MLS Launches Innovation Lab to Help Sports Startups

Major League Soccer (MLS) has recently unveiled the MLS Innovation Lab, a pioneering initiative aimed at revolutionizing the sports industry. This program is focused on discovering and integrating state-of-the-art startups and technologies. Its primary goal is to cultivate elite athletes, elevate the fan experience, and fuel the League’s ongoing expansion. This move further cements MLS’s status as a trendsetter in sports innovation.

In a groundbreaking move, MLS set a precedent as the first major sports league to establish a comprehensive digital streaming partnership globally. This ten-year collaboration with Apple has transformed the way soccer enthusiasts engage with the sport, offering a unified platform for viewing all matches without any blackout restrictions.

The MLS Season Pass features high-definition live match broadcasts and a wealth of exclusive content, catering to a young, tech-savvy, and international audience. The 2023 season marked the debut of the Leagues Cup, a collaborative effort with Liga MX and Concacaf, representing the first in-season tournament by a major North American professional league.

innovation lab mls helping startups in sports

MLS is also pioneering in developing advanced live data feeds with Sportec, enhancing the MLS Season Pass. Historically, MLS has led the charge in implementing video review in soccer and was the first major men’s league in North America to resume play amidst the COVID-19 pandemic with the 2020 MLS is Back tournament.

The MLS Innovation Lab is a direct outcome of the League’s progressive vision. It offers a unique opportunity for companies to test their innovations in real-world scenarios within the MLS ecosystem. Events like the MLS NEXT FEST, Generation Adidas Cup, MLS NEXT Cup, and the MLS NEXT All-Star Game, among others, serve as platforms for this testing.

The breadth of testing possibilities is unmatched, with thousands of matches annually across MLS NEXT Pro, MLS NEXT, and MLS GO. Each year, a select group of promising companies will be invited to engage in this exceptional environment, expediting the development of groundbreaking products and technologies. Participants will access MLS’s resources and network directly, facilitating accelerated growth.

After a thorough selection process involving hundreds of companies, six global firms were chosen for the program’s first group. This inaugural phase commenced at MLS NEXT FEST in Arizona, where these companies began demonstrating and testing their products in a live environment.

The selected companies include:

  • A-Champs from Spain, offers a cognitive and technical training system suitable for athletes at all levels.
  • CAMB.AI from the UAE, is an AI dubbing platform that translates content instantly while preserving the original voice and tone.
  • Fabric from the US, specializing in gamified mixed reality experiences that enhance fan loyalty at live events.
  • Fitogether from South Korea, a FIFA Preferred Provider for Wearable Player Tracking, known for its precise GPS-based performance tracking system.
  • Reeplayer from the U.S., provides an AI camera for recording, live streaming, and monetizing soccer footage.
  • STAIDIUM U.S., featuring AI and 5G-powered cameras with an OTT platform for live broadcasts and advanced analytics.

Gary Stevenson, Deputy Commissioner of MLS and President of Soccer United Marketing, emphasizes the League’s commitment to being a beacon of innovation in sports. The 2024 cohort of the MLS Innovation Lab highlights some of the most promising tech startups globally, with high expectations for their impact on the sport.

After completing their testing phases, participating companies will present their findings to MLS executives and owners. The most promising companies may secure long-term strategic partnerships and investment opportunities from the League.

With the 2026 World Cup on the horizon, soccer is in for great growth ahead across North America.

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