can be offered around major European matches. The challenge and opportunity lie in showcasing the unique aspects of MLS that can resonate with this audience's existing love for the sport.
Team USA Followers: Every four years, millions of Americans tune into the World Cup, swelling interest in the sport temporarily. This presents a prime opportunity to make impressions on casual fans and connect World Cup excitement to the MLS product. Strategies include World Cup-themed contests, highlights of MLS players in the tournament, and ticket offers.
Younger Fans (aged 18-34): While MLS boasts a younger fan base than major American leagues, this demographic still presents a growth area. Younger fans live digital-first, craving shareable, interactive content and community. Their engagement is critical for the long-term growth and sustainability of MLS fandom. Tailoring content, leveraging digital platforms, and aligning with their values can make MLS a relevant and attractive option for this younger audience. To capture their interest, social and gaming experiences must be top-notch while showcasing the vibrant supporters' culture.
Fans of Global Superstars Playing in MLS: The presence of global soccer stars in MLS is a powerful magnet for attracting fans. This group is drawn to the star power and exceptional skills of these players. The strategy involves leveraging these superstars' influence to attra they're probably gonna need it today soct their global fan base and integrate them into the broader MLS fan community. Strategies should spotlight incoming stars heavily while franchises develop deeper relationships with fans through exclusive content. VIP experiences with players for top fans can aid retention.

Role of Technology

Web Platform Optimization: The MLS website will be redesigned to enhance user experience, with intuitive navigation, rich multimedia content, and live updates, attracting World Cup viewers and fans of international leagues through high-quality engagement and storytelling.
Enhanced Mobile App Features: For Gen Z and fans of global superstars, the MLS mobile app will serve as a primary engagement tool. Features like real-time statistics, player tracking, interactive games, and experimental cutting-edge experiences can transform the way fans interact with matches and players, making the MLS experience more immersive and engaging.
Personalized Digital Experiences: Utilizing advanced data analytics and AI, MLS platforms can offer personalized content, match recommendations, and interaction opportunities tailored to individual preferences. This approach is particularly effective in converting Americans interested in global soccer leagues by providing them with content that mirrors the quality and engagement level they are accustomed to in international leagues.

Partnerships & Collaborations

Technology Partnerships: Aligning with tech giants and startups will enable MLS to integrate the latest innovations in its web and mobile platforms.
Marketing Collaborations: Working closely with clubs and leveraging their existing fan nurturing activities will ensure a cohesive and impactful fan engagement strategy.
Content Partnerships: Collaborations with media companies and streaming services, like the existing deal with Apple, will be leveraged to deliver high-quality video content. This includes match broadcasts, behind-the-scenes footage, and documentaries that appeal to a wide range of viewers, including those following global soccer stars in the MLS.

Engaging Fans

Fan Definitions & Engagement Cycle

Understanding the different types of MLS fans and their unique engagement cycles is crucial in developing targeted strategies for fan conversion and retention.

Active, Engaged Fans

Definition: These fans regularly attend matches, follow teams and players closely, and actively participate in fan communities both online and offline.
Attend 5+ games per season
Frequent website visitors
Active on MLS social media
Own MLS merchandise
Engage in supporter culture
Engagement Cycle: Exposed to MLS → Purchased tickets → Joined supporters group → Bought merchandise → Active on MLS social → Refer friends → Renew season tickets
Challenge: Enhance their experience at every stage using technology, ensuring continuous engagement even during off-season periods.

Disengaged Fans

Definition: Fans who have lost interest or seldom engage with MLS content, matches, or activities.
Previously active supporters
Attended 1-2 games last season
Rarely visit MLS website/apps
No recent merchandise purchase
Not following MLS social accounts
Engagement Cycle: Exposed → Purchased tickets → Attended game → Disengaged → Reactivate
Re-engagement Strategy: Tailored content, reactivation campaigns, and personalized digital experiences can reignite their interest.

Website Visitors, App Users, Social Followers

Definition: This group includes casual or potential fans who interact with MLS through digital platforms but are not deeply engaged.
Occasional website visitors
View highlights on social media
May watch MLS game on TV
No ticket purchases
Engagement Cycle: Exposed → Website visitor → Social follower → Ticket buyer → Attend game → Active fan
Conversion Strategy: Creating engaging, interactive, and personalized digital experiences that encourage regular interaction and deeper involvement.

Engagement Challenges

Competition from Outside-Venue Experience

Issue: With the proliferation of high-quality sports content available online and on television, the in-stadium experience competes with the convenience and comfort of home viewing.
Approach: Enhancing the in-stadium experience with exclusive content, AR/VR experiences, and interactive fan zones, while also improving the online streaming experience with unique features, can help balance this competition.
Attracting Younger Fans
Issue: Gen Z's consumption habits and interests differ significantly from older generations, and they are less likely to be engaged with traditional sports broadcasting and marketing methods.
Approach: Leveraging social media platforms, influencers, and interactive digital content that resonates with this demographic is crucial. Incorporating gamification, social features, and content that aligns with their values and interests can help attract and retain younger fans.
Appealing to Wider American Soccer Fanbase
Issue: Many American soccer fans are more engaged with international leagues than MLS, often due to perceptions about the quality of play, star power, or cultural affinity.
Approach: Highlighting the unique aspects of MLS, such as its competitive parity, diverse player backgrounds, and team culture can help. Utilizing technology to showcase high-quality match broadcasts, behind-the-scenes content, and stories that connect fans with local clubs and players can change perceptions and foster a stronger connection with the league.

Envisioning Fan Experience

An omnichannel vision for a world-class fan experience.

Awareness Phase

Casual Fans
Served MLS video highlights on streaming platforms
Targeted with ads during European matches
Retargeted through social platforms
New Local Fans
Geo-targeted with stadium renderings and match previews
Familiarized through partnerships with venues and events

Consideration Phase

Global Fanbases
Drawn in by favorite player announcement teasers
hooked by Inside Access showcasing personalities
Younger Fans
Organic peer referrals via ambassador program
Enriched supporter culture through AR experiences

Conversion Phase

Deal Seekers
Hooked through free 1-month subscription offer
Incentivized by discount on jersey bundles
Experience Collectors
Entered into giveaway for 1-of-1 signed collectible
Granted access to VR player meet-and-greet

Retention Phase

Diehard Supporters
NFTs and virtual currency tied activity and tenure
Monthly community talks with executives
Bandwagon Fans
Micro-rewards for continued app usage
Surprise and delight loyalty offers

Measuring Success

Having clear goals and measurable key performance indicators is crucial for tracking progress towards the overarching aim of converting casual fans into loyal MLS supporters. Aligning on objectives across the organization and teams will enable focused execution.
This alignment will be structured using the Narrative, Commitments, Tasks (NCT) framework, ensuring that every level of the organization is focused and aligned towards the same goals. We will define these for both short-term and long-term objectives.

Narrative: Guiding Stories for Strategy

Short-Term: Utilize existing technologies with improvements to accelerate fan growth through partnerships, deepen engagement and lay the foundation for a best-in-class digital experience.
Long-Term: Establish MLS as the premier soccer league in America known for innovative, world-class fan experiences and fostering an expanding, deeply loyal fan base.

Commitments: Organizational Objectives

Short-Term Commitments:
Increase website visitors by 15% within 6 months
Boost social followers by 10% within 3 months
Double video views quarter-over-quarter
Long-Term Commitments:
Triple active season ticket holders over 5 years
Increase repeat annual merchandise buyers by 100% over 5 years
Achieve market-wide 70% season ticket renewal rate

Tasks: Specific Team-Level Objectives

Short-Term Tasks:
Optimize existing app and website features for enhanced personalization and user experience.
Forge and announce new partnerships with tech firms and content creators.
Roll out fan-centric initiatives, such as exclusive digital content series or interactive fan events.
Long-Term Tasks:
Develop a roadmap for integrating emerging technologies (like AI, AR/VR) into fan experiences.
Establish a consistent innovation cycle for digital platforms, ensuring MLS stays ahead in technological advancements.
Conduct longitudinal studies to track and understand fan behavior and preferences over time.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Digital Platform Engagement:
Increase in average session duration and frequency on digital platforms.
User engagement and satisfaction rates with improved features.
Partnership Effectiveness:
Number and impact of new partnerships formed.
Partnership-driven increases in fan engagement and content reach.
Initiative Success:
Engagement metrics for newly launched initiatives.
Fan feedback and participation rates in these initiatives.
League Popularity and Fan Loyalty:
Annual growth rate in overall fan base size and engagement levels.
Fan loyalty metrics, including retention rates and brand advocacy.


Embracing the Future of Fan Engagement in MLS
As Major League Soccer (MLS) embarks on this transformative journey, the comprehensive strategy and implementation plan outlined in the preceding sections set the stage for a new era of fan engagement and digital innovation. The focus on developing a robust product culture, alongside a vision for an ideal fan journey, positions MLS to not only meet but exceed the evolving expectations of its diverse fan base.

Key Takeaways

Adaptive Strategy: The strategies and initiatives proposed are designed to be dynamic and responsive, allowing MLS to adapt quickly to changes in technology, fan behavior, and market trends.
Fan-Centric Approach: At the core of every initiative is the fan experience. By understanding and catering to the needs and preferences of different fan personas, MLS can create deeper connections and foster long-term loyalty.
Technology and Innovation: Leveraging cutting-edge technology and digital innovations, MLS can offer unparalleled fan experiences, setting new standards in the sports industry.
Collaborative Growth: The emphasis on partnership development, community building, and talent acquisition demonstrates MLS’s commitment to collaborative growth, harnessing the power of collective expertise and creativity.
Sustainable Success: The focus on agile processes, best practices, and continuous feedback ensures that the strategies implemented are sustainable, scalable, and capable of driving long-term success.

Final Thoughts

The future of MLS is bright, and the steps taken today towards fostering a robust product culture and enhancing the fan experience will resonate far into the future, creating a legacy of innovation, community, and unwavering passion for the beautiful game of soccer.


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