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Monday, November 7, 2011

'Occupy!': The Casual Dining/Sports Bar Impact on MLS

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At sports bars around the country, Sunday Night Football between the Steelers and Ravens was in full flight, on multiple HD big screens with the volume turned up.  With a little luck, the Semi-final for the MLS Cup, going on at the same time as SNF, between Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy (with arguably the greatest tandem ever in U.S. club Soccer, Donovan and Beckham), was on one minor, smaller screen without volume.

MLS stands little chance to beat out the NFL head to head.  This is understood.  MLS executives need to improve scheduling in the future to ensure it is the headliner of the evening.  Better scheduling should allow for more exposure and give MLS a better chance to break through the clutter of the sports calendar and get more recognition from the casual sports fans.

It will take cultural change for MLS to get to the level of the NFL, NBA and MLB in the United States. Part of that cultural change will have to cross the tables in Chili's, Applebee's and TGI Fridays of America.

There might be an 'Occupy MLS' movement on the horizons.

Soccer supporter groups are significant throughout the country.  No other U.S. team sport can say it has such organized fan support.  Their clout grows stronger each week, month and year.  They could all come together and try to influence the trends of sports bar viewing.

Patrons must get accustomed to seeing MLS in restaurants (chain or not chain) and sports bars throughout the country in order for MLS to brand its product and gain new fans.  It may take grassroots efforts by fans to encourage restaurants to turn the games on or maybe MLS can make corporate deals to get big chain casual dining restaurants to agree to always show the games.  Either way, having casual sports fans get to know the teams better is a big key to the future success of the league.

Often, the volume is turned up in the sports bars of casual dining restaurants.  MLS must get the volume turned up on their games.  Casual sports fans need to hear the enthusiasm from the MLS home crowds, especially from those that are the most boisterous and proud.

Overcoming the casual dining/sports bar hurdle and getting MLS to be seen and heard more often will produce major results.

The casual sports fan resembles a casual dining patron and vice versa.  This is a fundamental marketing principle in the U.S. and has been for a long time.

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