Now that the 2014 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup is all but a fading memory, worldwide soccer fans will have to wait another four years to get their next global fútbol fix when World Cup 2018 opens in St. Petersburg, Russia. While this year’s World Cup host country may still be licking its wounds following a brutal loss in the semifinals to Germany, which ultimately beat out Argentina for this year’s title, there’s still much for Brazil to celebrate. In fact, many of this year’s World Cup “losers” may turn out to be winners after all.
Despite initial concerns about Brazil’s preparedness to host the world’s largest sporting event and early reports of localized protests, the 2014 FIFA World Cup largely was a success for Brazil, at least from an organizational standpoint, simply because there weren’t any major hosting snafus or unexpected complications. Crime was reportedly low, and Brazil’s billion-dollar investments in shoring up national infrastructure and stadiums appeared to have paid off, with a boom in tourism and minimal organizational glitches. The impact on the future of Brazil’s national soccer team and even the outcome of the country’s upcoming presidential election may still be up in the air, though.
While the United States lacks the same deeply entrenched soccer traditions as other soccer-obsessed nations, the 2014 World Cup ignited unprecedented passion among American soccer fans. According to World Cup organizers, Americans made up 20% of all traffic to FIFA apps and websites, which ordinarily get little love Stateside. Over the course of the games, 36.7 million uniques from the U.S. visited FIFA.com or used the FIFA app, representing more than 11% of the U.S. population. What’s more, FIFA reported that U.S. soccer fans spent a collective 67 years and 217 days of time on the World Cup website and app. Clearly, technology played a prominent and critical role in the success of this year’s World Cup, and FIFA.com delivered. From its nicely designed website to its well-orchestrated social media campaign (which included Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube), FIFA did a fine job this year keeping worldwide fans engaged, entertained, and informed.
Soccer Broadcasts and Video Streams
According to content delivery network provider Akamai Technologies, which worked with more than 50 World Cup online streaming rights holders worldwide, this year’s tournament was the biggest video content streaming event on record, hitting a peak of 5.7 terabits per second in online streaming traffic during the U.S. versus Belgium match on July 1. In the U.S., a country not traditionally known to have as rabid a soccer following compared to other countries, ESPN and Univision reported a record-breaking 5.3 million unique viewers across all platforms that carried the U.S. versus Belgium match. Globally, 24 million unique users watched 15 million hours of content through FIFA’s multimedia services solutions alone, and worldwide soccer fans spent a 10,408 years and 261 days engaged on FIFA’s digital platforms.
Belgian Soccer Fans
The Belgian national soccer team might have failed to advance to the finals, but one Belgian World Cup fan came out a winner. Photos of Axelle Despiegelaere, a 17-year-old fan from Belgium who was dubbed “the sexiest fan at the 2014 World Cup,” made the rounds on Twitter and quickly went viral, landing her on the front page of newspapers worldwide and securing her a modeling contract with L’Oréal. Alas, Despiegelaere’s 15 minutes of fame quickly expired when pictures of the teen posing next to a dead animal, with a rifle in her hands, surfaced on her Facebook page, leading L’Oréal to sever ties with her.
U.S. Interest in Soccer
While it’s unlikely that soccer will soon replace baseball, basketball or football as America’s national sports obsession, enthusiasm over the 2014 World Cup helped to recruit new fans and rekindle interest among Americans in the world’s most popular sport. According to FIFA, more than 200,000 2014 World Cup tickets were bought by U.S. residents, second only to Brazilian ticket holders. That’s a 35% increase in U.S. ticket sales over the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Facebook and Twitter activity from U.S. soccer fans reportedly broke records, further demonstrating a renewed interest from Americans in the sport.
The U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team may have failed to make it to the finals, but goalkeeper Tim Howard proved you don’t always have to win to become a national hero. Howard became America’s favorite soccer player thanks to an astonishing 16 saves during the U.S. versus Belgium match. Social media exploded with the hashtag #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave, with 9.1. million tweets about the match and 1.8 million mentions of Howard, who gained more than half a million followers on Twitter during the World Cup. Whether Howard will be able (or even want) to capitalize on his sudden fame is yet to be seen.
Marketers (especially U.S.-based marketers) should take note: global soccer mania is on the rise, and whether fans are accessing content via traditional broadcast or digital channels, there are a lot of eyeballs to reach. After all, 3.2 billion soccer fans around the world can’t be wrong.