Major League Soccer Primed for Largest Opportunity in Sports
Navigate teamed up with Major League Soccer to provide insights around the growth and trajectory of the league. The results of the study were featured in a recent Ad Age article and highlight how MLS fans are a unique and desirable segment, and why brand marketers are going all-in on soccer.
Navigate’s experience working with nearly all MLS clubs helped develop a joint whitepaper focusing on what brands need to know when contemplating future marketing investments in soccer and how to leverage the League’s immense growth.
In this blog, we take a quick look at key insights that will give readers a sense of why MLS is such a sought-after property by brands.
MLS Primed For Explosive Growth:
We’ve heard soccer is the sport of the future in the U.S. for a while now. The global game of soccer has 1.5B fans compared to ~800M for basketball, 370M for American football, 290M for baseball, and 200M for hockey – but has the global game landed in the U.S. yet? Our research shows that there has been incredible growth in both participation and attendance.
- Soccer is the 2nd most participated sport for Gen Z; 3rd for Millennials
- It’s the fastest growing major high school sport for both men and women over the past 10 years
- Average attendance is up 67% since 2012 (more than NBA & NHL average attendance)
- Multiple teams selling out entire NFL stadiums
- According to MLS, there are 46M fans interested in the league and the fact that the majority (27M) have joined in the past 10 years is monumental for several reasons. Brands have the opportunity to be a part of the fabric of the league as their fandom evolves.
MLS is the League for the New North America:
MLS fans mirror the identity for the new North America. In fact, this country’s population is reaching an all-time high in terms of immigrant share of total population (about to beat the 15% mark that was set in the 1890’s), with 47M foreign-born individuals in the U.S. The foreign-born population is predicted to increase 51% by 2040. Soccer is the #1 sport in the world with 83% of countries listing soccer as their top sport. MLS fans are 3X more likely to claim sports preferences as a connection to their heritage. MLS is future-proofed to capitalize on this trend.
“Soccer is the global game, and the U.S. looks more like that global population. If you’re a marketer and you want to feel like you’re reaching an audience that matches the direction this country is going, Major League Soccer is the place to invest.”
For brands, MLS has a strong advantage on all other top 5 sports in terms of capturing the Hispanic population. MLS Fans are 2.2X more likely to be Hispanic than the U.S. population. No other league comes close to this over index (NBA Fans are 25% more likely to be Hispanic). Hispanic MLS fans are not fans of other leagues as well. The highest fandom overlap is NFL, and still 66% of Hispanic MLS fans are NOT NFL fans. The Hispanic population has grown 23% since 2010 and the buying power of this group has increased 83%. This highly passionate group of fans have an unmatched allegiance to MLS and their fandom will only continue to grow as current trends unfold.
It should be no surprise that the current incredible growth in fans coupled with the positive demographic trends for the future has led to the valuations of MLS franchises far outpacing the other U.S. leagues.
The median club valuation since Forbes first came out with the report in 2008 is a clear marker on the trajectory of the league in the U.S. A skeptic might think, “sure, it is growing at a much higher rate, but it’s miles behind the other leagues, right?” Wrong. The average MLS club is valued at $550M, and spans upward to $860M, compared to the average NHL club at $865M. At the current CAGR (compound annual growth rate), MLS average club value will be more worth more than the NHL average by 2026.
It will be quite the year in 2026…
World Cup 2026:
It is difficult to conceptualize the scale of the World Cup. The final is the #1 watched spectacle in the world with over 2.5X the viewership of the Super Bowl. In 2026, over the span of a month, 64 games will be played in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that will attract over 4.5M attendees, thousands of viewing parties, and will be impossible to go unnoticed in your lives.
The run up to the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. saw a 33% growth in interest of soccer. Unlike 94’, there is a popular soccer league here with elite talent that fans will have direct access to surrounding the leadup to the 2026 World Cup. With the explosive growth of MLS and accessibility of soccer content in the United States, it would be conservative to predict a similar impact to the 94’ tournament which would mean a minimum of 32M new fans of soccer in the U.S.
“The work that Navigate has led further reinforces the differentiated value proposition and tremendous momentum MLS brings to the table. The proof is in the data. It’s clear that even in our early maturation, the League is sprinting full force ahead,” said Cory Bildstein, MLS Sr. Director of Partner Solutions and Insights. “MLS will continue to shake up the sports landscape and step into the spotlight. The League will serve as a springboard to the biggest sporting event North America has ever seen in 2026, MLS is something buyers can no longer ignore.”
Today, MLS has reached a strategic inflection point and is poised for explosive growth. The opportunity for a brand to align themselves with this rocket ship and establish a deep connection to the fans of the new North America seems like an ideal opportunity for forward-thinking brands.