Heineken bets on the US catching soccer fever

New Yorkers crowd around an outdoor TV screen to watch 2014 World Cup games. (Photo courtesy Dennis via Flickr)
New Yorkers crowd around an outdoor TV screen to watch 2014 World Cup games. (Photo courtesy Dennis via Flickr)

The brewer taps into recent wins for the sport as the official beer of Major League Soccer

Is it finally U.S. soccer season?

After World Cup fever took hold of the country this summer, with a brave performance from the U.S. national team, Heineken is betting there is more penetration of the world's favorite game in the United States than just Jason Sudeikis's Ted Lasso character and Twitter's USA Soccer Guy.

Earlier this week, Heineken USA entered into a sponsorship agreement to be the official beer of Major League Soccer (MLS), replacing Budweiser, which had been one of MLS’s biggest sponsors since it launched in 1996.

The deal is the latest indicator of soccer’s upsurge in popularity since the U.S. men's national soccer team riveted sports fans here earlier this year during the most watched World Cup in U.S. history. MLS currently attracts more fans per game than the NBA, and Heineken is betting big that it’s not done growing.

It also recognizes how shifting demographics in the country — including immigration from Latin American countries, where the sport is hugely popular — has fueled this upsurge.

Heineken is hoping the five-year, $50 million deal will help boost U.S. sales, which declined 3.8 percent between 2008 and 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The sponsorship is another step forward in Heineken’s global soccer initiative. Heineken currently sponsors the Union of European Football Associations Championship League.

The move is a "vote of confidence" for the long-term future of MLS and will prove beneficial for both parties, John Hartman, president of the full-service digital agency Piston, told Campaign.

"For Heineken, I think it’s all upside associating with a growing sport," Hartman said. "It’s on-strategy for them to leverage and capitalize on the soccer sponsorships they’re already doing around the world.

"It really gives them the opportunity to be the global soccer beer."

Partnering with a company so strongly tied to soccer could allow  MLS to carve a very distinct identity in the U.S. market, said Greg Monaco, owner of brand consultancy Monaco Lange. 

"That correlation is going to give soccer its own unique flair and separate it from the other entertainment options that people have," Monaco said.

Teaming with MLS makes a lot of sense for Heineken because both brands serve diverse international demographics. "The United States is such a melting pot, and the crowds at MLS games are an international type of crowd," Monaco said. "The demographics of the MLS correlate with Heineken as a brand."

Hartman said that while the deal won’t affect more established leagues like the NBA, MLB or NFL, it’s significant enough that they will take notice.

"It will get their attention," he said. "It’s an interesting move in the chess match of global sports sponsorship."

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