MLS coffers jingle like never before in 2022



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MLS attendance record Image: FC Cincinnati

While Major League Soccer (MLS) will celebrate its new champion on November 5th following the culmination of the MLS Cup Playoffs, America’s top domestic soccer league is already popping the champagne.

‘Forbes’ stated that the league’s 2022 regular-season campaign welcomed the most fans in the league’s history as clubs generated more ticket revenue this season than ever before. The MLS posted a record attendance of more than 10 million, breaking its previous high of 8.6 million set in 2019, while 10 clubs had attendance growth compared to 2019. A league-best three clubs – the Atlanta United FC, Charlotte FC and Seattle Sounders FC – averaged more than 30,000 fans per match.

New York (US)-based the Major League Soccer (MLS) is a men’s professional soccer league sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation, which represents the sport’s highest level in the United States. The league comprises 28 teams – 25 in the United States and 3 in Canada – and will expand to 29 teams for the 2023 season.

The MLS Cup Playoffs is the annual postseason elimination tournament of Major League Soccer (MLS). The final match of the tournament is the MLS Cup, the league’s championship game. Under the current format adopted for the 2019 season, 14 teams qualify for the tournament based on regular-season point totals – the seven highest-placed teams from both the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Audi is the title sponsor of this tournament.

‘Forbes’ further stated that not only were attendance figures up, but the league, which wrapped up its 27th regular season on October 9th, also recorded increases in viewership, social and digital media engagement and merchandise sales.

Said David Bruce, MLS Senior Vice-President of Brand and Integrated Marketing, “I think its a few things. Momentum is really behind us at the moment.”

An abundance of factors including but not limited to the league’s relationship, rivalry and success against Liga MX (the top professional football division in Mexico), increased investment in soccer-specific stadiums, both the United States and Canada men’s national teams qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup™, the arrival of high-profile players including Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández (Mexican football player), Gareth Bale (Welsh football player), Héctor Herrera (Mexican footballer), and Lorenzo Insigne (Italian football player), the introduction of expansion franchises, and homegrown talent finding success domestically and abroad have converged to create a groundswell of support and interest in the league.

Added Bruce, “I think the world is looking at MLS and is really intrigued by some of the things we’re doing here. It’s this creation of our culture, of our version of the global game that proudly exists here in North America and in MLS.”

Not only are more people attending MLS matches than ever before, but they’re also tuning in at an increased rate.

In the final year of its current broadcast deal before moving matches to Apple in 2023, MLS recorded its highest average viewership (356K P2+) for matches on Disney networks during the relationship. The league had a 13 percent increase in viewership per game on FOX Deportes and ESPN Deportes compared to the last season. In Canada, matches that aired on TSN featuring a Canadian club were up eight percent compared to the 2021 regular season.

The MLS and soccer in general – is benefiting from an increasingly younger, multicultural demographic in the United States. The country, home to the second-largest Spanish-speaking population on the planet behind Mexico, is expected to see one in three people speak Spanish (including bilingual speakers who also speak English) by 2050, according to recent data and projections.

Stated Bruce, “It’s a very important audience for us for a number of reasons. A lot of the tournaments and properties that we’ve created with Liga MX (including the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football [Concacaf] Champions League, Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup) are really kind of set up to capture that audience and take advantage of that momentum.”

The Concacaf Champions League, known officially as the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League for sponsorship reasons, is an annual continental club football competition organized by Concacaf. The winner of the Concacaf Champions League automatically qualifies for the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup™.

The Leagues Cup is an annual association football competition between clubs from Major League Soccer and Liga MX in North America. It debuted in July 2019 with four teams participating from each league.

The Campeones Cup is an annual North American association football match contested between the winners of the previous MLS Cup from Major League Soccer and the winners of the Campeón de Campeones from Liga MX. The competition was established by the two leagues in 2018.

With the youngest professional sports fan base in North America at an average of 39.6 years, the MLS is leveraging social media and digital content to engage with the millennial, Gen Z and Generation Alpha. The league named former Real Salt Lake academy player and social media personality Noah Beck as its first-ever Social Playmaker in February.

The league added 600K net followers across social media – 65 percent more net than in 2021 – driven by TikTok, where the league added 455K followers and is on pace to hit one million by the end of the year.

Said Beck, “MLS and soccer in the United States is on the come-up and it has been, and it’s going to make its mark. I’m just trying to build as much awareness around the league as I can. It’s easy for me because I love the league and I love the job.”

The increased attendance, viewership and engagement unsurprisingly resulted in increased merchandise sales with jerseys launched in 2022 up 10 percent in sales year over year on MLSstore.com with 17 clubs selling more jerseys year over year.

With the expansion side Austin FC selling out all 34 regular-season games of its two- season MLS career, the Charlotte FC kicking off its inaugural campaign in 2022 by setting the league’s single-game attendance mark of 74,479 on March 5th and the league adding St. Louis City SC next year (and potentially a Las Vegas franchise down the line), the MLS, which was born out of the 1994 FIFA World Cup™, hopes to continue to build momentum toward soccer’s marquee event returning to the continent in 2026.

Concluded Bruce, “It’s all with a view to the 2026 World Cup to be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and the ability to really draft off that incredible moment which will be the biggest sporting event the world’s ever seen at that point.”

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