Shot Callers: Maribeth Towers, SVP of Consumer Products, Major League Soccer

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Major League Soccer celebrates its 25th anniversary this season with the league’s brand stronger than ever. As a result, MLS will look to roll out a number of consumer products that will resonate with their growing fanbase and soccer fans at large.

Maribeth Towers, SVP of Consumer Products for MLS, chats with FOS Editor Ian Thomas about the league’s approach to creating jerseys and products to please fans at the stadium and beyond.

Edited highlights appear below:

On unveiling jerseys for the 25th season (0:19)

Towers: “Specific to the jerseys, the planning started two years ago with adidas. We met with them in the offices in Herzogenaurach in Germany and talked about the fact that 25th season was coming up. What did they want to do?…They fairly quickly came back with this concept of the EQT jerseys. So the EQT jersey is an iconic jersey from back in the 90s, so that was where the connection started, right? We started in ’96. This jersey for them was an early nineties jersey that they introduced with three stripes across the shoulder, the specific color. It’s been updated from that jersey. When you see those early pictures, you’ll see it looks quite different. But they were really excited about that concept and then coming to us one step further and saying we would really like every team for this one year to wear this EQT striping.”

On MLS consumer products that are selling well at the moment (2:04)

Towers: “I think one of the exciting partnerships that have come on board recently is New Era as the sideline official sideline headwear partner. They’ve got a massive following in their huge equity in that brand. So I think that was really exciting, both for the players, frankly, and for the fans. That product is doing really well.

We brought a lot of new brands on that are really fun for the fans and have good tradition and the other sports. It’s a great add on for us, I think. From a from a data standpoint, they’ve done some really interesting things with some of the themed jerseys. So you’re familiar with the ones that we do in conjunction with Earth Week…it’s made from the recycled plastic out of the oceans. That has resonated really well with our fan base.

That whole sustainability conversation is extremely important to our fans. And then this last year…they also did some themed jerseys for some of the big theme nights that the clubs have been doing for quite some time. So Pride Night, celebrating 4th of July during the month of July. A lot of them do military appreciation nights, things like that….they really like sold out within 24 hours in most cases. “

On the evolution of soccer gear as fashion items (4:37)

Towers: “adidas has really been strong in that space for at least like two, three years now. They’ve had this whole stadium-to-street concept because of that, right? It was something they observed in the marketplace and now they’ve responded to that… First and foremost, the jerseys are created for the players, right? They have to perform, they have to be comfortable. And secondly, they have to represent the club brands in the right way. But they have also made a real effort to play into the fact that they’ve recognized that fans like to wear them, not just for the day of the match, but on Friday night hanging out with friends at a bar. So they keep that in their design sensibility when they’re looking at how they’re designing the jersey. They want to make sure it’s good for the player, good for the club. But also it looks good with jeans. “

On how the consumer product side will continue to evolve moving forward (05:44)

Towers: “I think the whole fan wear side of the business, we still have a lot of growth opportunity. So again, bringing on some of the new partners, like New Era, they’re just getting started. So we expect to see that part of the business really explode. And same for adidas. So things like the anthem jacket, the jacket that the players walk out in, that’s something that they put into place a handful of years ago that really has started to create a big tradition.

I think we’re now looking at other key pieces within the player’s bag to have that same conversation about. What other piece that’s important to the players can we then bring to the fans in a new way?…Every time we have an expansion team, we bolt on a whole new group of fans which is great….25 years from now, who knows what the tech capabilities and the types of things that they’re bringing out in the general marketplace will be? I have no crystal ball into that.”