With Booming Ratings, Professional Soccer Will Again Try To Make Headway With U.S. TV Advertisers

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.

Tags: sports, tv
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1 comment about "With Booming Ratings, Professional Soccer Will Again Try To Make Headway With U.S. TV Advertisers".
  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc , June 26, 2014 at 6:27 p.m.
    Interesting piece, Wayne. For years soccer promoters and other interested parties have tried to get America interested in the sport to the extent that they would watch an extended "season" of games as well as the finals, in which case, there would be ongoing TV network or big time cable coverage and lots of ad dollars would pour in. The problem is that whenever this is tried, the numbers are not high enough during the "regular season" to warrant anything but secondary channel TV coverage and the big ad dollar haul doesn't come. Of course, things may be different this time but changes need to be made to make it work in America. It's not just a matter of low scoring. As you noted, American audiences relate not only to teams but also to individual stars or personalities. Unfortunately, the way soccer is presented on the viewer's screen, most of the action is seen in far off shots featuring little fellows running about and kicking the ball, passing it around or blocking it. There aren't enough close-ups to turn these little figures into recognizable people. If you recall, that's the way we used to watch football in the 1950s. Then, along came the struggling AFL which introduced hand-held camera men and numerous close-ups of the action, the huddles and the reactions of the coaches and teammates on the sidelines. That worked and in no time the other networks copied this approach, bringing the viewer almost onto the field and greatly raising involvement. The soccer guys might want to study this lesson and note how most of our pro sports are televised in terms of truly engaging the audience. Perhaps they can borrow some of these techniques and help more Americans "connect" with soccer on a personal level.