FIFA World Cup is now underway…I begin this post as I’m watching the opening match between Mexico and the Republic of South Africa. The scene is as electric as the hype has suggested it would be. Soccer is a unique sport, one that still doesn’t register completely with the rank-and-file American sports fan.
The question that is always asked leading up to the quadrennial competition – followed passionately the world over – is, “What will World Cup mean for soccer in the United States?” It’s a fair and logical question. But we feel the answer is not so simple. To be sure, there are plenty of Americans who really enjoy the world’s most popular sport. But, that hasn’t necessarily translated to love for the North American professional league, Major League Soccer (MLS). TV ratings compared to those of other “major” professional sports leagues remain inconsequential and attendance in many league markets is substandard.
I pick up writing this post as I’m viewing the US-England match. US getting outplayed, but tied 1-1 due to the gaffe by English keeper and an exceptional performance by US keeper, Tim Howard. ESPN, at direction of content chief and noted soccer-phile, John Skipper, has purchased a large amount of soccer rights (including World Cup) for the sports powerhouse. But, MLS isn’t exactly the feature property within ESPN’s soccer portfolio (http://bit.ly/9z28) Perhaps more telling, English Premier League, generally regarded as the highest quality league in the world, reportedly does higher numbers on ESPN among American viewers than MLS.
With hockey, basketball and baseball, all sports that are played to some degree outside North America, the US-based leagues are the top rung of the sport. The world’s best baseball, basketball and hockey players end up playing in Major League Baseball, the NBA, and NHL, respectively. Not so in soccer, where the top American players will jump at a chance to play in Europe, even if only on “loan.” MLS is simply not at the top of the soccer food chain. That doesn’t mean MLS can’t grow. It doesn’t mean that MLS is not a marketable property. It doesn’t mean that sponsors should avoid tying into MLS if they feel they can build a connection to the fan base. And, it doesn’t mean MLS leadership doesn’t know what it’s doing (we happen to think very highly of MLS Commissioner, Don Garber). It simply means that MLS as a league is not on a par in terms of importance with other North American sports leagues and likely won’t be for decades.
Of course, it could also have something to do with the high incidents of fake shin injuries and the annoying hum of thousands of vuvuzelas.
World Cup Activation Highlights
Let’s talk World Cup sponsorship for a minute. DeepThoughts is very impressed with a few activation programs from FIFA World Cup sponsors. Top sponsors of what many consider the world’s largest sports event pay up to $125 million to associate with the property. In addition to category exclusive marketing rights, the top tier players receive camera-visible signage that can be seen the world over to hundreds of millions of viewers.
The Budweiser United campaign that AB-InBev has put together for World Cup is a gem. Talk about going to the heart of the global beer drinking audience using a most treasured sports icon. The “reality show-influenced” Bud House YouTube promotion is a great extension and a brilliant approach to showcasing Budweiser as an International favorite. http://www.youtube.com/budunited
McDonald’s is executing its Player Escort program for the third FIFA World Cup in a row. A showcase for the importance of children to its business all over the world, the Player Escort program gives kids a chance of a lifetime, to walk hand-in-hand with soccer stars during match introductions. Each participating country is able to determine how it will select the children, ages 6-10, giving the program added local relevance. http://bit.ly/9ZyzGS
Of course, Adidas and Nike are facing off again as has become customary. Adidas is an official partner of FIFA World Cup while Nike maintains official status relationships with several national teams and some of the world’s top stars. Both brands invest heavily in soccer on an International basis and both are spending heavily to promote their association with the sport during World Cup. Nike’s “Write the Future” spot is an epic. If you haven’t seen it you need to. (http://bit.ly/aqhNtQ) Sure, it’s over the top like much of Nike’s advertising, but it delivers, and connects the stars with the passion felt by the countrymen they represent.