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MLS plans sports tech incubator and agrees digital partnerships

North American soccer league signs deals with Deltatre, Sportec Solutions, Ticketmaster, and Box to Box Films.

6 March 2023 Steve McCaskill

Getty Images

  • Formal announcement of MLS Labs expected in near future
  • MLS is in first season of US$2.5bn broadcast deal with Apple

Major League Soccer (MLS) is planning its own sports technology incubator, building on the launch of MLS Season Pass with Apple TV and a raft of recently announced partnerships designed to strengthen its technical and content capabilities.

As reported in Sports Business Journal (SBJ), Chris Schlosser, senior vice president of MLS Emerging Ventures, used a presentation at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference to provide the first details of ‘MLS Labs’ ahead of a formal announcement in the near future.

The aim of MLS Labs is to use the North American soccer league’s scale and profile to provide a platform for early stage sports tech firms to test and scale their innovations at real-life events – including the MLS All-Star Game.

Selected companies will be invited to demonstrate their wares at MLS Next Fest, with a selected few advancing to the Generation Adidas Cup youth tournament in Florida. Finally, three MLS Labs firms will be invited to the All-Star Game and to present to the MLS board of governors.

MLS Labs follows in the footsteps of other high-profile incubators, such as the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) LaunchPad, which works with startups that can advance its on-court and off-court activities. The NBA is also an active investor, taking stakes in smart fabrics creator Nextiles and analytics firm Videocites.

MLS, which might not attract the same attention as the NBA just yet, has a similar youthful, digitally-native fanbase and hopes technology and streaming can achieve deeper engagement and further expansion.

The 2023 MLS season started last month and is the first campaign to be covered by a ten-year US$2.5 billion broadcast deal with Apple TV. MLS Season Pass offers live global coverage of every single game from the competition, along with a live ‘whiparound’ show and digital features.

MLS, which has assumed production responsibilities as part of the deal, is partnering with IMG and NEP. It has now further strengthened that technological foundation through a partnership with Sportec Solutions and Deltatre that will see enhanced data feeds added to the league’s digital platforms.

Planned stats and visualisations include attacking zones, expected goals, player speed, match momentum, entries into the attacking third, passing efficiency, and shot efficiency over the course of the season. Deltatre already builds various digital products for MLS and its clubs in its role as web technology provider.

“Major League Soccer continues to be at the forefront of utilising data and technology to positively enhance the fan experience by providing unique insights that bring fans closer to the game,” said Schlosser.

“By partnering with Sportec Solutions and Deltatre, we will continue to push the envelope with what is possible when you combine ground-breaking technology with a progressive approach to data to provide our tech-savvy fans a reimagined next-generation experience.”

Gary Stevenson, MLS deputy commissioner, has also confirmed to The Athletic that the league has agreed a deal with Box to Box Films, the production company behind Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’ Formula One documentary series, to create a similar show for MLS. Unlike the company’s other television creations, the planned MLS series will likely air on Apple TV rather than Netflix, in a bid to drive interest in MLS Season Pass.

Beyond broadcasting, MLS also wants to use technology to enhance the in-stadium experience and potentially convert armchair fans into match-going supporters. Ticketmaster is the league’s new official ticketing partner, promising a more reliable, seamless experience while also implementing new innovations such as interactive 3D stadium views that can drive satisfaction and revenues.

“Ticketmaster offers an unmatched set of technology, tools and expertise which will serve to accelerate the growth of our fanbase,” explained Stevenson.

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