Acura kit deal sets new club record but Crew SC see "a lot of room to grow"

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Columbus Crew SC fans were excited to finally get a glimpse of their new primary kit, one of the last released before the 2017 MLS season, on Friday. Yet the unveiling of the club’s new jersey sponsor marks a significant milestone beyond the return of the fan-favorite yellow jersey.

Crew SC announced that its new sponsorship with auto manufacturer Acura – a division of Honda – is the largest annual deal in club history, and a major coup for the organization.

President of Business Operations Andy Loughnane said the deal transcends simple economics or a good look on a jersey. Acura has two plants in Ohio, where a large portion of their vehicles are manufactured. In 2014, the company opened a new plant in Marysville, just north of Columbus, where their supercar NSX is specially produced.

That local tie is important. But Assistant VP of Marketing and Operations Tom Peyton said Acura is thinking even bigger.

“This isn’t just a local investment,” he said. “Certainly we’re able to have an identity here, but it’s wonderful to go to other key markets for Acura … and have that local and TV exposure that goes along with that. MLS has a real opportunity by being able to sell that opportunity.”

Peyton said Acura has been watching MLS with interest over the last several years, and believes its customers are soccer fans.

Acura kit deal sets new club record but Crew SC see "a lot of room to grow" -

And given the league’s recent expansion, increased interest and a surge of success in Columbus, he said making the move was “a better sponsorship opportunity right now” than even a few years ago.

“We index with our owners very high with soccer,” he said. “A lot of the people who are considering buying an Acura follow MLS … or other elements of soccer, so it’s going to help attract them and make an emotional appeal to them.”

Since Loughnane joined the club in August of 2014, Crew SC have seen a demonstrable uptick in everything from sponsorships to ticket sales. And while he admitted that he’s happier with the team’s business health now than when he joined, he said MLS presents a competitive business climate.

“We want to continue to keep up with the high-water mark of Major League Soccer,” he said. “So while we grow, our peer set in MLS grows – sometimes faster than us.”

With a sponsor committed, Loughnane made it clear that attendance is his No. 1 priority.

“We want to continue to grow our attendance. That should be any club’s priority, to build and maintain your attendance levels, and it’s no different for us,” he said. “The last few seasons, we’ve set records for attendance, single-match attendance, single-season sell-outs, and that’s fine. But we’ve got to continue to grow.”

Loughnane said his goal is that in the “not-too-distant future” the club will be selling out all 17 regular-season games. He said he hopes the 14,000 Acura employees in the area can become an entirely new market of Crew SC fans. And while he marked the jersey reveal as a day of celebration, Loughnane says there’s plenty of work left to do.

“We’ve made strides forward,” he said, “but we’ve got a lot of room to grow.”