This week brought a breakthrough for major sports leagues in Canada and the United States when Major League Soccer became the first to allow companies based in the liquor and sports betting industries to be able to place their branding on the jerseys of MLS players.
A Controversial Issue
For a couple of years, there has already been some controversy about the effects of having sponsors from the liquor industry being involved in sports. Some consider it as a health threat based on the assumption that it entices drinking in young fans, while others thought it as entirely irrelevant to alcohol consumption on the youth.
Still, a ban was placed. This has now been lifted, allowing sponsors from both the spirits industry as well as those in the sports betting industry to sponsor soccer teams in the MLS and have their logos presented on the jerseys of the players. It also seems that in the past a distinction has been made between beer and wine sponsors and spirits sponsors since Budweiser’s logo has been displayed for quite a while on Galaxy jerseys.
The lift of the ban does come with the specification that when replica jerseys are made in the sizes of younger fans, the logos of these sponsors are prohibited. Also, no MLS players who are younger than 21 years old, will be allowed to be involved in advertising campaigns for these companies.
More opportunities which were opened up to sponsors are the rights to stadium signage, ad spots, field-board advertising, custom programming and best of all, stadium naming-rights. This means that spirit companies and sports betters are now allowed to set up partnerships with clubs and also are sports betting companies now allowed to open up private lounges either inside the MLS stadiums or on adjacent properties.
Sports betting companies are also allowed to be involved in live broadcasts as well as participating in what is referred to as call-to-action marketing. This is used to encourage fans to get involved in sports betting.
This decision is bringing along an entirely new dynamic to the world of MLS sponsors. Discussion regarding the lift of the ban has been in process since December during a meeting with the board of governors as well as with the league. During another meeting in April, it was further elaborated.
Now it is formal and public and practical immediately. Since these conversations started, many clubs in MLS have already engaged in discussions with companies from both industries. This was done primarily in states in the U.S. where sports betting is already legal or due to be soon.
D.C. United is already in the process of making arrangements to facilitate sports betting facilities to operate from Audi Field. Other teams indicating their future partnerships with sports betting companies include the Philadelphia Union as well as the New York Red Bulls who have been busy discussing stadium naming rights with these companies.