Major League Soccer’s D.C. United brought in a gold mine when the team signed English soccer legend Wayne Rooney.
According to the company GumGum Sports, the first four months of Rooney in the team’s uniform generated $4.5 million in social media value for jersey sponsor Leidos. That sum was a massive increase over the $130,000 value from the time prior to his signing.
D.C. United is one of GumGum’s clients. GumGum Sports uses computer vision to help rights holders, sponsors, and agencies measure the media value of their sponsorships across TV, streaming and social media. The company is also helping transform an industry previously relying on text and traditional broadcasts to value sponsorship, said Jeff Katz, VP of strategy and strategic partnerships at GumGum.
“They were missing social media, an emerging channel in how sports — even highlights — are shared across thousands of accounts,” Katz said. “There’s massive amounts of value coming in not just from accounts owned by teams or leagues, but out in the wild of social media.”
Rooney was a vital component in D.C. United’s season on the field. In the 14 games prior to his arrival, the team won two games and amassed 11 points. In the 17 games following his stateside arrival, D.C. United won 10 games and garnered 33 points with a +13 goal differential.
Those games had some major moments for Rooney, generating much of the added value for the organization.
“Wayne Rooney’s not just a name. His play was huge,” Katz said. “The fact that he performed so well is a big deal as well, from a media value perspective. Because of his fame and social media presence, when he does something exciting, it raises D.C. United’s profile, influence and benefit.”
The June 28 signing announcement generated 3.7 million social engagements, driving a $1.7 million media value for D.C. United partners.
In August, the viral moment of Rooney making a game-saving tackle and then taking the ball the length of the field to score the 96th-minute game-winner resulted in $1.6 million in media value and 11.4 million engagements.
In a September game against Atlanta United, Rooney tied up the game on a penalty kick and then assisted on Luciano Acosta’s two goals later in the 3-1 win. The game drove $1.3 million in media value and 2.4 million engagements.
Increasingly, athletes providing major success on the field are also contributing mightily to the organization’s value. The increase in the brand’s brand value could certainly come in handy when it’s time to sign new deals, like its jersey deal.
Leidos signed the current three-year deal in 2016. With this new information, Katz said D.C. United is well positioned to demonstrate the increased value of its kit sponsorship moving forward. The Athletic reported in October the team was negotiating with Amazon, Qatar Airways, United Airlines and others for the deal in what could be one of the league’s most lucrative. The story reported the current deal is in the realm of $3 million. The next could be worth north of $5 million.
“These valuations help reframe how they see their assets,” he said. “With all the earned media value, the asset is even more so tremendously valuable.”
One worry of having a team relying so heavily on one player for driving media value is the drastic drop if they leave. Katz said the hope, at least for D.C. United, would be Rooney staying long enough to raise the league, team and teammate values enough to insulate it from Rooney’s eventual departure.
“There are a lot of things they can do now to leverage this increased exposure, and continue to drive value,” Katz said. “D.C. United highlight clips getting shared across social media helps the entire organization attract all sorts of attention. By the time in the long distant future when he leaves, they’ve already diversified where the value comes from.”
It isn’t just D.C. United gaining value from Rooney’s presence, Katz said. The entire Major League Soccer brand does as well, as Rooney’s play makes its viral way across the internet. He also believes the league has received similar brand-value boosts when other international stars arrived — like David Beckham.
“MLS has a real opportunity to capitalize on acquisitions of top talent, drawing more attention and increasing their ability to generate and foster talent internally,” he said. “It’s more attention to build and develop their own stars’ social footprints and value.”