Fighting declining US sales, Captain Morgan joined MLS as official rum and spirits partner in 2019, activating through a season-long campaign that spanned stadium signage, around-the-ground street teams and sampling, ticket giveaways, national television ads, OOH work and digital and social content.
The brand’s deal with MLS was struck mid-season, in July, and ran in parallel with several MLS club deals, including Chicago Fire, DC United, New York City FC, Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders FC.
MLS switched its commercial strategy in 2019, becoming the first major US professional sports league to permit companies in the sports betting and spirits categories to include their brands on jerseys, for venue naming-rights deals, stadium signage, on-field ads and custom programming.
The MLS deal was a strategic response to Diageo’s mid-July 2019 announcement of a five-per-cent year-on-year fall in net sales of Captain Morgan in the USA – its biggest market – that it put down to a shift away from carbonated drinks as health-conscious Americans drink less rum and coke.
The deal’s umbrella objective is to build a strong relationship between consumers and the Captain’s brand. The average age of an MLS fan is 40 – the youngest of all the major US sports, and thus closest to Captain Morgan’s young adult primary target demographic.
The approach was to draw parallels between the passionate atmosphere at MLS matches and the sense of fun the Captain Morgan brand stands for, by rewarding dedicated MLS fans with ‘the fun only Captain can bring’.
In addition to a ‘Drink Responsibly’ leverage strand, the activation was based around Captain Morgan’s global marketing big idea: ‘There’s more fun to be had.’
The activation programme kicked off around the 2019 MLS All-Star Game at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium on July 31, where leverage strands included in-stadium signage, sampling and giveaways and a team of Captain Morgan ground representatives outside the stadium handing out tickets to fans with the name Morgan (first, middle or last) on a first-come, first-served basis.
This was combined with the roll out of a slate of national TV commercials celebrating partnership.
The series of 15-second spots, which all end with the ‘There’s More Fun To Be Had’ tagline, each primarily focus on one of the MLS clubs the brand had partnered with, like ‘Captain & Ginger: New York City FC’:
…and ‘Only One Captain Morgan: DC United’:
The at-event and television work were supported by content running across nationwide in-stadium work, OOH in selected cities and activity across the brand’s digital and social channels.
Another aspect of the alliances enabled fans to purchase custom-labelled bottles of Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum featuring official team colours and crests.
Hello there, Captain 🍻 pic.twitter.com/xn8uowNAXU
— dcunited (@dcunited) November 1, 2019
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) October 11, 2019
A further activation strand was a ticket giveaway programme, such as its November ‘Captain Morgan With the Assist’ micro-campaign, which offered free tickets to the 2019 MLS Cup for 10 people named ‘Morgan’ (plus two friends each).
At the end of the season, after the Seattle Sounders’ MLS Cup victory, the brand celebrated with a team-specific rum cocktail.
— Captain Morgan (@CaptainMorganUS) November 10, 2019
The season-long campaign reached 4.35 million fans in-stadium, 8.3 million viewers through its broadcast work and its flagship TV ads generated 20,000 views on the brand’s YouTube channels.
Captain Morgan saw a two-per-cent increase in rum sales in the US over the six months to December 2019, coinciding with the timeline of its MLS campaign.
And Diageo responded by expanding its roster of MLS team partnerships in February 2020, adding new deals with Inter Miami CF, Los Angeles FC, Minnesota United and Nashville SC. In March it extended its MLS relationship with an additional multi-year partnership to become the official rum partner of MLS Canada.