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Nobody cares about billboards: New York Red Bulls Marketing

Seriously. Nobody cares about billboards.

YouTube’s soccer Fab Four

While the 2016 season came to an early and frustrating end, Red Bull Arena continues to be a little active. Earlier this year, New York Red Bulls hosted the very popular YouTubers F2Freestylers and Soccer AM as a part of their F2 vs USA series. With a combined subscriber base of over 5.5 million people, the F2Freestylers freestyle video and Soccer AM’s interview with the Wright-Phillips brothers reached over 2.1 million views and counting.

Fast forward to December, and the New York Red Bulls invited some more popular YouTubers, KSI, Callux, Calfreezy, and Wroetoshaw to Red Bull Arena for some more fan fun soccer challenges. This time around Felipe and Derrick Etienne Jr. joined in with some larks on the grass at RBA: watch here.

Unfortunately, these videos didn’t come without questions from the fan base as to why the Red Bulls would “waste their time” with these kind of videos. Some even going as far as to say they should be spending more time and energy on marketing the team instead of doing videos like these. What these fans don’t realize is that’s exactly what the Red Bulls are doing.

Traditional marketing has been on a drastic decline for a long time now. Some say it’s dead, others say it will never die. But ask most in the marketing business and they will almost certainly tell you that billboards, newspaper ads, and radio “thirty second spots” are for the most part things of the past. Digital and content marketing has taken over as the most efficient form of marketing and few expect things to ever look back. Especially when it comes to the key demographic: youth.

MLS continues to grow and one of the biggest reasons is how well it’s doing with the younger demographic. Soccer is currently the second most played youth sport in the country, ahead of American football, baseball, hockey, and behind only basketball. While youth sports as a whole is in decline for various reasons, soccer has one of the lower and slower drop-offs in participation. It’s no coincidence that MLS is doing so well within the 12-17 and 18-34 demographic. It’s also no coincidence that MLS has shifted marketing focus towards digital and content marketing instead of traditional media. With the second youngest median age for TV viewership, behind the NBA, but ahead of the NFL, NHL, and MLB, the shift makes sense and is already proving to work.

So what does this have to do with these YouTube videos? A lot. According to YouTube, it currently reaches more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S. That also happens to be the most popular age demographic of MLS TV viewers and game attendees. The combined subscriber count for the four YouTubers recently invited to RBA is just under 30 million, or about 3,500 times more than the New York Red Bulls official YouTube account. If you add the F2Freestylers, that subscriber amount jumps to 35 million.

The videos released recently already have a total of over 2.8 million views, and that number doesn’t seem likely to stand still for too long. For perspective, the New York Red Bulls official YouTube channel has just under 2.7 million total views across every single video they’ve ever made since 2007. If you count the F2Freestylers video from earlier this year, that number jumps to just under 4.9 million views.

Without having real numbers, it’s impossible to compare those numbers to the outreach of whatever traditional marketing the Red Bulls have done this year. But what I do know is the average MLS fan, and presumably Red Bulls fan, doesn’t care about traditional marketing. They don’t care about billboards. The very idea of someone in the 18-34 age group reading a newspaper is nothing short of epically hilarious. That same age group is listening to traditional radio less and less, opting for streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. Most teams don’t even advertise on TV anyway, leagues do.

Brand awareness is Marketing 101. In less than a week, almost half an hour of content hit the eyes of millions with the New York Red Bulls logo, filmed in the crown jewel of MLS, Red Bull Arena, and featuring two RBNY players. That’s probably compares very favorably to any billboard, newspaper ad, and radio spot the organization has commissioned in the last decade. Lets also not forget that half a million people and counting got to see John Oliver tell 2016 to go fuck itself at Red Bull Arena.

Naturally, people might be reading this and saying, “who cares about YouTube views?” If you’re saying that, you’re probably not the demographic being targeted anyway. You’re probably also thinking these videos will do nothing to bring people to the stadium, and that’s 100% correct. But these videos are not intended to sell tickets. Not immediately or directly, at any rate.

In no successful sports marketing board room are people saying, “what single thing can we do to drastically increase attendance?” It just doesn’t happen. Successful marketing takes time. It follows the concept of “goals are only as good as the plans.” MLS and especially the New York Red Bulls has an identity problem within the global soccer community. Just read some of the comments in the videos and you’ll find plenty of anti-MLS and anti-Red Bull comments. But there are also some positive ones there too. Sometimes the biggest wall to knock down is getting people to care about what you’re trying to sell. Before you can get people to go to your games, you have to get them to care enough to go.

These are simply fun videos targeted to the most important demographic, delivered in the most efficient way to that demographic. Not every marketing program is designed specifically to sell tickets or get people to watch your game on TV, especially not in today’s marketing world. Many times its designed to engage, capture, and draw an audience in - to stir the many emotions fans can feel. Marketing today is more than just about information, it’s about engagement. There’s nothing engaging about a billboard, newspaper ad, or 15-30 second radio spot.

So the next time you jump on one of the various forums to express how happy you are that you just saw a billboard off Route 3, or newspaper ad in a newspaper that most people don’t even read anymore, or hear a radio spot that nobody really paid attention to: the club just wasted precious marketing money.

The New York Red Bulls organization has made impressive strides over the years to improve on its digital and content marketing, even if there is room for improvement. MLS has seen its metrics across its social media and digital content rise at an impressive rate over recent years as it continues to capture that important segment of its fan base.

Of course, if the New York Red Bulls don’t see a matching increase and if the team’s fans increasingly demand more of the old and traditional marketing, then perhaps there’s a bigger and more serious issue within the fan base: maybe the outreach and engagement isn’t capturing and converting as desired; maybe the RBNY fan base simply isn’t getting young enough.

All that said, however, there is one clear and obvious marketing priority for the front office right now: promote the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Vancouver Whitecaps. On February 22, the team will play arguably the most important game in franchise history - and it must be marketed. How that marketing is done is, of course, an important question. The team’s recent efforts to promote itself are perhaps a hint at the answer.