SVG Digital Chat: MLS’s Chris Schlosser on Building Soccer Through Digital-Savvy Fans
Tonight is the Major League Soccer (MLS) 2016 All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA, when the best in the U.S. take on North London’s Arsenal in what’s sure to be a memorable match. It’s a good time to check in with MLS Digital SVP/GM Chris Schlosser on the league’s digital strategy and the MLS Live platform.
The All-Star Game is a tent-pole event for MLS. What special plans do you have to build excitement around this year’s game?
We are very excited to be in the Bay Area for the AT&T MLS All-Star Game this year. As part of the festivities, we are building our digital headquarters in San Pedro Square Market in San Jose. We are working with Wells Fargo, one of our outstanding partners, to bring fans a full week of unique player access, including a first-of-its-kind Facebook Live booth, live daily content, an influential panel discussion of how tech is changing the future of soccer, and a live Q&A with MLS Commissioner Don Garber. We are also taking the commissioner and our senior executive team on a tour of key Silicon Valley firms and will be spending time discussing how MLS and the tech community can continue to work together to grow the sport of soccer.
MLS has the youngest fan demo of any of the professional sports leagues. What have you noticed about how fans interact with your content?
Fans want authenticity. It is very important that we provide original and authentic content and products for them. The great thing is that new platforms like Snapchat or Facebook Live allow us to close the gap between our players and our fans. It is amazing how new technology is allowing our fans access to our players. For example, we have done a number of Snapchat takeovers, where we give our account to a player for a day so that fans can go behind the scenes to see what life is like for our players.
These platforms also allow us to showcase how incredible the experience is in our stadiums: the energy, the fandom, the color, the music, the supporters group. We are seeing great results and engagement from Snapchat live stories as they showcase how much fun it is to come to an MLS game and how different it is from other sports experiences.
In what way are millennials incorrectly portrayed in the media?
I am constantly amazed by the creativity of our fans. I don’t think millennials get enough credit for how they’ve embraced new creative tools to express themselves. We see it in the tifo displays that show up in our stadiums for big matches. We also see it in the digital art that our fans create. It was really cool to see how our fans embraced our new logo and new brand and used digital designs to make it their own. The millennial generation grew up with digital cameras, Photoshop, and Instagram and really knows how to use these tools to showcase their interests and individuality.
Sports is, as they say, tribal, and that’s even more true with MLS fans. That said, where does that place MLS Live? How does offering out-of-market games help grow the sport? What user trends are you noting?
It is very important for us going forward that every MLS game is available to fans on digital devices. MLS Live is a tremendous value. For $80 a year or $15.99 a month, you can watch more than 200 games. You also get access to an archive of every MLS match from 2010 to present day, as well as exclusive 15-minute condensed [versions] for every game. We are focused on constantly improving the product experience and are always looking for new platforms and devices to support.
How does the league office support digital efforts — on social-media platforms, in the stadium, and so on — of the digital and content teams working at your individual clubs?
We have a great team — led by Judy Matthew, our director of digital club services — that works to support our clubs. It is important that we provide our clubs great technology, but it is also important that we create forums for our clubs to share their experiences with one another. Much like our fans, our clubs showcase amazing diversity and creativity in their content, and we are constantly learning from them. We also worked very hard with every club to launch 21 new, fully responsive websites last year and now have a team that builds and adds new features to this modern digital platform every two weeks. We want to make sure we keep our clubs at the cutting edge of technology.
MLS has placed video at the core of its social-media strategy. How has that gone, and where do you see growth in a VOD environment?
We have seen incredible growth in video. This year, we are on track to deliver more than 10,000 individual pieces of video. We are also seeing giant leaps in consumption by our fan base. There are so many compelling stories for us to tell. I am very bullish on our continued growth in the space. One example is that we recently launched a new series hosted by former MLS player Calen Carr called The Movement, where he is going around North America and telling how soccer is changing the culture in each of our markets. It is incredible: artistically shot and artfully edited. It’s really fun to tell the stories of our fans and how The Beautiful Game and soccer culture are changing their lives.
The league has also streamed video over Facebook Live. What lessons have you learned from that experience in the few months it has been done?
Facebook Live is a fun platform that allows us to connect directly with our fans. Importantly, it is an example of how we always want to embrace new technology and experiment to see how the platform can work for us and our fans. What we are seeing is Facebook Live is moving from a technology that required a mobile phone to a great platform to connect with our audience and fans. You will see us using Facebook Live capabilities for all kinds of content moving forward.