MLS Kicks Off Into The Digital and Fantasy Spaces
It is spring across North America, and with the warm weather sports fans, especially those interested in the numbers crunching of fantasy, usually turn their thoughts to the baseball diamond. Along with football, the fantasy world has been dominated by the intricacies of baseball since its inception as rotisserie baseball almost 30 years ago. With that fantasy niche and a long season rich in content, baseball also grew as a dominant player in the digital space while most other sports were feeling their way along. MLB.com became such a large player in the digital space that it was able to expand its focus, and literally its bandwidth, to help other sports and properties launch their digital footprint over the years. CBS Sports got a boost from MLB.com in its early adaptations of “March Madness” to the web, and others like Figure Skating, Pro Volleyball and even soccer turned to “BAM” and their leader Bob Bowman for help in understanding and managing the digital space.
However over time, most sports have done some great self-examination to understand their consumer and find ways to best manage and then streamline their digital presence on their own.
The NHL was one of the first to realize that their demo and their core fans were more first adopters driven to the web for content than to traditional media. The league tested and embraced various platforms and as a result they have become one of major sports’ leaders in online fan activation and engagement. Baseball continues to be an innovator, while the other majors also invest more and more time and effort in finding the balance between the traditional and the digital ways to best address and embrace the improved fan experience.
One property that is looking to step up its digital fan engagement platform and get more in tune with the emergence of fantasy in 2011 is Major League Soccer, which began its season last week. MLS has arguably been the fastest-growing overall sports property in North America in the past five years, as the young people who grew up with soccer as their primary sport become avid consumer and purchasers. The league has benefited from cost controlled growth and a market by market approach to expanding and improving the quality of its business over time, the next step of which is in the digital space. Last fall MLS partnered with Big Lead Sports, the leading independent sports site on the web, to launch the first-ever year-round fantasy sports game of any kind. The game uses the assets of the Premier League and other elite properties to give fans some fun choices to follow the sport in the MLS offseason and also build an affinity between soccer fans in general and MLS, which is growing but still not completely accepted. So how will an expanded and concentrated digital push and a push into more fantasy play help MLS specifically and soccer in general continue to increase its reach in North America?Continued on the next page