Charlotte MLS team’s branding strategy explained
Posted On July 22, 2021
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In the Carolinas, crazy about college football, team allegiances run deep. You’ll be hard pressed to find fans who support both the Clemson Tigers and the South Carolina Gamecocks, for example.
But when the region’s new Major League Soccer team start playing in Charlotte next year, the franchise hopes to bridge those gaps. “We have the unique opportunity to be the one team everyone loves in the Carolinas,” said Nick Kelly, club president, who calls themselves Charlotte FC.
Kelly – who joined the franchise late last year after overseeing Anheuser-Busch InBev sponsorships – details how the new club goes about building their fan base, in the latest edition of the Brief podcast from Ad Age.
At AB InBev, Kelly has worked on brands like Budweiser which have been around for decades. Now he has to build a sports brand from scratch. MLS awarded Charlotte the expansion franchise in 2019, choosing the same ownership group that runs the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League. But the club then had to delay its first season from 2021 to 2022 to avoid complications caused by the pandemic.
Kelly arrived on board in December and had to quickly establish a marketing philosophy and staff a marketing team. “Much of the momentum they had just fallen off a cliff,” he said. “It was my job to get that momentum going that they had… It was literally at a standstill.”
On the podcast, Kelly discusses some of his moves, including creating a post of “Fan Chief” to serve as a liaison between fans and the club’s front office leaders. Kelly says he didn’t want to rely solely on polls or fan advice. “As we come out of COVID, having a direct voice from fans to ownership and ownership to fans actually helps a lot,” he says, suggesting that other clubs in MLS are watching how this will work. “Having someone who is this daily lead is a really big test for the sports industry.”