TikTok indicators patch offers with MLS, NWSL soccer leagues

Eryk Williamson of Portland Timbers FC.

Source: Portland Timbers

After the political firestorm surrounding TikTok has dissolved somewhat, the social media app continues its expansion into the US sports landscape.

TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, announced Tuesday that it is now a shirt patch sponsor for the Portland Timbers franchise of Major League Soccer and sister team Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League. The agreements begin in the 2021 seasons.

Terms of the partnership were not specified. According to some predictions, MLS clubs can typically expect $ 1 million a year in patch sponsorship.

In an interview with CNBC on Monday, Mike Golub, president of the Timbers, described the pact as an “equal partnership”. He declined to disclose certain figures from the multi-year agreement, but said the valuation is just over a million dollars because TikTok has the patch for two teams.

“It’s going to be on the high end of the value of patches sold in the MLS and NWSL,” Golub said, mentioning the longevity of the patch on jerseys, which is also being sold to fans on the team with the patch properties.

“What makes this unique to us is the lens through which we look at this partnership,” Harish Sarma, TikTok director of global strategic partnerships, told CNBC. “The concept of a joint patch partnership between men and women and the choice of two franchises is a first for us, and we think it’s a first for sport in general.”

MLS launched its kit patch program last January, which allows clubs to place 2.5 “by 2.5” company logos on the right sleeve of game shirts. Clubs can only add the sleeve patch if they have already won a main sponsor with the main logo on the front of a shirt.

Crystal Dunn of Portland Thorns FC.

Source: Portland Timbers

The main sponsor of the Timbers is currently Alaska Airlines.

As part of the club agreement with TikTok, the company will be present via virtual signage and digital platforms from both clubs. The deal allows teams to produce weekly content, including highlights and behind-the-scenes footage on TikTok.

To offset the nearly $ 1 billion in losses from Covid-19, MLS has also set up a patch slot on the left sleeve. Golub said the team wasn’t sure they would make this slot available should MLS officially approve its return in 2021.

“We will think about what or if we want to do something with it,” he said.

TikTok survived a hectic 2020 as it found itself in the middle of a feud between the US and China. ByteDance was forced by former President Donald Trump to sell its US TikTok operations to Oracle and Walmart. He urged to address potential safety concerns about Chinese tech companies. However, the transaction has been delayed after several courts lifted the ban on the app and the new Biden administration reviewed the situation.

Though TikTok battled the geopolitical drama, Sarma had no influence on partnership discussions with US sports clubs.

“What you are seeing is more partners who understand the value and, frankly, that we are getting to a place where our goals align with those partners,” he said. “It’s a sign that things are going as usual and how it was.”

A man with a phone in his hand walks past a sign for the TikTok app from Chinese company ByteDance, locally known as Douyin, at the International Artificial Products Exhibition in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, Oct. 18 2019.


TikTok recently announced a deal with mixed martial arts company UFC to produce exclusive livestream content. According to Sarma, TikTok is having more discussions with clubs about possible patch partnerships, especially with teams from the National Basketball Association looking for new deals.

“Whenever you have an announcement of the magnitude we’ve had lately, it’s inevitable that there will be interest from all corners of the world, whether it’s NBA teams or teams from other leagues,” he said. “That will happen. We are not surprised at the interest and it will continue.”

He added that sports fans typically look to TikTok for content from the National Football League, NBA, and soccer and have suggested users want more, which is why TikTok will focus its strategy on these sports.

In August, TikTok announced that the number of monthly active users has increased nearly 800% since January 2018. More than 100 million Americans are active monthly users today, and the company said it has 50 million US users daily. This gives sports teams who work with the branded presence of the mobile video platform access to a generation Z social media crowd.

TikTok also has partnerships with the New York Yankees, NASCAR driver Ryan Vargas, and overseas football clubs.

“We are expanding our offering in all industries,” said Sarma when asked about TikTok’s 2021 plans for sports partnerships. “There’s more to come.”

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