Commentary

World Cup Sponsorship: Priceless?

I don’t have much time, because the World Cup is on and my home country, The Netherlands, has gotten off to a pretty amazing start. But I also follow England, Belgium, Team USA, Brazil, Japan and Germany (the last one I want to see losing, just like any other Dutchman, only to probably see them win the whole tournament). OK, I will admit I watch the whole thing beginning to end.

Professionally, I have also been very closely involved with the World Cup. I have had the pleasure to be part of the teams that built integrated marketing activities for The Coca-Cola Company and AB-InBev since the late ‘90s. Working on these events is very special, because you know you’re involved in the creation of some of the memories that will last a lifetime for consumers (if you’re from The Netherlands, that would include three lost World Cup finals!).

This year, though, most (U.S.) marketers are failing, with mostly very lame, predictable soccer advertising that is incredibly non-distinctive and same-old, same-old. I think the majority of  ads have been created from one and the same script, which goes like this: Enter one or a group of famous soccer stars, who show their incredible ball skills. Then there are fans celebrating, hugging and cheering followed by a pack shot (with or without the footballing celebrity), and we’re done. Sure, Nike animated the soccer stars -- but it's still the same as adidas. Or Gatorade. Or Head & Shoulders. Or… wait, I can’t remember anymore.

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ESPN and ABC are the official U.S. broadcasters of the World Cup. They have done a pretty good job so far, with knowledgeable commentators and punters (a global all-star former player and current manager cast). But you can see how they struggle commercially with a sport that has no “interruptions of play” like those convenient time-outs, Nascar pile-ups, and other lame excuses most American sports use to break for commercials and "messages from your local station.” (Sorry, the European in me couldn’t help himself. I promise that was the last cheap shot at American sports).

So to make up for 45 minutes of no commercial messages, broadcasters have created a 30-minute pre-game show, nearly half of which is made up of commercial messages of the variety I described earlier, plus all the “brought to you by” on-air mentions, boards and graphics littered throughout the content, and an enormous Kia logo on the desk where the presenters are sitting. Can you say “monetize”?

But you can easily skip this whole preamble of commercial overload by switching off ESPN until the match starts, instead turning to your personal screen. There are fine and minimally sponsored apps and websites which will give you all you need to know prior (and during!) the match. You want to know where Manaus is, or what Persieing is (check #persieing on Facebook or Twitter), or how the off-side rule works? Your personal screen is your friend, delivering what you want to know when you want to know it.

And herein lies the challenge for TV. Yes, it brings the audience together in very large numbers. But commercially, it does its very best to alienate us at the same time. Now excuse me while I put on my orange jersey and continue the ecstasy and agony that is the World Cup.

(Next week, we’ll examine how the sponsors are doing commercially.)

1 comment about "World Cup Sponsorship: Priceless?".
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  1. Joseph Jaffe from Evol8tion, LLC, June 16, 2014 at 10:34 a.m.

    This may be one of those "Why online? Why MSN?" moments i.e. sell the category and then sell the individual brand. With mini-victories like network Prime Time airtime, surely we are a Qatari World Cup away from 2 minute Clint Eastwood Empty Chair Chrysler commercial during The Half Time Show brought to you by...

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