New League, New Market and New Sponsorship: An Exploratory Study of Attitudes towards Shirt Sponsorship in Major League Soccer

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In 2007, Major League Soccer (MLS) became the first major professional sports league in the USA to allow individual franchises to sell advertising space on their game jerseys. While these shirt sponsorships are considered the norm in international soccer, in the US game uniforms are considered 'sacred space' free from the increasingly commercialized American sports landscape. Team owners and sports writers have given their opinions - the former arguing they are a necessity for increasing revenue, the latter arguing they represent a dangerous commoditization of sports - yet, little attention has been paid to the opinions of sports fans. To address this, an exploratory survey was conducted to assess fan reactions to shirt sponsorships in MLS, how these ads are affecting fan behaviours, and whether or not fans believe these ads to be starting a trend for other sports to follow. Preliminary results found no strong negative opinions about the presence of jersey advertisements, and respondents - soccer fans, sports fans and non-fans - showed support for shirt sponsorship if it helped keep games affordable and/or helped teams stay competitive. These results are discussed in greater detail, along with implications for more theoretical approaches to understanding the effect of shirt sponsorships on sports fans.



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