Alive and Kicking…MLS Starts Another Season With A Boost Out West…

Maybe it's because they are the least mature of the larger sports in North America, maybe its because they started with the single entity model and knew how to operate and build brand more lean and mean, or maybe its because their grassroots base combined with their breakthrough is still to come, but Major League Soccer, even in this economy, appears ready for more steady growth and even expansion and new brand building. With the season beginning this Thursday, the buzz, at least locally, is already a great sound with the new Seattle franchise, and it could be a breakthrough year for the league. The announcement that VW has reupped their multi-level partnership, including their large presence with the DC United, was broken by Tripp Mickle in this week's Sports Business Journal, which had a number of extensive pieces on the league and its leadership. Now is all roses with ML. No. They are starting at one of the busiest times on the sports calendar, between the WBC, March Madness, NASCAR and now golf and tennis beginning heavy US play, and their preseason really takes place in virtual silence in most markets. Even with those challenges though, the brands they have come back, they are finding more ways to activate with youth in key markets, the soccer-specific stadiums are finding their niches and even the Red Bulls advancing to the finals got some much-needed buzz in New York. They have affordability and youth and a good in arena show for all, even if the TV transition has yet to get there. MLS digital play continues to improve and speak to the core, and with additional brand activation in specific markets, maybe just maybe, if they continue building stars and the off-sports buzz, they could be the first to capture additional marketshare while many other brands are struggling to hold on, or as in the case with many niche brands, just fade away.

Some other good reads…Media Post had the extensive detail on the Seattle Post Intelligencer's move to all digital, a move which is better than folding the brand…the Washington Post's Mike Wise had a great look inside the experience at American University as they earned the trip to the Big Dance…the Miami Herald's Linda Robertson gave her take on why the World Baseball Classic is an international success…and the Chicago Tribune had a great profile of Gift Ngoepe, the first black South African who may make it to the Major League's.