How can we make the United States fall in love with soccer? Buy your friends a beer and watch as a lifelong love affair with the beautiful game begins. Learn more.

The FBM Blog

Soccer Marketing 101 Archives

Through The Drinking Glass – Widmer Brother’s Brewing Co.‘s Timber’s Army “Green and Gold” Kolsch

We don't get to do this often enough, but when a soccer-specific beer lands at FBM HQ we can't help but bust out the ol' camera and snap a few pictures. A brewery that's interested in supporting local soccer deserves a photo essay to honor their commitment to the American game.

Widmer Brothers Brewing Company took the winner of the Timbers Army Home Brew Competition “Full 90” category and turned their brewery on to produce Abram Goldman-Armstrong's “Green and Gold” kolsch.

A few weeks ago we spoke with Abe as a a part of our “Six Pack Interview Series” and now we're featuring our very own snap shots of the brew that Widmer graciously sent us.

Every MLS team and/or supporters group needs their own beer.


* All photography featured on this page was taken by the Free Beer Movement and is property of the Free Beer Movement.

Tags: Beer, Soccer Marketing 101, Supporters Groups, The Best of Both Worlds, Through The Drinking Glass

Soccer Marketing 101 – Major League Soccer Stars for FIFA13

You may not have heard (Note: sarcasm), but EA Sports' latest installment of the FIFA Series, FIFA 13, was released this week to much fanfare. And while many will pick up their XBox and PS3 controllers and start their new seasons as Barcelona, Manchester United, and other European and global giants; there are quite a few American soccer faithful that will dutifully plug in with their Major League Soccer sides. 

ESPNFC's Roger Bennett had a fantastic article about the FIFA franchise's impact on the growth of soccer in the United States. For many newbies FIFA has played a crucial role in bring them to the sport. The quality of gameplay and authenticity of the FIFA series has done so much on the educating and entertaining side of selling soccer (kinda like some other idea we've heard of…) Citing the recent Luker Sports survey, Bennett also penned this piece about the bright future of soccer in America and how demographics cannot be denied as soccer continues to shoot up the list of the nation's most popular sports.

Experts will go back and forth as to which, FIFA or FBM (hehe…), has had a greater impact in growing soccer here in the States, but no matter what the Jim Romes and “Pardon The Interruptions” say; soccer is here to stay.

EA Sports, in all of their global approach to marketing the game, have made sure that MLS fans are shown lots of love in the current incarnation of the video game (except for in the area of rendering MLS stadiums in the game…). In year's past several American soccer and/or MLS players have featured prominently on their covers. This year MLS fans can download over 20 different FIFA covers featuring MLS players.

Cooler than that are the web videos that EA and MLS created with four clubs and their most recognizable players. A real marketing coup and done with fantastic execution and humor. The great thing about these web videos is not just in the humor of them (although all these MLS players have done a pretty bang-up job), but in that EA recognizes the role that their game plays in bringing people to soccer and teaching them. The whole premise of the ads are less on the game play (which featured, but is pretty secondary), but on the understanding of the sport. You could take out the FIFA clips and logo art and have a damn good “Soccer 101” series, period.

Here's to hoping that FIFA not only continues to act as a gateway for newbies to soccer, but newbies to MLS as well.

Chris Wondolowski and Shea Salinas (San Jose Earthquakes):

Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara (Portland Timbers):
Austin Berry and Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire):
Kei Kamara, Graham Zusi, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, and CJ Sapong:


Tags: Major League Soccer, Soccer Marketing 101, Video

Soccer Marketing 101: Inside Boulevard Brewing’s Partnership with Sporting KC (INTERVIEW)

On the eve of the 2012 Major League Soccer season, to the delight of craft beer and American soccer fans in Kansas City, Boulevard Brewing Company and Sporting KC announced the launch of their marketing partnership, “Hometown Team, Hometown Beer”. Boulevard, the nation's tenth largest craft brewery, would now be served in one of the United State's best soccer-specific stadium and a host of co-branded opportunities would soon roll out between the two.

Last week, we stopped in at Boulevard Brewing to chat with their Director of Marketing, Jeremy Rogonese, who explained the evolution of the marketing partnership from its earliest days, what sort of initiatives Sporting and Boulevard have done and plan on doing, the similarities between soccer fans and craft beer lovers, and the coolness that are keg backpacks.

Free Beer Movement: Talk about your first experience with American soccer.

Jeremy Rogonese: My first experience was, actually, a friend inviting me to a game. Years ago when the Wizards were playing at Arrowhead. I was blown away then and the fervor hadn’t even reached its pitch that it is now. It was a great experience and a learned a little about the game and gained an appreciation.

FBM: How did the marketing partnership come about?

JR: The re-brand came and even before then we had been approached by OnGoal (Sporting KC’s ownership group). We have known a number of members of the ownership group that were big fans of the brewery and big fans or supporting local businesses. They started meeting with us early saying “we want you to be a part of the experience. We know how important being local is and having that connection.”

We’ve had a great on-going discussion with them. They re-branded with Sporting KC and just took off from there. It was an amazing experience to be in Kansas City, to be in marketing, and to see what was happening with the organization at the time.

There was a period of time when LIVESTRONG was built and we were touring the stadium, we were talking about sponsorships, but it wasn’t going to work out at the time. Because of the size of our brewery and the amount of sponsorship dollars they were able to generate it just wasn’t really in the cards for us to be a partner from the very beginning.

I credit them for coming back to us with new ideas, a new approach, and a new way of think about how our relationship could benefit each other. They would have our beers available at their stadium, but that we also could work together on a true marketing partnership to try and share the message of both our brands and how we can align.

It became “hometown team, hometown beer” and that was a brand new thing for us. That was a new thing for us; we had never had the ability to use the “marks” (team’s logos, etc) of a professional team in Kansas City or to really partner with them to try and win new fans.

FBM: What does the partnership between Boulevard and Sporting KC look like?

JR: One of the biggest things is taking the experience of the fans (away games or for fans who can’t attend the home games because of ticket availability) at the watch parties. We have many bar partners in town. Setting up programs where fans can be set with the Sporting experience.  Not only in Kansas City, but Lawrence and other places to build a regional brand.

Use media like our outdoor boards to co-brand. It states the “hometown beer, hometown team” message. To use the affinity that both of us have to create that image so that new consumers of the sport that see these Kansas City brands working together sends a pretty strong members.

We kicked off the partnership by putting inserts for tickets into our sample twelve packs and our core brand twelve packs and distributed them regionally at the beginning of the season. People who were drinking our beer who might not have been soccer fans were given the opportunity to find out more.

We’ve done seasonal releases of beers at LIVESTRONG Park (most recently Zon, Boulevard's Belgian-style wtitbier) a. We’ve held them in the member’s club after the games and feature them on the taps there.

FBM: What have you noticed about the crossover between soccer fans and craft beer fans?

JR: We certainly have similar demographics. Their fans are avid craft beer drinkers. We want to remind them that we’re local partners.

I was surprised that it (the cross over between craft beer and American soccer) was here. I saw soccer as an emerging sport from an outside perspective. Having grown up in the Midwest  from an older generation that didn’t grow up with soccer; it was seen family-driven and youth centered with soccer field being built all over the city so I knew the sport was growing.

I always knew there was going to be the young, hip, urban demographic that was going to be touched. I didn’t know to the extent that they would be as big of fans as they are now. The make up a lot of the Cauldron. There’s a lot of local business that have season tickets and they’re the type that have a lot of 21-29 year-old group that are the primary beer-drinking audience.

That group from the beginning said they wanted Boulevard Beer at the stadium. They wanted us on the jersey.

The tenacity and their vocal support of the team and of us rose to the top. It made it apparent to both of us (Sporting and Boulevard) that we need each other. Because their fans wanted us and we want to be wherever the fans are enjoying Kansas City. Sporting has become a very important part of our Kansas City sporting traditions.

FBM: What are these keg backpacks we've heard about?

JR: Years ago we supplied the Royals with backpacks for vending in the stadium. There were some problems early on. It was obvious they worked because the fans really loved them. They would always talk about them and write in how much they enjoyed them. It’s just such a unique thing to see someone walk up to you and pour you a draft beer off their back.

We tasked our Draft Quality Manager Neil Witte with redeveloping a newer system, identifying the right methodologies, and we had to buy some special sized kegs.

They’ve gotten great response from the fans. They’re easy to operate and pour from vendor standpoint. We've used them at LIVESTRONG Park throughout the stadium, the member's club, and the Cauldron tailgates.

Tags: Beer, Major League Soccer, Soccer Marketing 101, The Best of Both Worlds

Soccer Marketing 101 – Has Soccer Advertising Even Changed?

Tell us the difference between this promo of Real Madrid versus Juventus in Las Vegas this summer:

And this “spoof” promo for a match against Mexico versus Portugal on “The Simpsons”.

Terrible. How far we've come as a soccer nation and then how far we still have to come in some places.
Check out all the great FBM gear in our “Swag Store”.


Tags: Soccer Marketing 101

Soccer Marketing 101 – Turning Around the Chivas USA Brand

Tray tables on Volaris' flights… very innovative.

Like about half of the Major League Soccer clubs this season Chivas USA launched a new kit. We're not sure of the rhyme or reason to the rotation, but each team is set on some sort of timetable from adidas and this year we've seen new shirts (although nothing mind-blowing given the “house league” look that all adidas shirts seems to have) from Columbus, Los Angeles, New England, Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, and a handful of third shirts as well.

While Chivas USA's new look is not a massive departure from their shirts last season, their launch of them was certainly the most unique of all in the league.

Last week, Chivas announced a new sponsorship with airline Volaris which operates flights between Mexico and several southwestern U.S. cities and also debuted their new shirts ON a flight from Guadalajara to Los Angeles.

Players like Juan Pablo Angel and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy walked down the aisle (now that sounds odd) along with Chivas USA girls while passengers on the flight were gifted their own jerseys to wear off the flight.

Chivas USA gets a lot of flack for their marketing approaches (given the whole idea of the team sounds and has looked gimmicky) and compared to the success of their Home Depot Center roommates, the Galaxy, they light-years behind, but this move at least shows some dramatic re-thinking of how to approach their whole brand.

Many if not most of the passengers on this launch flight from Guadalajara (and future passengers) were probably already fans of the sister club in Mexico and if they weren't previously aware of USA's branch, now they are. Honestly, they may even have thought they were getting Chivas shirts from Mexico. Either way the sponsorship and the marketing here is a major push to more closely link the success of the Mexico brand with that of the American brand.

We may be getting ahead of where Chivas USA is, but if they're going to be successfully, and this ship has to get turned around quickly, they've got to get these Chivas (Mexico) fans on aboard quickly. Since 2004 they've flailed about in Southern California. In part, Chivas USA thought that the link between the two and the fandom for your average Mexican-American would come automatically, naturally. The other part of the failure being that in marketing to Mexican-Americans and Mexicans in the United States it was real poor to assume that everyone was a Chivas fan. You're never going to get a America, Puma, Pachuca, or Cruz Azul fan anywhere near a Chivas USA game and there are loads of them, too, in LA and elsewhere.

But they're here now, made their bed in tying the team to the Chivas name, and the USA side now has to telegraph their marketing more directly.

It's taking the USA brand to Mexico and basically saying “Hey, this is the American branch of CD Chivas. When you're in the U.S. and in Los Angeles, come support this side like you would in Guadalajara and Mexico.”

It sounds obvious, but Chivas USA's market is much, much bigger than the Los Angeles-area and to pretend that they're going to be able to compete on a fan-by-fan basis in this marketing with the Galaxy is absurb. Ask the Clippers how that works against the Lakers in that town (although they're doing much better this season). When put up against a more successful and flashy club with a deeper history then you're going to get creamed.

Chivas USA has got to make each CD Chivas (Mex.) fan in the LA-area and the whole United States a fan of their side. If I were a fan of Chivas' Mexico branch I'd sure as hell want to support this side if I knew there were more than just a name connection between the two.

The two Chivas need to play a friendly against each other every season. The relationship should really be more like a senior side to an academy team. Even though that seems insulting to the “Major League” label attached to Chivas USA it's a reality that it is the only club in the U.S. with this sort of unique arrangement.

Young Mexican players needing serious minutes should get a run out in the USA side. There's a lot of serious ticket draw to see up-and-coming players make their professional debuts.

Certainly none of this is new and, at some level, been done, but it's the regularity and the promotion of it all that needs to be turned up to “11” on the dial.

Last year's shirt sponsorship deal with Mexican beer Corona (no matter what you think of its taste) and was a huge step in the right direction to continue to connect the two Chivas brands and the Volaris deal is another positive trend.

The Chivas USA idea is still salvageable (and perhaps a move to soccer-mad San Diego might get them out of the Galaxy shadow) and last week's announcement shows that the right moves are finally being made.

Get the NEW Free Beer Movement “Pint Glass” shirt! Only from

Tags: Major League Soccer, Soccer Marketing 101

In Barcelona, the Soccer Sells the Beer

By Eric Beard / Señor Spanish Correspondent / Editor, A Football Report (@AFootballReport)

Americans love a good beer, and a free beer more so. Catalans, amongst tapas, sangria, fine wine, Gaudi, and Shakira, love their local beer, Estrella Damm. They're also buying it for a new reason this Spring, as it helps them see little Lionel and the rest of FC Barcelona. Not that the average guy or girl in Barcelona doesn't already follow the Blaugrana, but by buying five Euro worth of Estrella, or about 15 beers, you earn a code to get 15 Euro off of a ticket to the Camp Nou.

(Notice the highest rank comment on the Youtube video explaining the promotion. Translated: Drink beer to help Barça!)

So it's unofficially official, the Free Beer Movement has been embraced in one of the last places on earth where it actually needs to be spread. With the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Barça fans in the region of Catalunya, the club has created a fairly intrinsic partnership with its official beer sponsor. The average culé drinks beer at a bar or whenever they have friends over for Friday night copeo, but they also try to go and see Barça at least a few times a season.

The main difference between this partnership and one between, say, Sam Adams and the New England Revolution, is that clearly the PR boosts Estrella more than it does for FCB. In short, it's a variation of the FBM that the FBM could only dream of. Instead of buying a beer to convince your friend to go watch MLS with you, this is, at least to a degree, buying beer to help fulfill your desire to take in the beautiful game.

Following the Free Beer Movement grow and become relatively mainstream amongst the MLS and U.S. Soccer community has been refreshing and unbelievably enticing. Whether it was earning the support of Alexi Lalas or the American Outlaws or Kyle Sheldon (D.C. United's Marketing Director, who's hosting a Free Beer Movement event in May), the mission to “build American soccer one beer at a time” is undoubtedly a noble one. But how exactly can we gauge when the FBM becomes a success and American soccer to here to stay?

Well, that debate is for another time and another place. However, when Sam Adams goes out of its way to create a promotion with the Revs or any other brewery knocking down MLS's door to get in on the action that's when we'll know the FBM has struck a chord. Maybe the FBM ends when MLS and U.S. Soccer fans are able to enjoy a beer with the beautiful game with all their friends for non-ulterior motives, just like the Barcelona beer and footy-lovers who are hitting two birds with one stone.

But as for now, I'm going rogue and using this little Estrella Damm opportunity to convert fellow Americans studying abroad into fans of the game. Converting Spaniards into MLS fans, well that's a job for someone far more ambitious than myself.

About Eric

Eric Beard is the editor of the highly-praised, “A Football Report”. He is a philosophy major and soccer player at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, but is currently studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain.

You can follow “A Football Report” on Twitter here or Eric's personal account.

Tags: Beer, Soccer Marketing 101, The Best of Both Worlds

Six-Pack Interview Series: Kyle Sheldon, D.C. United’s Director of Marketing Communications (Part 2)

Editor's Note: This is a shorter version of our “12-Pack Interview Series” where we talk to the people, personalities, and groups that are shaping soccer in the United States.

Kyle Sheldon (far left), in action, at the press conference
announcing D.C.'s signing of Charlie Davies.

Selling soccer in America is no easy task. Particularly in cities with many other major sports teams abound makes bursting through all that more difficult. The men and women on the front lines of this marketing war for Major League Soccer and their clubs have their work cut out for them.

We've remarked before that there are MLS clubs doing some amazing things to sell their teams and bring soccer to the forefront of fans minds in the U.S.

If you're a fan of any MLS side you may or may not be aware of all the work that goes into the successful selling of soccer. Today (and tomorrow) the Free Beer Movement hopes to give you an inside look at the marketing efforts of one team, D.C. United.

We spoke with Kyle Sheldon, United's Director of Marketing Communication and self-proclaimed “soccer nerd”. He was kind enough to sit down and provide, in excellent and extreme detail, the focus of his department in selling DCU for the 2010 season.

Given Mr. Sheldon's (very welcome) verboseness we've decided to take down a whole six-pack in one sitting may not be the most responsible thing ever so we'll give you all two days to get through it all. Think of it like respecting a very high-alcohol imperial IPA or barleywine… those need to be sipped slowly and enjoyed in their full flavor.

Much like Kyle's words.

[You can read “Part One” of our interview with Kyle Sheldon here.]

4) All season the FBM is focusing on the supporters’ impact on the MLS game. How important is having two major supporters groups for DCU? How do they make your job easier from a marketing perspective?
Our supporters clubs are of paramount importance to our success. Clearly, Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles set the standard for in-game support in MLS. They were doing 15 years ago what you now see in Toronto, Portland and Seattle – and, quite frankly, only Portland has recently approached the same fervor and intensity that our supporters have been bringing to RFK Stadium since 1996. In more recent years, La Norte and District Ultras have also joined the fray. While they’re still smaller than the originals, they’re bringing additional energy to an already rockin’ RFK.
When I have a conversation with someone who hasn’t been to one of our games, I always tell them it can’t be described, that they have to see it in person. One can’t understand what it’s like to experience several thousand people standing, chanting, singing, banging drums, waving flags and generally losing their minds for 90 minutes straight. It is truly awesome. While our product on the field over the last 15 years has – on the whole – been very successful, it’s really our unique supporters culture that has been the factor that sets us apart from other sports teams in-market. None of the other teams have what we have and that is a significant advantage.
From a marketing perspective, our supporters clubs make our job easier by creating one of the most unique experiences you can have at a sporting event. One of the most difficult things we face is trying to communicate that experience outside the 50-year old walls of RFK. You’ll notice in any video we produce, we include several shots of the supporters in action – seats bouncing, flags waving, drums banging. It’s one of the few ways we can attempt to capture that energy.
Also of note, for our College Night program – which saw 200% growth from 2009 to 2010 – we hold seats in several sections just behind the supporters. We don’t want them in the thick of it, but is there anyone that enjoys a rocking good time more than college students? I’d argue there’s one group that enjoys it more – our supporters. We believe large numbers of college kids will enjoy the experience so much that they’ll come back of their own accord.
5) You’re welcoming three International friendlies into town: Manchester United vs. Barcelona (August) and D.C.’s matches against Ajax (May) and Everton (July). All three games are a part of season ticket holders’ package. How do these sorts of matches help DC United’s image in the local market even when the focus is less on your team and more on the high-profile “other” teams? Is any soccer played in D.C. automatically good for DCU?
Our Executive Vice President Stephen Zack did an incredible job of securing games against Ajax and Everton early in the year and negotiating the inclusion of the FC Barcelona-Manchester United game in our season ticket package. Our club has a long history of playing big international opponents over the years. The likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan, Chelsea, Celtic, Newcastle, Bayer Leverkusen, Boca Juniors, Blackburn and many others have made their way to Washington to play United. There are two major opportunities (among others) when hosting these games – 1) the possibility to make significant dollars (still very important for a League that has only a handful or profitable teams) and 2) the opportunity to gain attention from the soccer fan in-market who might not be a D.C. United fan.
I’m not sure If it’s unique to D.C. – I don’t think it is – but, our market has thousands of soccer fans who follow teams from England, Spain, Italy, etc., as well as Central and South America, but aren’t necessarily committed to their hometown club, D.C. United. The success of Toronto and Seattle, in particular, can be attributed to the fact that they were somehow able to capture the imagination, interest and (eventual) support of those very fans. Friendlies against the teams these folks support give us one opportunity to showoff our product – both that seen on the field and that seen off – i.e. our supporters.
Any big-time soccer played in our market is good for us, especially when we own the game. In the case of Barcelona-Man United, we’ve got the possible Champions League final coming to town. The Redskins actually own the game, but we did secure tickets – at significant cost to the club, as we had to pay full price – for our season ticket holders. While the cost was significant, we felt it would be a great value to our most ardent supporters to provide them with a ticket to perhaps the biggest game Washington has seen in a decade. That being said, we also know that we have fans who are only interested in seeing D.C. United play, so we offered those fans the opportunity to exchange their ticket for any other D.C. United match, whether in MLS or U.S. Open Cup play.
In summary, big games against big opponents provide big opportunities. In sum, big is big.
6) What sort of impact has the arrival of Charlie Davies had on ticket sales (season or singles)? From a marketing perspective how has his inclusion (and, so far, success) been a benefit to DCU? Is the hope to sign Davies to a long-term deal?
After scoring his fifth goal in his fourth game (the team’s fifth), Charlie Davies is on pace to score 34 goals in 2011. It’s safe to say, if he keeps up that pace, I think it will be everyone’s hope that we sign him to a 10-year deal. Clearly, though, Ben Olsen and the technical staff will evaluate his play over the entire campaign and decide whether or not to buy his contract from Sochaux at the end of 2011 (which would not come at a small cost).
It’s difficult to say exactly what impact Davies’ arrival has had on specific ticket sales. While it’s clearly had a positive impact, I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen more value from the relative awareness his presence has brought. In the several weeks Davies has been with the team, we’ve seen highlights on SportsCenter, major articles in Sports Illustrated, USA Today, the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post (on a few occasions) and dozens of interviews for local TV and radio. Still to come in the near future are features on SportsCenter and the CBS Evening News. His story and journey is clearly an incredible one and has resonated well beyond the average soccer fan. While we can measure things like web traffic (which soared when news first hit he was on trial and when we officially signed him) and see the increased media attention, it’s tough to attribute ticket sales directly. That being said, his presence has had nothing but a positive impact in that department.
Beyond the coverage and attention, Charlie is like a lot of the young guys on our team this year – great personality, a willingness to do whatever is asked, a positive attitude and, simply, a lot of fun to be around. In seven seasons with United, I haven’t seen a better group of guys when it comes to helping the club off the field, not to mention that they’re an absolute trip on twitter. Follow our guys here if you like having fun.
To expand upon that point, while Davies has clearly been the biggest story of the year so far, it’s the new-look squad, built in the image of Ben Olsen, that has really made the difference for us in the early stages of 2011. We’ve got a long way to go, both on the field and off, but with one of the youngest rosters in MLS and some of the best young players in the League – things are looking up for D.C. United fans.
I’m excited to be a part of it.

Finally, an offer, from one beer drinker to another:
In honor of the Free Beer Movement, I will be providing a delicious keg of the brand spanking new DC Brau at D.C. United’s May 14 game versus the reigning MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids. 
I’ll host the “Free Beer Movement Party” in our Lot 8 Tailgate beginning at 5pm. In order to qualify for free beer, you must simply bring a D.C. United/MLS newbie to the game, prove you’re over 21 and agree to soccer-nerd talk with me. Send me an email for more details: [email protected].

[You can read “Part One” of our interview with Kyle Sheldon here.]

All Photos Courtesy (and with permission) of D.C. United's Flickr account unless otherwise noted. 

Support the Movement. Get the Free Beer Movement T-Shirt. Only from

Tags: Major League Soccer, Six-Pack Interview Series, Soccer Marketing 101

Six-Pack Interview: Kyle Sheldon, D.C. United’s Director of Marketing Communications (Part One)

Editor's Note: This is a shorter version of our “12-Pack Interview Series” where we talk to the people, personalities, and groups that are shaping soccer in the United States.

Selling soccer in America is no easy task. Particularly in cities with many other major sports teams abound makes bursting through all that more difficult. The men and women on the front lines of this marketing war for Major League Soccer and their clubs have their work cut out for them.

We've remarked before that there are MLS clubs doing some amazing things to sell their teams and bring soccer to the forefront of fans minds in the U.S.

If you're a fan of any MLS side you may or may not be aware of all the work that goes into the successful selling of soccer. Today (and tomorrow) the Free Beer Movement hopes to give you an inside look at the marketing efforts of one team, D.C. United.

From l to r: Corinne Thomas (future Mrs. Sheldon), Kyle Sheldon,
Ben Olsen, and Olson's wife Megan Schoen

We spoke with Kyle Sheldon, United's Director of Marketing Communication and self-proclaimed “soccer nerd”. He was kind enough to sit down and provide, in excellent and extreme detail, the focus of his department in selling DCU for the 2010 season.

Given Mr. Sheldon's (very welcome) verboseness we've decided to take down a whole six-pack in one sitting may not be the most responsible so we'll give you all two days to get through it all. Think of it like respecting a very high-alcohol imperial IPA or barleywine… those need to be sipped slowly and enjoyed in their full flavor.

Much like Kyle's words.

[You can read “Part Two” of our interview with Kyle Sheldon here.]

1) D.C. United had a very difficult and tumultuous previous season in Major League Soccer. What’s was the marketing/media strategy going into this season?
2010 was a record-breaking year for D.C. United – unfortunately, as our supporters well know, we were breaking all of the wrong kinds of records. Our struggles on the pitch were widespread and well documented. The only benefit of being out of the playoff race by August was that we were able to turn our attention to 2011 very early on. We began season ticket renewals earlier than almost any year prior and conducted full analysis and evaluation for almost all of our major programs and ticket packages before the season was even over.
We also knew midway through 2010 that we were in the midst of Jaime Moreno’s last season in United black. He truly was the last link to the incredible early years of our club. Heading into 2011, we knew that we’d have a ton of new players that would be relatively unknown, especially to the general market fan. As we discussed our marketing communications strategy during the offseason, we were keenly aware we’d have to introduce a lot of new faces.
We had a number of things fall into place during the offseason the made our jobs a little bit easier. Ben Olsen being named Head Coach gave us a guy who was not only one of the best known players in club history, but someone who is quite possibly one of the best interviews in U.S. soccer. The acquisition of players like Dax McCarty, Josh Wolff and, of course, Charlie Davies, gave us a group of new guys who were not only going to be significant contributors on the field, but who were personable, engaging and great with fans and media alike. We were excited to introduce these guys to D.C. and our broad strategy centered on that idea – we needed to generate general market awareness, enliven and excite our hard-core supporters, and introduce the casual fan to the new faces of D.C. United. Our plan was to do that as best we could via paid advertisements (print, radio, digital, outdoor); local, regional and national media (radio, TV, online); internal content production and distribution (, Facebook, Twitter); and by hosting a series of local events that would draw fan attention and media coverage.
2) Your pre-season marketing efforts, and correct me if I’m wrong, seemed to focus on getting the United brand out into the larger D.C. market and was directed at potential casual fans. I’m going to list a few of the more recognizable ones and hope you can comment on what each one was, why you chose these opportunities, and what was the goal for each.
You’re not wrong. You’re spot on. In fact, I wrote the above answer before reading this question and you’ll notice we used almost the exact same language. To reiterate, gone were the likes of Jaime Moreno, Luciano Emilio, Christian Gomez, Ben Olsen and others that were well known in D.C. over the previous several years. We were coming off a terrible season and had a lot of new players and needed to reenergize a fan base and market.
* Ads at Metro stops and on Metro buses:
Our marketing team identified very early on the need to garner general market awareness via outdoor advertising. In short, people weren’t encountering our brand often enough to make an impact. Coupled with the fact that we had the previously mentioned new faces, our approach was two-fold – we wanted to smack people in the face with the D.C. United badge and introduce our new players. In other words, we needed to recapture some of the relevancy that was lost after missing playoffs for three straight seasons.
Our idea was not a novel one – we created a series of identifiers for some of our key players (Dax McCarty was The Engine, Andy Najar was The Phenom, Chris Pontius was The Workhorse, Santino Quaranta was The Veteran, etc.) and centered everything on the new man in charge – The General, Ben Olsen.
The call-to-action was simple (and centered around one of our most valuable assets): Join Olsen’s Army. The creative – designed by our Creative Director Ben Mahler – was also clean and simple. Big badge. Big player image. Very little copy. We wanted something that stood out amongst the clutter and didn’t try to do more than it needed to.
We did a mix of outdoor ads – within metro stations, on buses and at bus stops. We also did one large wallscape featuring Davies and Andy Najar, in a young, trendy neighborhood that hit just a few weeks before the home opener. To achieve the wide mix of (costly) ads, we worked with our partners, adidas, who supported a large portion of the total outdoor ad buy.
We received incredible feedback from our supporters. One of the benefits we hoped to see occurred very early on – our hard-core supporters were so jazzed to see their team represented around the city that they were tweeting, commenting on facebook and posting photos frequently. It empowered them to be excited about their team again.
I personally knew the campaign was a success when Ben Olsen – who was featured across all ads – pulled me aside and said, “what have you guys done? I can’t eat breakfast in this city anymore without someone coming up to me and saying ‘hey, you’re the general!’” I told Ben I was sorry… but that that’s exactly what we wanted.
* Third jersey launch at the Washington Auto Show:
Where United is, there also is Volkswagen. VW is obviously our biggest partner and is closely tied to everything we do. When conceiving of a launch for our third kit, we wanted something that was both different and high profile. We had several people internally working directly with Volkswagen – who invested a hefty amount of money in the event – to help us pull off the reveal during the busiest day of the Washington Auto Show, which sees tens of thousands of people come through the Washington Convention Center over a long weekend in February. 

We had a huge 15×15 foot replica 3rd jersey made and hung behind the stage and stationed a couple of good lookin’ VWs stage left and right. Of interest, we were somehow able to keep the kit under wraps until the actual reveal – something that is very rare these days. That led to significant web traffic for those wanting to see the new kit. Following the reveal our large jersey was hung at the Convention Center entry way for the remainder of the show. It ended up being a great crossover event that put us in front of a ton of people who might not have otherwise encountered our brand.
* United truck cruising the streets (and at D.C.’s Shamrock Fest):
Our Marketing Manager, Amanda Farina, discovered the AdVan – why it’s called an AdVan and not an AdTruck is beyond me – while doing some research last year. The Portland Timbers used the truck for some of their promotions in 2010 and we immediately dug the uniqueness and high visibility the truck provided. In working with the Portland-based crew at All Points Media, we were able to secure the services of a truck the three weeks leading into our home opener. It aligned perfectly with our pre-season Olsen’s Army campaign and we jumped at the chance to do it. We were also lucky to work with a video production company based out of Minneapolis, Elite Edge, to create a really sick 90-second spot that played on a loop while the truck was out. The truck was in-market for 21 days and spent eight hours a day driving around downtown D.C., Northern Virginia and Bethesda, Maryland. We targeted high traffic areas around rush hour, lunch and big events (Capitals and Wizards games, concerts, Shamrock Fest, etc.). The driver also periodically parked the truck during the day and handed out home opener information and various premium items (key chains, sack packs, hats, tees).
* Ben’s Olsen’s Chili Bowl:
This little promotion was a bit of a miracle. As we entered the last two weeks before the home opener, we were looking for one more promotion that would generate general market interest and local media coverage. 

We worked with a topnotch local agency – AKQA – who conceived of the idea and helped us execute the entire thing in six days. For those that don’t know, Ben’s Chili Bowl is a D.C. landmark on U Street. It’s the most well known eatery in all of D.C. and happens to be about two blocks from Ben Olsen’s house. The Thursday before our Saturday home opener we took over Ben’s Chili Bowl and turned it into “Ben Olsen’s Chili Bowl.” The takeover included new signage on the front of the store and our giant 3rd kit hung up on the side of the building. From 6-7pm Thursday evening, we had Benny, Charlie Davies and Dax McCarty behind the counter giving out free half-smokes – their signature meal – to all in attendance. AKQA designed an exclusive “Ben Olsen’s Chili Bowl” t-shirt and anyone who purchased tickets to the home opener or checked-in to the Ben Olsen’s Chili Bowl location on foursquare received one for free. The full-time staff wore either a 3rd kit or D.C. United branded aprons the entire day.
We generated coverage from local TV affiliates, Comcast SportsNet and several local blogs. And, it was a whole ton of fun.

Video of the event:

3) Thus far most MLS teams haven’t tied much marketing to the coach, but you guys have made a pretty big deal about having people declare they’re apart of “Olsen’s Army”. Was this because Olsen has just as much name recognition as players on the team (being a former member of DCU)? Are you wary of tying your efforts too closely with a coach if things don’t go well?
Ben Olsen is the absolute man. Our fans adored him for the way he played – with heart, passion, grit, and determination – and loved his honesty and commitment to the team off the field. Because of his work in the community, he was and is very well connected outside of the soccer-loving public. In other words, he’s one of the best-known sports figures in Washington.
When he was named as the team’s Head Coach at the end of November last fall, we knew we had a guy that our supporters would get behind immediately.  As we discussed how to best integrate Benny into our pre-season campaign, we borrowed from a song our fans had sung for years in support of the head coach. The simple first lyrics of the song are “we’re all part of Benny’s army, we’re all out to win the League.” We made a slight adjustment using his last name in the formal campaign, but felt the message was just as strong. The call to action simple – join us.

Additionally, the Olsen’s Army campaign was conceived primarily as a pre-season initiative, so we instituted it knowing it would phase out as we got into the season and began to focus more on specific games. The team continues to do well – and the campaign has been successful enough – that we still use the tagline periodically. Clearly, if things don’t go well it becomes more difficult to use, but we also believe Ben has built up a lot of 
“political capital” with our supporters and that they’d support him through any potential early struggles.

[You can read “Part Two” of our interview with Kyle Sheldon here.]

All Photos Courtesy (and with permission) of D.C. United's Flickr account unless otherwise noted. 

Support the Movement. Get the Free Beer Movement T-Shirt. Only from

Tags: Major League Soccer, Six-Pack Interview Series, Soccer Marketing 101