By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Feb 7, 2018) US Soccer Players - Los Angeles Football Club has always seemed an interesting venture. With a slew of high-profile deep-pocketed owners, the club’s operations and marketing pathways seemed exciting. Money and a means to gain exposure were always assets in LAFC’s favor. How the club capitalized on them to set itself apart in MLS was always going to be the question.
Already LAFC is building something solid both on and off the field. Right now, it's an off-the-field move breaking new ground and showing the club’s innovative nature. A week ago LAFC announced YouTube TV as its first jersey sponsor. This gives LAFC a highly-recognizable logo on the front of its jersey. It also marks the first time YouTube TV has reached an agreement with a professional sports team to serve as its only rights-holder and content provider.
LAFC’s games on YouTube TV will be in English. The club will also provide Spanish-language coverage of matches through more traditional outlets. Univision affiliate KMEX is reportedly the frontrunner.
Already the club had generated a buzz and a must-see atmosphere around it, with the construction of Banc of California Stadium in the heart of Los Angeles. There's the roster led by Mexican international Carlos Vela and MLS veterans Walker Zimmerman, Laurent Ciman, and Marco Urena with veteran coach Bob Bradley at the helm. LAFC will have 16 of its matches broadcast nationally via ESPN, Fox, FS1 and Univision, a high among MLS teams.
Another bonus for LAFC, the deal is reportedly worth $18 million for three years, not a bad haul for the expansion side.
It comes at a time when the broadcasting landscape seems set for a shift. Streaming services look like the future, with the old regional TV model experiencing its own problems.
In Los Angeles, that drama has played out negatively with Dodgers baseball games. The Dodgers and Time Warner Cable, now Charter, made an $8.35 billion deal that keeps Dodger games solely on the SportsNet LA channel owned by the Dodgers and off most television sets in the LA area. That deal has led to bad feelings between fans and the baseball team and promises to do so for quite a while longer. The deal is in place for 21 more years.
If the Dodgers had opted for a streaming service, that would have been an easier sell for fans. Dodger fans would want to watch Dodger games but may not want to uproot their cable or satellite service providers to do so.
Overall, television viewing habits are also seemingly changing. YouTube is a popular outlet for many, in particular youths, many of whom spend their time watching vloggers and YouTube channels on a wide array of topics. Facebook has streamed MLS and international matches, making it easy for viewers to follow games when they are not at home.
YouTube TV is already pitching itself as a cable alternative. For $35 a month, subscribers get local channels from the big networks as well as a wide array of other channels like ESPN, Fox Sports, National Geographic, CNBC, FX, and AMC. Also, subscribers get YouTube Red, which produces original content.
This is still in its infancy, having launched in April 2017. It is available in major markets only - 80 metro areas in the United States - but that figure is expected to rise. What makes that attractive to subscribers is that unlike most cable subscriptions they can cancel at any time. That’s not to say fans are going to cough up 35 dollars a month just to watch LAFC, but that does mean that commitment to this service is simply month to month.
Perhaps YouTube TV will eventually work out a method to only pay for LAFC matches, but until then LA-area YouTube TV subscribers will receive LAFC matches at no extra cost. The games will also feature pre- and post-game shows as well as coverage of the match itself.
LAFC then will serve as the base model for the relationship between YouTube TV and sports teams. With people tied down to contracts on television and mobile phone services, no contract and a la carte services have obvious appeal. Having Netflix, for instance, to watch movies and television shows and YouTube TV for the rest of the channels may seem worthwhile. If LAFC is the means by which people make a move away from cable/satellite, YouTube TV will have made a wise investment.
Having YouTube’s highly recognizable logo splashed in front of LAFC jerseys will be quite the novelty item. Non-soccer fans will easily recognize the white triangle in the center of a red rectangle. It will also be the first soccer jersey in the world to feature the logo. The club has not yet unveiled its first-ever set of jerseys. Once they hit the market, they will likely be the next-best thing in Los Angeles. The club’s color scheme and winged LA logo is already slick and quite an accomplishment. The jerseys will certainly deliver as well.
On the field, LAFC is trying to beat what Atlanta United did last season. That means making the playoffs, a clear objective for all involved with Major League Soccer's newest team. If what's happening off the field is any indication, LAFC will succeed in 2018.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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