Relaxing its commercial rules, Major League Soccer (MLS) becomes the first sports league in North America to open shirt sponsorships to the sports betting and liquor industries.
The sponsorship opportunities are expected to include jersey fronts as well as new sleeve-patch space. The MLS can start selling the latter in 2020. Before this development, MLS teams were only allowed to sell sponsorships to companies selling beer and wine.
The recent updates will also open opportunities for stadium naming rights to sports betting and liquor firms for the first time. Additionally, MLS franchises can now grant gambling firms the right to advertise within game venues and during game broadcasts. These firms may also be given the right to set up private lounges either at team stadiums or on an adjacent property.
With this move, the MLS is following in the footsteps of European soccer, where franchises have been awarding sponsorship deals to betting companies for some time, and where betting brands have become a familiar sight on team shirts. In fact, just last season, 9 of the 20 Premier League clubs had betting firms as their main shirt sponsors.
This move is believed to be the latest attempt of the MLS to capitalise on the growing sports betting market in the United States. This closely follows the decision of the US Supreme Court to allow states to legalise sports betting. Since then, the MLS has signed it first gaming partnership with well-known betting firm MGM Resorts International. This multi-year agreement was signed in March of this year.
The MGM deal involves both data and promotion, with the betting firm being provided access to enhanced MLS stats, which they can offer sports fans and sports betting customers. The deal also includes digital promotion, for which they can also use the enhanced stats. MGM will therefore become part of event activation and be integrated into MLS digital channels. Their brand will also be seen on board signage during TV games.
Later this year, the MLS and MGM are also expected to jointly develop a free-to-play game. MGM has become known in the sports industry for making big plays via deals with major players like the NBA, MLB, and NHL. With this latest deal, they are also expected to bring football events to Las Vegas.
It is worth noting, however, that the guidelines stating sponsorships are now open to betting and spirits companies do not include youth-sized replica kits. In fact, the guidelines specify that said kits should not include the two industries. Additionally, players under the age of 21 cannot be part of ads for spirits.
The changes, with the exception of the selling of new sleeve-patch space, will take effect immediately. It is expected to put the MLS far afield of larger counterparts like the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, and the MLB with regard to embracing major partnerships with the betting industry. The league’s Senior Vice President of Business Development, Carter Ladd, said: “We want to be viewed as a progressive league, and provide our clubs with an appropriate level of flexibility. We don’t want to be restrictive; we want to enable them in a positive way, and that’s why we’re taking this action…”