Major League Soccer has had slow, sustained growth over the past decade. Expansion into rabid soccer markets in the northwest and an influx of veteran stars into big markets has fully established the league as a stable quantity in the American pro sports landscape. While that can be seen as a victory for a league that launched less than 20 years ago, MLS is still looking to break through on television. The league's national ratings are poor and show little sign of making a leap forward.
To try and develop a wider fanbase across the country, MLS is launching a new original content group called MLS+ that will hope to give fans more access than any other league in the country through a new weekly magazine show and documentary style storytelling. From Grant Wahl at Sports Illustrated...
Major League Soccer is going down the route of ESPN's 30 for 30 and NFL Films by investing big money in a new content and distribution group called MLS+, MLS chief marketing officer Howard Handler told SI.com on Tuesday. One of the first big initiatives, MLS Insider, is a weekly magazine show that will debut Friday on NBC Sports Network (and TSN in Canada) and feature in-depth storytelling on MLS by Emmy Award-winning director Jonathan Hock, whose work includes "The Best That Never Was" (on Marcus Dupree), "Unguarded" (on Chris Herren) and "Survive and Advance" (on Jim Valvano).
30 for 30 style programming would be a lofty goal and would seem to be very tough to do on a weekly basis. NBC and NBCSN appear to be the central partners in this initiative as well as several online outlets. Here's more from the MLS website...
MLS+ is "a new content and distribution group that brings together top storytellers, producers and digital media partners to create a broad range of soccer programming on multiple platforms," according to a statement released by the league.
Content created by MLS+ will include new television shows, digital series, mini-documentaries, mobile applications, lifestyle features, user-generated content, and more. Distribution partnerships include NBC Sports Network and NBCSports.com, TSN and RDS, KickTV, the MLS YouTube channel, and, of course, right here on MLSsoccer.com. It will also include a wide range of digital partners, such as Yahoo!, MedioTiempo, and SB Nation.
This is an innovative approach from MLS, who have consistently attempted to find new ways to grow the league. With the existence of several league owned channels, it's smart for MLS to try to give fans deeper and more meaningful access to the teams and players. That's one way to try to draw in more fans and build a connection. The challenge for MLS will be getting eyeballs to the content.