World Cup ratings bigger than all the recent NBA Final games say much about how soccer interest has grown in the U.S.
But what does this mean to U.S. TV advertisers, especially in the three years between World Cup tournaments?
While interest in Major League Soccer has grown steadily, it’s still nowhere near audience numbers for the NFL, Major League Baseball, or the NBA for regular season games.
Big-time soccer television resides mostly in Europe, where professionals like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. play. While a number of U.S. networks air European games, the inherent time differences don’t lend themselves to large marketing dollars.
NBCSN, though, put a lot of time and effort into its recent telecasts of the Barclays Premier League from the U.K. Also helped by promotional exposure via the network’s NHL telecasts, ratings were up significantly overall.
Other U.S. soccer programmers, from broadcaster Univision to upstart cable network beIN Sport, also point to growing interest. Overall, some 21 U.S. networks -- including ESPN, Fox, NBC and Univision -- aired 3,891 soccer telecasts last year.
There are, of course, issues over when and where ads run since soccer offers no natural break in the action for commercials. Some programmers resort to split screens, push-back video, and other devices to show marketing messages.
Recently, marketers have found sponsored on-screen hashtags to be a good form of messaging that connects with fans.
Nielsen estimates that total U.S. television advertising on soccer events rose from $265 million in 2010 to $378 million in 2013 – an increase of 43%. But those numbers are still a fraction of what the big three U.S. sports pull in.
Yet one cannot deny the eye-popping viewing numbers for the World Cup. The entertaining U.S.- Portugal contest drew 18.2 million viewers to ESPN and 6.7 million viewers to Univision.
ESPN’s audience alone set a record for a soccer game on American television. The previous leader, with 17.9 million viewers, was ABC’s telecast of the 1999 Women’s World Cup final, won by the United States.
So you have to figure TV marketers must again be looking hard at soccer -- if they haven’t been over the last several years -- as a way to lower their overall media cost average for live sports events.
Sports TV critics might warn that you need big stars -- as with pro football, baseball, and basketball -- to galvanize viewers to move a sport to a bigger stage. But more important, you need the right advertising formats – whether traditional TV, digital or otherwise -- to see bigger advertising revenue gains.