New No. 1 Sport In The U.S. -- Soccer?
1. Fans: According to published research, there are more than 75 million international soccer fans in the United States. At a growth rate of 52% and with an increase of devoted fans since 2005, it's the fastest-growing avid fan base in the country. Generally, soccer fans are also considered to be valuable and ad-friendly consumers. More receptive consumers translate to more sponsor dollars, which we've already seen in the case of marketing powerhouses McDonald's and Budweiser becoming FIFA World Cup Sponsors.
2. Appointment Television: The U.S. average household delivery of international soccer events in 2008-09 was more than double versus the previous 12 years. Look no further than the UEFA Champions League final, which for the first time ever, surpassed the Super Bowl as the world's most-watched annual sporting event (approximately 109 million viewers). Sure, it's a global number, but there's a reason Roger Goodell is playing NFL games in London, the NHL plays games in Sweden and the NBA is likely to welcome its first international owner.
3. Media Rights: When ESPN gets involved, you know it means business. Ranked by Fast Company as the most innovative company in the sports industry, ESPN recognizes the growth potential for soccer and even acquired the rights to broadcast English Premier League games for the first time last year, in addition to the World Cup rights for 2010.
4. Media Distribution: According to ESPN, all 64 matches will be aired live and in high definition on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, as well as extensive coverage on ESPN360.com and ESPN Mobile TV. Look for the World Cup to be a major player as a part of the ESPN360.com rebranding to "ESPN 3."
5. Media Viewership Trends: Looking back, the 2006 World Cup had a massive multicultural audience. More than 1.3 billion fans watched worldwide, with more than 118 million in the United States. That figure is comparable to either March Madness or Super Bowl viewership, and it's even more than the World Series or BCS.
6. Sponsorship: While the list of World Cup partners and sponsors is impressive, we're more intrigued by the European league deals. For example, the biggest sports sponsorship deal in the world happened last summer when Chicago-based insurer AON Corporation committed more than $125 million over four years to be the new primary sponsor of English soccer club, Manchester United, beginning this year. Why? Because of the global audience. Think about it. More than 300 million people worldwide, claim to be fans of Manchester United -- the equivalent of every man, woman and child in America.
7. Video Game Sales: Earlier this year, EA revealed that FIFA 10 has sold nearly 10 million units since its launch last fall. And while Madden is king in the United States, FIFA 10 is the industry's top selling sports game worldwide. With no official release date yet announced for FIFA 11, expect it to hit stores in the fall, right in the sweet spot before Christmas and right after the World Cup final in July.
8. The Youth Movement: The top sustainable sports in our country have massive financial interests at the youth development level. Baseball, basketball and football are all considered in the group of sports labeled America's pastime -- yet the amount of money and talent being poured into today's youth soccer is on a trajectory of growth unlike any other. For example, US Youth Soccer, the nation's largest youth sports organization, grew from 100,000 players in 1974 to more than 1 million in the early '90s. Today, US Youth Soccer registers annually over 3.2 million players, ages 5 to 19.
9. Brand as Owner: Red Bull is shaking up the sports landscape and MLS has allowed it the freedom to so. With Red Bull Arena, the new 25,000-seat soccer stadium in Harrison, N.J., opening just last month, it is already considered the premier soccer stadium in the United States.
10. Celebrity Status: Tiger, Peyton, Kobe, LeBron -- sports stars are the new global icons. Soccer also has its shares of global super stars, e.g., David Beckham and Ronaldinho. In 2010, look for opportunities for new stars to breakout and/or achieve superstar status in the United States, such as Cristiano Ronaldo. Last summer Ronaldo was transferred to Real Madrid from Manchester United for nearly $132 million, a staggering number for any athlete in any sport. Nike, Castrol and Armani are among just a few of his global sponsors.
A common thread in all of the above is the global nature of sports, especially evident with Futbol (soccer). I've always felt that modern sports marketing is a powerful global communication platform between "fans of sport" and corporations.
Most recently, the increased viewership of the Vancouver Olympics over past Winter Olympics demonstrated the increasing appetite of the global sports audience. That's a trend we expect to continue in 2010 with soccer fans and sponsors reaping the benefits.