MLS NEXT is poised to be the next revolution in soccer in North America. Major League Soccer hopes that the players that will be identified, coached, and developed by the NEXT program will elevate the game to unprecedented heights both on and off the field. Over the past several months, the league has attempted to highlight these stories through their social media channels.
“We want to create unique experiences on the most relevant channels that energize the players’ aspirations and reflect the brand. It’s why we’re so heavily focused on social media, particularly platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok,” Melissa Marchionna, former sr. director social media and content told Front Office Sports.
This initiative has seen massive engagement on Instagram in-particular. One metric the MLS team monitors closely is interactions per 1000 followers. Out of nearly 800 sports accounts tracked, the week of Oct. 26-Nov. 1, the @MLSNEXT Instagram had seven of the top 24 posts for this engagement metric.
“We’re seeing a very engaged audience across MLS NEXT, which is why it’s so important to give them quality content and enlist that audience as creators themselves,” Marchionna added.
On the field, MLS NEXT is looking to create the best environment for all young players to reach their full potential, regardless of aspiration. With this, MLS leadership hopes to create a foundation for how the United States can win the World Cup.
“MLS is a league that is more accessible, more diverse, more empowering—and @MLSNEXT social media is fundamental to that mission,” Marchionna said. “While each @MLSNEXT social channel has a different goal and audience, as a whole the channels reflect a shift in how the industry is — or will soon be — thinking about social media. That social media isn’t just about broadcasting from your own channels, it’s about creating advocates and empowering storytelling from your fans, players, and more.”
For many projects related to the social media side of MLS NEXT, as well as other aspects of their social media strategy, the digital team works alongside Team Infographics.
“We’ve worked with Team Infographics on many MLS projects. We’ve often gone to them with ideas that aren’t quite in their niche (for example, live data-driven video on Decision Day presented by AT&T), and they’ve been incredible partners in figuring out how to ‘get it done’ and deliver an exceptional experience.”
With their CMS-style system, users can quickly create graphics from templates and preloaded images. Athletes participating in the program were able to utilize this page to create graphics for themselves. Nearly 16,000 unique images were made, many of which were shared to social with the #MLSNEXT hashtag.
“With MLS NEXT, we wanted each participant to have the opportunity to post custom, high-quality MLS NEXT images on their social channels if they desired,” Marchionna said of collaborating with Team Infographics on the MLS NEXT project. “However, turning around 10,000+ custom graphics wasn’t feasible. Team Infographics worked with us to create a solution that let players and clubs upload their own photos and customize socially-optimized images with MLS NEXT branding that could be shared wherever the creators wanted to.”
While the MLS NEXT initiative is far from the only project on the plate of the MLS digital team, the organization recognizes its importance in telling the story of American soccer. In addition to this, the initiative empowers these athletes and youth soccer organizations to better tell their own stories for years to come.
“We recognize that our social strategy can’t just rely on what we put on @MLSNEXT channels. It’s a key part of our strategy to empower the players, coaches, parents and clubs as storytellers on their own platforms by providing them with content, products, expertise, and opportunity,” Marchionna said.