It’s finally here. And while faithful fans have been waiting patiently for the last four years, new ones are piling on, inspired by everything from “Ted Lasso” to the electrifying performance of women’s basketball during March Madness.
Marketers hope to share in some of the glory. That includes huge expectations for the U.S. team, which will try to become the first ever to win three straight World Cups. (It beat the Netherlands in the 2019 final and Japan in 2015.)
“The Women’s World Cup is always a big deal,” says Basia Wojcik, vice president of sports at the Marketing Arm, an Omnicom agency specializing in sports and entertainment.
“Audiences in the U.S. and worldwide crave the big sporting events: the World Cup, the Olympics, the Super Bowl. People look forward to these pinnacles in the sports calendar.”
But this year, it feels bigger than ever. The audience for soccer is growing fast, with Major League Soccer ratings up 16%, and the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup drawing record ratings. That included games the U.S. played in, of course, but also non-U.S. matches, signaling that maybe America is ready to become a soccer nation.
That upward trend is even more pronounced for women’s play. Viewership of National Women’s Soccer League championship games rose 435% last year, reports Samba TV.
Ratings for women’s basketball during the NCAA March Madness games stunned observers, climbing 81% in 2022. They rose another 87% this year. And the Final Four of the women’s games drew 9.9 million viewers, a record.
The popularity of women’s sports is “on a very sharp increase, which is incredible to see,” Wojcik tells Marketing Daily.
And while much of the press and chatter has been from a sports perspective, a broader cultural element is driving the buzz. “There’s a lot of celebrity involvement and ownership,” she says. “There’s 'Ted Lasso.'”
Easily recognized superstars, like Megan Rapinoe, also help. Wojcik says more women are also making their mark as sports commentators, further fueling a shift.
FIFA is already touting this year’s tournament as the “world’s biggest stage.” And there are plenty of firsts. The games are happening in Australia and New Zealand, marking the first time two countries have hosted. It’s also the first time the games have included 32 teams, up from 24.
“For global brands, few environments match the expansiveness of the soccer universe,” writes Dipanjan Chatterjee, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, in his tournament blog. “It’s the common denominator among 210 countries where it’s played; it unites the world (except during games when it furiously divides). Soccer lets you go broad and deep, targeting very specific segments.”
That includes the Hispanic market and brands targeting younger women, he adds, with Gen Z women 1.6 times as likely to have World Cup fever as women 45 and older.
Endemic advertisers have had years to plan and will have various social and experiential components to their campaigns.
“They’ve all had this built into the calendar,” says Wojcik.
And they are happily showing off their roster of World Cup athletes.
Adidas is a sponsor. Its “Play until they can’t look away” stars Alessia Russo (England), Lena Oberdorf (Germany) and Mary Fowler (Australia), with a little David Beckham and Lionel Messi tossed in.
Russo in Adidas' ad
Under Armour is celebrating with a three-minute rap battle.
Nike has turned Rapinoe into an anime superhero, woken a long-slumbering dad up from a 23-year nap, encouraged Sophia Smith to give other players nightmares, and recruited a cast of literally thousands to prove Norway’s Ada Hegerberg is uncatchable.
Brands from Unilever, a sponsor, will represent in a big way, including Rexona, Dove, Lifebuoy and Lux. So will Calm, as well as sponsors Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa.
Wojcik’s early read is that more tech companies are moving into the soccer space globally.
Google, for example, just launched a series of features through Google Search and Google TV to help fans stay connected, including an engaging mini-game. And it promises a new TV spot showing how Google Pixel’s portfolio of devices can fix photos for fans. It also features Rapinoe in its My Game in My Words series, a partnership with The Athletic.
Wojcik will try and maintain her objective marketing demeanor. “We sign talent globally," she notes. "But the non-business side of me will be cheering for Team USA. My heart will be red, white, and blue."