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Influencer Economy: How MLS Stars are Monetizing their Social Media Presence

The rise of social media has transformed pro athletes’ careers both on and off the field. Developing a personal brand through platforms like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Twitch has become pivotal for players commercially.

Major League Soccer stars have tapped into these digital channels to build their profiles and open up new revenue streams, despite criticism from many that it distracts from what they should be concentrating on, which is their performance on the field.

Let’s examine how MLS players are leveraging social media clout to monetize their personal brands beyond salaries and traditional endorsements. Welcome to the influencer economy.

Developing Devoted Followings

The foundation of capitalizing on social media is amassing a large, engaged base of followers. MLS stars put effort into creating content and forging connections that get fans invested in their brand as personalities.

Ex LA Galaxy star, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, boasts an Instagram following of nearly 7 million built during his time in MLS, through sharing glimpses of his life, interests and values. Showing authenticity, accessibility and passion feeds followers’ emotional commitment.

Other top talents like to have graced MLS such as Carlos Vela and Wayne Rooney garner multi-million followings simply through the spectacle of their on-field brilliance. Fans crave behind-the-scenes access to elite athletes.

Consistent interaction and providing value earns players the trust and loyalty of supporters even when they change clubs or leagues. Those tight digital bonds pay dividends.

Monetization Avenues

Once players build audiences in the millions, they gain leverage to monetize connections through sponsored content, merchandising, donations and more. Financial opportunities become extensive.

The most common approach is sponsored posts promoting brands the player allegedly uses and enjoys. Disclosing paid partnerships generally garners fewer accusations of “selling out.”

Merchandise lines allow players to tap into followers’ desire for an identity associated with their idols. Collaborations with fashion brands maximize profitability.

Top stars can rake in tens of thousands for a single sponsored Instagram post or YouTube video. The earnings stack up quickly at that rate for MLS talents with global recognition.

Maintaining Authenticity

However, players must avoid letting commercial imperatives undermine authenticity. Savvy MLS stars focus on rewarding supporters with value first rather than prioritizing transactions.

Seattle Sounders standout Jordan Morris purposefully limited sponcon posts to brands he actually supported, like XBox. He would also thank fans for sticking by him after injury layoffs instead of overly promoting products.

During his time at LAFC, midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye would provide glimpses of his personal life and interactions with teammates to humanize his journey for supporters rather than primarily selling goods.

Devoting energy to content aligned with their true personalities sustains relevance. Money ultimately flows when fans feel respected, not exploited.

Charitable Initiatives

Some MLS stars monetize their platforms to drive social impact by fundraising for causes important to them. Collective generosity fosters community.

In 2021, Inter Miami’s Brek Shea organized an online charity raffle of personalized player jerseys and boots which raised over $16,000 for pet adoption agencies. The viral campaign united his passions.

Vancouver Whitecaps’ Ryan Gauld partnered with McDonald’s on a “Buy One, Give One” meal donation drive generating meals for families facing food insecurity. Social media amplified publicity and donations.

Enabling fans to support players’ values through digitally-powered philanthropy boosts Purpose over Profit. Raising money and awareness for good becomes the reward itself rather than traditional clout chasing.

Developing Digital Personas

MLS stars leverage different platforms based on their brand identity and content style. Tailoring persona across channels engages fans in distinct ways.

One time LA Galaxy star, Efrain Alvarez, displays his flashy technique through fast-paced training clips on TikTok and Instagram Reels set to hip-hop tracks. The style fits his artist persona, El Travieso.

Vancouver Whitecaps’ Ryan Gauld shares picturesque Pacific Northwest landscape and lifestyle photos on Instagram that reflect his adventurous, yet mellow spirit.

Stars reveal fuller dimensions of who they are by extending their brand strategically across social media ecosystems. Showcasing authentic self-expression forges visceral bonds.

Gaming Community Connections

Livestreaming video gameplay has become a popular pastime for MLS players to bond with fans. Gaming offers low-pressure interactions.

D.C. United’s Paul Arriola regularly streams himself playing Call of Duty, FIFA and NBA2K on Twitch to thousands of viewers who get to know him better through relaxed commentary.

FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez went viral reacting to teammates rating his FIFA character. The previously introverted striker showed his humorous side.

Playing together in virtual worlds provides community connections that feel native to digital-centric supporters. Personalities shine through unscripted.

Business Incubation

Some entrepreneurial MLS stars take advantage of their platform’s reach to test creative business ventures fostered through social media.

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Zac MacMath co-founded a specialty coffee brand, Crafted Society Coffee, by leveraging his Instagram following and Utah connections.

Ex-Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio’s “Oso Nation” apparel line grew from grassroots social media promotion into a thriving streetwear brand.

For players, side hustles can provide rewarding work beyond the pitch. Turning social capital into business opportunities creates value on their own terms.

Staying Grounded

However, MLS stars know not to take fame or followers for granted. What social media gives, it can also take away. Players focus on putting in the work.

D.C. United’s Taxiarchis “Taxi” Fountas remains humble and gracious to all fans, whether 5 or 5 million. He knows even superstar status requires nurturing supporters.

Despite great commercial success already, Chicharito aims “not to believe the hype” and continues providing supporters with the same tenacity and integrity that earned their dedication organically over the years.

The most savvy MLS influencers remember digital clout alone means nothing without concrete actions continually earning people’s respect.

League Benefits

While led by individual personalities, MLS clubs and the league as a whole ultimately gain from players skillfully leveraging social media.

Teams piggyback on buzz generated by stars’ viral moments like Carlos Vela’s Instagram clips displaying incredible touch. Such content reflects well on the league’s talent level.

High follower counts also give players greater leverage in negotiations with sponsors, boosting MLS’s commercial income. Star power brings tangible value.

Ultimately, MLS wins when emerging platforms empower players professionally. Visibility and cultural resonance grow in ways benefiting everyone invested in soccer’s advancement.

Digital Training Prioritization

In response to social media’s growing role, MLS clubs are prioritizing training players in digital skills and brand development. Cultivating personal brands is now part of the pro education.

Workshops on social strategy, content creation, and public presentation groom players for the camera and enhance social aptitude. Media training facilities provide hands-on learning.

Digital mentors now work one-on-one with young talents to help define their brand identity and voice. Proactive development prevents missteps.

While not all players become social influencers, these lessons equip them with transferrable communication abilities. Managing platforms and presentation builds confidence.

Global Reach Expansion

The borderless nature of social media allows MLS stars with strong personal brands to transcend domestic visibility and become global icons.

Chicharito’s huge following throughout Latin America makes him a pan-regional star boosting MLS’s profile abroad. Fans halfway across the world feel connected cheering him on.

Vela and Chicarito’s digital clout expands MLS’s international commercial appeal. It incentivizes foreign networks to broadcast more MLS matches when players come with readymade worldwide fame.

Ultimately, MLS players’ embrace of platforms like Instagram and TikTok builds global marketing potential. The league benefits from their collective social capital and networks.

Staying Ahead of the Game

To thrive in the influencer economy long-term, MLS stars must stay nimble and open-minded as platforms evolve. Fresh opportunities always emerge.

Seattle Sounders young star Reed Baker-Whiting illustrates adapting to new frontiers like livestreaming community Discord to build tight engagement with hometown supporters.

The next big thing could be virtual worlds, NFTs, or something we can’t yet fathom. But the MLS influencer playbook will surely continue writing itself.

With determined work ethics and nimble social skills, MLS stars are positioned to keep innovating self-made stardom and bringing fans along for the journey.