For The Love Of Soccer

I love soccer. I have cried, overwhelmed with emotion at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid, where historic soccer events have taken place – like the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League finals, and of course, epic battles between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. 

But I am disappointed to see that a sport with so much history, excitement and popularity throughout the world is often disregarded in the United States simply because it’s not “American” enough. 

Debunking this myth is the fact that over 13 million American kids play youth soccer every year, which is more than any other sport in the U.S. According to a newly released report by Sporting News Media and Kantar Media, the interest in soccer is strong in the U.S. with 28% of all adults stating that they are interested in at least one of the major clubs or national competitions. For example, 26% of the U.S. population is interested in the World Cup and 23% in the MLS.  

The interest in soccer jumps in areas heavily populated by Hispanics. The Latino Influence Project, a study conducted by Wing and Experian, showed that in areas with a high density of Hispanics, non-Hispanics were eight times more likely to watch soccer. 

The media industry has undoubtedly recognized soccer’s potential – it was reported that Fox Sports paid more than $400 million to air the 2014 World Cup, while Telemundo invested about $600 million. And just recently NBC paid $250 million to broadcast the Barclays Premier League.

During the last World Cup, the final match pulled 24 million viewers across English and Spanish-language television in the U.S., and with the upcoming 2014 World Cup, the numbers are only expected to grow.

Despite these encouraging statistics, U.S. fans’ level of emotional investment is nowhere near the rest of the world’s. I propose that we – as marketing and advertising professionals – help further soccer’s popularity in the U.S. beyond the World Cup by engaging brands and sports fans alike to participate. Here’s how we can do it: 

Let’s Teach 'em

We all know advertising can change perceptions and inspire action, right? With the correct approach and a unique campaign, perceptions and attitudes can change. 

As marketers we can and should go beyond the “soccer mom” stereotype and help improve the image of soccer by teaching people more about the sport and showing the passion and excitement it breeds. 

Brands like Nike, Gatorade, Coke and Pepsi are known for their soccer-focused ads, but there is an opportunity for all brands across all categories to get in on the action.

Create Celebrities

The L.A. Galaxy did a great job of creating buzz by bringing David Beckham to Major League Soccer. But let’s go further and use American professional players in campaigns.  Brands should look to utilize U.S. superstars like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, and even female stars such as Hope Solo, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan in their marketing campaigns.  

Add Culture to the Mix

Soccer is the most multicultural sport in the U.S. – with fans that come from Latin America, Europe, Africa and more. Our duty as agents of change is to pay attention to the multiculturalism and urbanism of soccer across the country – a movement inspired by the influx of immigrants to the U.S. in the past 30 years. 

Marketers would be well inclined to shine a light on the internationalism of soccer via music and food. On the urban level, brands looking to reach hip millennials should activate at underground soccer matches, support local amateur teams and build scholarship programs for up-and-coming players.  

Local culture is also key. The Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers are playing to record-breaking crowds. Brands can utilize local cultural nuances to build buzz. For example, in Seattle, Sounders fans unite in the “March to the Match,” a 60-minute ritual that has fans chanting and walking towards their stadium. Is your brand represented?  Marketers should build off this by activating at both home and away games to spread this excitement throughout the country. Other soccer hotbeds to consider:  Los Angeles, New York and Houston. 

Soccer presents endless potential for brands. Can we be creative enough to continue opening the door to all that potential?

2 comments about "For The Love Of Soccer".
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  1. Fred Cunha from Extreme Reach, October 11, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.

    I was born and raised in Portugal so soccer is all I know. The main issue in the US is that it's not a part of the culture. Kids watch their dad watch football, baseball and basketball (hockey in some parts of the country) but not soccer. I think soccer has come a long way in the US but it will never be a "real" sport here (even if the MLS had the greatest ad campaign ever). My slogan for US soccer is "where good players come to die"...

  2. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), October 11, 2013 at 12:02 p.m.

    Well said. To be honest I think there is a culture shift underway in the US. Each recent big tournament has done better than the previous one (e.g. World Cup, Olympic Soccer, Euro, Champions League). ABC has shown semi's and finals on the weekend on their main channel instead of ESPN. During the last World Cup, I saw one morning on my trains a full color photo of Team USA on the cover of both the NYT as well as USA Today. And this summer there was a true bidding war for the Premier League broadcast rights. I think "mainstream America" is on board and we can begin to think of "soccer" (I still don't like that word...) as a main stream sport.

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