The bitter cold couldn’t stop 36,000 raucous MLS fans from supporting Toronto FC at their biggest match in club history at MLS Cup this past Saturday night.
Even though temperatures were predicted to be around just 20 degrees (or -6 degrees, in the chosen scale of Canada) at the time tickets went on sale the Monday prior, the allotment still sold out in under three minutes. Their effort and bravery paid off, at least for a while, as the game went the full 90 and then some, with TFC falling in PK’s to the Sounders of Seattle.
There were a few passionate Seattle fans willing to brave the cold Canadian air – and the hassle required to travel across the border. Even fewer sponsors made the journey – with just three of MLS’ major partners activing on-site experiential programs. For those who did (ahem, us) it was a no brainer.
“If you’re going to be involved in MLS and show your support, you have to show that you’re dedicated,” rEvolution’s Director of Production Services Andy Castleman said. Castleman and his team, Brittany Ramsey and Derek Nelson, handled the logistics to bring Continental, one of the longest tenured MLS sponsor in history, across the border to Canada. “That’s a big part of it. It doesn’t matter where it was; we were going to be part of it. We support the teams, we support the brand, we support the MLS and it’s important to us.”
And the brands who didn’t show up?
“For many MLS partners their program is driven by the US market and budget so they may not have an incentive to activate across the border but Continental is one of two MLS league partners with global rights, Adidas being the other,” Garret Mudd, rEvolution EVP (and Continental account lead) said. “Plus Continental isn’t just a league partner but the Official Tire of each and every team so it was important to be here to celebrate the game but also support the fans of both teams despite the challenges associated with arranging the border crossing on short notice.”
Here’s how it all came together.
Short Lead Time
Because the MLS Cup host city is determined by the finalist with the highest regular-season point total, the activation location remained in the air until just 10 days before the big game. “We were watching the playoffs very closely,” Castleman said. “A few weeks in advance, we knew it was going to be in one of three markets. We thought that it could be in Seattle or Colorado, but the way it played out – neither one of those worked out.”
On the off-chance of the game being in Toronto, rEvolution and Castleman did some preplanning. “From experience, we knew we had to work with a broker who does all of our Department of Transportation work – we talked with them about what it would take to get our truck across the border,” he said.
Dealing With Customs
Early in the morning on Thursday, December 1st; Ramsey was already on the phone with the travel broker to make final arrangements in dragging the massive Continental footprint in a rental truck across the border with just nine days to go. “There’s always a lot of paperwork,” Castleman said. “We had to do a manifest of everything that was on the truck. Anything that was on the truck that crossed the border has to come back on the truck. That was another issue.”
A key aspect to Continental’s engagement with consumers at MLS games is giving away team branded scarves (premium items) to fans. Once filling out a registration card, interacting with the tires on-site and taking a short quiz, fans received a scarf – and they have always been extremely popular. But if the scarves were giveaways – they wouldn’t return. So rEvolution was forced to ship the scarves direct to Canada.
“We got tied up for a day and a half in customs because we had to pay duty,” Castleman said. “They sent us back a question about where the scarves were made. Since they originated in Portugal, they didn’t fall under the North American Free Trade Agreement. We ended up having to pay a duty before we could get them out of customs. After that, they were fine.”
After the location was decided, the league had to work with BMO Field in Toronto on where they would place everything, what sponsors were activating, what space requirements were, electricity and other logistics.
“We sent the entire Continental footprint up,” Castleman said. “It’s normally a 30×50 space but BMO Field did not have enough room to accommodate the entire display. We had somewhat anticipated this, so we ended up using two of our 15×15 tents in one area and our 20×20 tent in a different area.”
“We hired four local personnel/brand ambassadors to come out and staff the activation. Our American Tour Manager could only supervise the setup due to the union laws. After that, it was a boom-boom, packed activation, and tear down and hit the road again,” Castleman said.
Due to the cold, the Continental-branded MLS Cup scarves were a hot item – so were the gloves that All State was giving away to consumers – along with the gas heaters located at the All State footprint. But the cold gusts of wind prior to the match became an issue.
“The wind really started to pick up. We have a large, inflatable arch about 35 feet wide and 20 feet tall. As we were doing the initial setup, there was a plan to use that in the second location. It was just too windy to set up at the time and would have been a safety hazard,” Castleman said. It only proved to be a small branding hit.
Although there were challenges, our trip north was worth the effort.
“It was definitely a lively crowd,” Castleman said. “A lot of people were coming through the display area, doing a lot of celebrating and chanting. The display itself was packed the entire time.” The allotment of 500 scarves were completely awarded well before game time. “The draw for the premium items is always strong, and it always has been. But it was stronger for this game.”
And luckily, so were our winter coats.