It’s been twenty years since Major League Soccer came to the United States to play. But it wasn’t until recently that Americans joined up with the world’s fans in adoring the sport—and funneling their money into soccer-related expenditures. Can small business turn this fervor into profits?
Why Small Business Should Love Soccer
There are a few areas where small businesses can take advantage of the soccer’s incredible increasing popularity. Official sponsorships or contracts to supply sports gear may be the most obvious avenue, but there are other paths to get in the game as well.
If you are looking to increase your customer base in one of the 20 locations where MLS teams play, it might be worth considering the new advertising opportunities that soccer has opened up. Nearly two-thirds of soccer aficionados say they notice the businesses that sponsor the teams and players they love. Opportunities to make an impact come from sponsored merchandise, sideline billboards, local television commercials and in-app ads (soccer’s younger viewers say they often post to social media and look up stats while watching games). Soccer reaches a young and diverse audience, so if that’s your target, consider the commercial opportunities seriously. Note that this could come with a heftier price tag.
2. Local Traffic
As cities have excitedly built and renovated their sports stadium, a healthy debate has arisen around the question: does the development of a stadium help or hurt the local economy? Answers vary, depending on vested interests, but suffice it to say that opening a restaurant or a bar in proximity to a stadium can ensure a clientele, at least on game days. As you make your business plan, be sure to account for slower weeks when your club isn’t playing, and make sure that revenues from busy nights will foster survival in the neighborhood all year long.
Fortunately, even if you’re not planning to relocate or open a new branch, you can still borrow some buzz from the matches. In Salt Lake City, Rodizio Grill capitalized on the zeal of its local Brazilian population when it hosted a special night to watch Brazil take on Croatia in 2014’s World Cup.
Countless kids have delightedly kicked the ball on school teams, but it wasn’t until the last few years that American adults could picture a future in the sport. That means parent soccer fans may be more eager than ever to enroll their kids in training. While local small businesses have long sponsored little league squads, there are other ways to get involved. If there’s a shortage of soccer classes and camps in your area now that the sport is so hot, you may be able to offer availability. Perhaps your small business can also find a way to support one of the academies or reserve teams that are popping up in cities with soccer franchises—in doing so, you could qualify for a $50,000 U.S. Soccer Safe Places to Play Grant.
4. Soccer Grants
FIFA provides some support to small businesses that bolsters its member associations. If your business can help with infrastructure and facilities, building football pitches, hosting youth academies, or running IT projects, you may be able to receive the organization’s official support to get off the ground.
Similarly, FIFA and U.S. Soccer support researchers who look into soccer’s effects on players, both in terms of training and injury prevention. If you run a lab or physical therapy facility, you may be able to find an opening to take on research or treat players for the league.
Now that soccer fever is widespread, the rulebook for business has become quite formal. That means that companies hoping to cash in need to make sure they’re not violating guidelines that restrict who can claim association (that’s official sponsors only). That means you may not be able to reference an event in relation to your product or service, but you can still promote food, specials, and products that fans might want to partake in while they watch.