Major League Soccer says it is “excited” by the response of fans and the wider sports industry to a virtual Adidas logo that appears prominently during broadcasts in the United States and Canada of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Seeking to showcase leaguewide sponsors in a meaningful way at the quarantined tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida, MLS has created new 3-D virtual assets for premium partners, most notably the Adidas’ logo in the center field position.
The German sportswear and equipment company has been a major MLS partner since the league’s inception. A six-year partnership, which was signed in 2017, is reportedly worth $700m, or around $117m a year.
It is the biggest commercial partnership in MLS history by far, and also worth more than the league’s current domestic broadcast deals, which are worth $90m annually.
Under the agreement, Adidas outfits MLS teams and their affiliates with kits, footwear, training gear, and sideline apparel, and will also provide the league’s official match ball.
As such, Adidas has been rewarded with prominent placing during MLS broadcasts, although the size of the virtual logo has been considerably reduced after initial games in the tournament.
During the opening game of the MLS is Back Tournament between Orlando City and Inter Miami, “Adidas logo” trended on Twitter in the US as fans discussed the sponsorship initiative, with that initial reaction somewhat mixed.
MLS told SportBusiness in a statement: “MLS is providing premium opportunities for League and club partners to be featured in the MLS is Back Tournament. The virtual elements provide a new avenue for partners to connect with MLS and our clubs’ fan bases that have yearned for the return of sports. A goal for any sports league is to have people talking about their partners. Since our first season, Adidas has been an extraordinary partner of Major League Soccer and we are excited that people are talking about Adidas and our games.”
All virtual and LED inventory is regionalized, via two separate feeds, for the US and Canada, although the Adidas logo appears in both feeds. The 3-D virtual sponsorship, which also include Target and Continental Tire logos, is not featured in the world feed.
Despite some criticism of the virtual signage, there is a growing understanding of the need for sports organizations and their partners to be nimble and flexible to fulfill commercial obligations and drive revenue during the coronavirus crisis.
Alexi Lalas, the former United States men’s national team and Fox Sports broadcaster, told SportBusiness: “I have no problem with any of the sponsor elements that the MLS Is Back Tournament features, including the center circle Adidas logo. In this moment, leagues have to find creative ways to maintain and satisfy existing relationships with vital corporate partners…it’s just smart business. All sports leagues are looking at ways to limit and survive the damage of the pandemic.”
Other commercial initiatives in Orlando include a wide-ranging virtual sideline, which includes rolling league and team sponsors, additional virtual logos on the goal lines, traditional physical field-level LED and static boards, as well as new logos on team jerseys, including the left sleeve and shorts.