When Major League Soccer teamed up with Liga MX, Mexico’s top professional soccer league, to announce the revamped Leagues Cup event last year, the two organizations promised an exciting event combining the fast-paced action of March Madness with the soccer splendor of the World Cup. They designed the event to engage fans and motivate players, providing a unique opportunity for brand partners during the mid-summer lull on the sports calendar.
This summer, Leagues Cup delivered all that—and more.
MLS and Liga MX paused their regular season so all 47 clubs could participate, and during the course of 77 matches, played from July 21 to the penalty kick nail-biter finale on August 19, Leagues Cup opened a new chapter for North American soccer.
“Leagues Cup was one of the most ambitious and innovative events ever produced at a club level from a global soccer standpoint,” said Adrienne Barber, senior VP of properties for Leagues Cup. “The first edition was incredibly successful at every level—for the leagues, for fans and for brand partners. The immediacy and passion with which current fans and new fans embraced the tournament was exciting.”
Big stakes draw big interest
Clubs and players understood these games were not “friendlies.” Leagues Cup featured total prize money of nearly $40 million and guaranteed slots in the Concacaf Champions Cup, with the winner automatically qualifying directly to the Concacaf Champions Cup Round of 16.
Player engagement and on-field focus translated to the fans. On average, Leagues Cup fans are under 39 years old—younger than the NFL (47.2), MLB (46.9), NHL (43.4) and NBA (41.9), according to YouGov research.¹ Like MLS fans, they are digitally native and rabid social media users.
Nearly 1.3 million fans attended Leagues Cup matches in person, with the Inter Miami-Nashville final drawing a record sellout crowd of more than 30,000 fans at Nashville’s state-of-the-art Geodis Park. Celebrities from Reese Witherspoon to Giannis Antetokounmpo helped make it the “can’t miss” event of the summer. And sparked by high-scoring matches, passionate players, and the MLS debut of global superstar Lionel Messi, Leagues Cup generated some of the highest TV viewership, social media, and product sales numbers ever for MLS and Liga MX.
“In person and in many of our activations, we saw new fans and people participate who had never been in our soccer ecosystem before,” said Barber. “We had an opportunity to bring in fans who were following the tournament, and maybe are not following our regular season. With the sports calendar open in the summertime, we saw a lot of new people engaged with the sport and current fans interact in deeper ways than ever before—and obviously Messi was a big part of that.”
The number of subscribers to Apple’s MLS Season Pass streaming package more than doubled after Messi signed with Inter Miami CF.
For partner brands, high fan engagement translated into high awareness and affinity. A new study by MarketCast found that 57% of Leagues Cup fans had high familiarity with official partners—a score higher than the firm’s 51% benchmark across the major North American leagues. Greg Truex, VP of sports and sponsorships at MarketCast, added “Soccer fans are among the most loyal fans to their clubs and leagues, which shined bright in this research. MLS and Liga MX fans recognized and recalled the tournament partners, indicating a high degree of favorability towards official partners.” And 56% of fans had high affinity for official Leagues Cup partners, compared to the 42% benchmark across the major leagues, according to MarketCast.²