Announcing the MLS Facebook Cup Champion

How MLS clubs use social media to build the brand
by Nick Kosar   |   Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Marketing Soccer in North America - column on the marketing of soccer in the USA and Canada

There’s a simple yet unwritten rule in soccer: If you don’t get the ball into the 18-yard box, you’ll rarely score a goal. Of course, many games are won or tied on goals outside the box, but how much you penetrate this hallowed area is a good indication of how successful your outcome will be.

In a world increasingly governed by social media, the same rule holds true: If you aren’t playing the social media game, your success rate will suffer. This may not have been true even four years ago, but it is now, and will be until such time as something replaces social media.

So, where do Major League Soccer clubs stack up in the social media world? In this column, I’ll take a quick look at some fairly simple numbers that may give us an indication of how well MLS clubs are performing. Of course, many other variables come into play to show how teams are managing social media tools, just as on the soccer pitch. But it’s where social media analysis needs to start.

The starting point is: How are MLS clubs performing on Facebook, the most widespread social media platform? I’ve crunched some simple numbers to find out. It goes like this: Take the number of “Likes” that a team’s Facebook page has, divide this number by the number of people in that club’s metropolitan area (numbers taken from U.S. and Canadian census figures), and then rank them.

Here are what I will call the Facebook “regular season results”: 

Marketing Soccer in North America

Some insights

Let’s get one naysayer argument out of the way first. Some might profess: “Facebook followers are not an important demographic – not every fan is a young fan who is on social media all the time.” I argue that Facebook is the perfect social media measuring stick. Years ago the younger crowd – college and high school students, even middle-schoolers – could “hide” on Facebook away from the prying eyes of their parents, who didn’t have a clue what this platform was about. But times have changed.

Social media expert Dana VanDen Heuvel, president of the MarketingSavant Group, stated at an American Marketing Association program in San Francisco last week that Facebook is indeed dealing with what he cheekily dubbed the PFEE – the Parental Facebook Exodus Effect.

In other words, Facebook has developed a more mature audience consisting not just of younger participants, but also loads of parents and, indeed, grandparents. You’re more likely to find younger people doing their “hiding” on Tumblr these days.

But who is on Facebook? It’s important to note that 13% of the world’s population is now on Facebook. One can bet that soccer’s target market (i.e., relatively youthful, socially and technologically engaged consumers in the West) is a large part of this slice of the pie.

I think a key question that must be asked about this data is: Who are these Facebook page followers? Obviously, any brand will take customers wherever they can find them. But of utmost concern is that these followers are close by the product – customers who live in the club’s surrounding community who are capable of buying match-day tickets, and therefore club jerseys and concessions and the like.

The data on the two Los Angeles teams probably require the most scrutiny. It’s a good bet that both the Galaxy and Chivas USA enjoy Facebook page followers who do not reside in Greater Los Angeles – with the Galaxy enjoying worldwide attention due to the Beckham Brand and Chivas attracting Mexican followers due to its Guadalajara roots.

Who’s in the Playoffs? Who Is the MLS Facebook Cup Champion?

Kudos to Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders, and Portland Timbers. These clubs have definitely achieved better market penetration through Facebook than the other clubs. How do they do it? 

Real Salt Lake is clearly succeeding at community engagement, reaching nearly 10% of their target market on Facebook, and are the “MLS Facebook Cup” Champions.

A visit to their Facebook site shows all manner of ways they use social media to engage with fans: season-ticket holder deals on ski vacations, holiday season prizes at the team store, a show-the-pride “Like” promo for Nick Rimando’s “Save of the Year” award, a toys-for-tots drive, meet-the-players events, and more.

The Sounders Facebook page is loaded with content, and especially great photos. Their page is a simple yet fun way to engage with the club’s extremely vibrant base of supporters. The Timbers’ page also brims with content that clearly appeals to their target market. The club takes Facebook seriously as a way to engage with the fan base, and is using it to spread the word on its investment in the new women’s soccer league.

On the down side, the bottom half of the MLS Facebook Table has some serious work to do to engage with their target markets via this medium. Social media is here to stay and is a critical tool for building and managing brands and the business of soccer in North America. 


UVA, William & Mary
Club Domestic:
DC United
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
A Dips fan in the 70s, Nick still thinks tiki-taka started with Cruyff in DC. Formerly in publishing but now a marketer, his career began in Tokyo but still doesn’t know which J-League team to support. His harem includes one lovely wife and 4 daughters.