Target Latches On to Soccer With Official MLS Sponsorship

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Target is gearing up to bend it like Beckham. The retailer announced Thursday a major move into the sport of soccer, which is becoming more popular with younger and multi-cultural consumers in the U.S. The Minneapolis-based chain signed a three-year deal to become an official sponsor of Major League Soccer, including broadcast advertising on Univision, Fox Sports and ESPN, and in-stadium experiences.

While Target has been an active sports marketing player with its local teams, such as the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as with auto racing, the new partnership is a first for the company because of its "holistic nature," including local, community and national levels, explained a spokeswoman.

"We know that our core guest today is younger, more Hispanic, more urban and more digitally connected," she said. "We also love that soccer is watched and played by families and is growing immensely in popularity."

Target sales of soccer-related products grew 10% last year, when the retailer sold over 1 million soccer balls.

Target, which has around 1,800 locations, is also sponsoring the Minnesota United FC team, and will outfit players with jerseys emblazoned with its bullseye logo. The retailer will partner with U.S. Youth Soccer as its official retailer and has donated a $75,000 grant to the U.S. Soccer Foundation.

"We are proud to announce that Target, a great Minnesota-based company, will be Minnesota United's first MLS kit sponsor," said Nick Rogers, president of Minnesota United FC, in a statement. "Target believes they have a role to play in fueling the potential of soccer and soccer players at all levels."

One sports marketing expert said the soccer alignment is a smart strategy as Target can grow alongside the sport.

"The opportunity for Target is two-fold -- they engage a U.S. soccer fan and family demographic in a growing domestic sport," said Kevin McIntyre, exec VP sales and general manager at sports marketing firm Leverage Agency. He noted that MLS attendance has grown more quickly than any other major sport and is outpacing sports leagues such as the NBA and NHL on a per-game basis. Best Buy, another Minnesota-based retailer, has also successfully used sports partnerships to strengthen its brand with consumers, Mr. McIntyre said.

Target could use the help. Earlier this week, the chain reported a 1.3% drop in same-store sales during the crucial November and December holiday period and lowered its earnings forecast for the year. Of course, the brand is not the only retailer struggling; Macy's, Kohl's and Sears all reported disappointing holiday results.

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