MLS Goes Digital For New All-Star Skills Challenge

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MLS digital streaming ASG skills comp
Photo Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

With a lineup that includes well-known current MLS players Wayne Rooney, Carlos Vela and Nani as well as Atlético Madrid’s Koke and João Félix – who joined the club this summer as the second-most expensive teenager in soccer transfer history – MLS is hoping that its reborn All-Star Skills Challenge event catches the attention of soccer fans across the globe.

The league’s media strategy for the event is betting on that being the case, with MLS hoping to engage audiences across the globe with a wide-ranging distribution plan around the event – one MLS calls one of the broadest digital-first distributions of an event in North American sports. 

“This is an event we have been planning, talking about and dreaming about for a long time; as it started to become a reality, we felt we were creating a first-of-its-kind event for soccer, and a first-of-its-kind experience for fans,” said Seth Bacon, MLS senior vice president of media. “We want to make sure we’re delivering on that in a big way.”

The event, to be held on July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando as part of the league’s multi-day all-star celebration, was designed in collaboration with popular soccer skills specialists F2 Freestylers, who have more than 20 million followers across their social media channels. The event will see the nine participating players participate in three events –  shooting, touch and volley, and passing. Judges for the event include U.S. Women’s National Team and Orlando Pride player Alex Morgan and former Brazilian National Team and Orlando City SC player Kaka.

Bacon and MLS is hedging that the combined star power and uniqueness of the event will draw in viewers, and has aimed to ensure it is made as available and as easily as possible.

Not only will all five of MLS’s North American rights holders carry the event digitally – ESPN via ESPN3, Fox via FOXSports.com, the Fox Sports app and the FOX Now app, TSN via TSN.ca, Univision via TUDN.com and TVA on TVASports.ca as well as linear – the league will also distribute the event on its website and on its app.

MLS also went a step further, striking deals with both Twitch and Twitter to stream the event on MLS channels on those platforms. The event will also appear live on Pluto.TV, the free streaming television service that MLS launched a channel on in May. Internationally, DAZN, ESPN International and the league’s other global television partners will combine to bring the skills competition to more than 170 countries in total.

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“One of the things that I think is most appealing about this skills competition is that we think it has the ability to attract soccer fans, fans who tune in for the viral nature of sports and just general sports fans who want to see great athletes do great things,” Bacon said.

To try to make the 90-minute event even more engaging, MLS will forego commercial breaks, and instead go with non-stop coverage. Bacon said that during any downtime in the competition, there will be on-field interviews with the players, discussions with the judges and highlights from celebrities in attendance. On the Twitter and Twitch broadcasts, there will also be attempts to engage that audience on their respective platforms during the event.

To further that, the league will utilize 12 cameras for the event, and will have eight players mic’d on the field

Bacon declined to say if the league had an expectation for viewership across all of the platforms, rather saying that the league is judging its success by having its “broadcast and digital partners promote and engage with the content in real-time – we think can bring in a big audience.”

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MLS will also look to grow that audience post-event: Bacon said that the broadcast, as well as social content and highlights, will be distributed across the league’s platforms.

“A key for success in our mind will be if the day after or two days after, there are still moments where people are saying, ‘did you see what happened at the MLS Skills Competition?’,” Bacon said.