This year we conducted our 22nd Brand Keys Sports Loyalty Index. We measure all the teams for Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and the National Hockey League, with rankings that correlate very highly with viewership, purchase of licensed merchandise, and, depending on the league, fan attendance. But we haven’t measured Major League Soccer.
Don't get us wrong. We recognize that soccer is the most popular sport in the world. But in the United States, Major League Soccer has been a kind of UFO of Major League Sports; out there someplace but not actually touching down in your neighborhood!
Even if you’re a soccer fan, you have to admit that the 32 teams of the 2014 FIFA World Cup are something different than, say, the LA Galaxy or the Colorado Rapids or the Philadelphia Union. And if those names aren’t familiar to you, you’re not alone. Professional soccer is a niche sport in the United States, where the number of TV viewers for NFL games is 100 times more than any professional soccer match – even D.C. United, ranked #1 in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference, which you likely didn’t know.
But with every major U.S. brand looking for increased growth and engagement, what better venue to fuel overseas expansion opportunities than the 2014 World Cup? It’s been reported that 95 million people in the U.S. – a third of our population – watched at least 20 consecutive minutes of the 2010 World Cup, versus, Brazil – this year’s World Cup host – where 80% of the population watched at least that amount of time, with that kind of viewership trend showing up in places other than the U.S. And no surprise, but it’s expected that when the numbers come in, this year’s World Cup will be the most-watched soccer match ever, which is at the very least a doorway for brand engagement whether, it turns out, they are official FIFA sponsors or not.
Survey of World Cup Viewers
In a survey conducted June 19th through the 23rd among 1,212 U.S. viewers of any of the matches, 875 (72%) of them indicated that they would support brands that supported teams or players they are engaged with. When asked about which brand commercials (on TV or online) they had been most engaged with, the top-10 brands mentioned are:
8. Beats by Dre
Interestingly, not all the brands that made the list are “official” FIFA World Cup sponsors.
Ranked #1, Gatorade is an official sponsor of soccer – U.S. Soccer, the governing body of soccer in the United States, but not a FIFA sponsor. Number 3 Nike, does sponsor teams, but isn’t an official FIFA sponsor either, so another example of effective ambush marketing. Beats by Dre isn’t an official sponsor of World Cup Soccer, in fact so much not a sponsor that FIFA banned players from wearing their headphones in any stadia. The “official” FIFA World Cup sponsor is SONY, which didn’t make the list.
As official sponsors pay a lot for their sponsorships, they’re all looking for some sort of ROI: exposure, increased consumer awareness and engagement and, ultimately, increased sales. Marketing rights sales for this year's World Cup are the second largest source of income for the event right after television rights.
So in a move similar to the London Olympics’ “Brand Police,” World Cup non-sponsors are having their names taped over in the Brazil stadia. Barney Ronay, sports writer at The Guardian, tweeted the following, “The brand name of the hand dryer in the Arena Sao Paulo toilets is taped over in case you see it and decide to buy one instead of a Coke.”
So is it worth all the time, effort and money for a brand? It seems to be when you count the number of sponsorship renewals already signed. Adidas will be a sponsor until 2030, the next four World Cups. Coke, Hyundai-Kia, and VISA, have all signed up through 2022.
With all the brouhaha, will this be the year where soccer goes mainstream in the United States? World Cup fever seems to be everywhere, but some of the pundits suggest that when the World Cup is over, soccer will just fade away in the U.S. too.
Highly engaged brands are a different story. They’ll be as bright as ever.