Psychologists generally believe there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, fear, bargaining, acceptance.
Sadly, defeat against Trinidad & Tobago last Tuesday night meant U.S. Soccer fans across America were kicked straight into this Kübler-Ross model for dealing with emotional loss. The same can be said for brand marketers prepared to invest and leverage next summer’s soccer spectacle.
If only this were all as easy as Homer makes it. D’oh!
There’s no sugarcoating it – a World Cup without the USMNT will just not be the same.
Gone are the scenes of 20,000 red, white, and blue-clad fans at a Chicago watch party in Grant Park. Gone is the Entertainment Tonight feature on Beyoncé’s new-found love of Christian Pulisic. Gone are the half-a-million likes and retweets of our President’s good luck message to the US Team. Gone is the opportunity for a US player to break the internet with a legendary moment in the vein of ‘Landon vs. Algeria’, or ‘Timmy vs. Belgium’.
As soccer fans, we’re as perplexed as each of you. As soccer marketers, though, we’ve huddled to present you with our eleven most important considerations in this post-elimination reality:
- FOX and Telemundo aren’t going anywhere. Having wrestled the broadcast rights away from ESPN and Univision, World Cup 2018 is a big deal for both FOX and Telemundo. An absence of the U.S will cause a shift in programming and promotional plans for sure, as well as a drop-in ad revenue, but don’t think either network is about to shortchange their maiden World Cup voyages. FOX, for example, has already stated that more than 33 games will be aired on big FOX over-the-air channel, a commitment that represents more than the last four World Cups combined on ABC/ESPN.
- The World Cup is bigger than the US Team. Total ESPN/Univision tournament viewership (all 64 matches) for the 2014 FIFA World Cup was 469 million. While the U.S. was clearly the individual team ratings juggernaut, the U.S. only featured in only 4 matches. The remaining 60 matches delivered 86% of the total event audience. For comparison, a whopping 58% of total FOX/Telemundo viewership for the 52 matches of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was generated by the U.S. Team’s seven-match tournament-winning run. Let’s hope the U.S. women don’t follow in the path of men in 2019.
- The cleats still fit…so lace ‘em up. World Cup soccer was a strategic fit for your brand ten days ago, right? Then guess what, it’s still a strategic fit today. Most every sought-after attribute of the tournament hasn’t changed, neither have the demographics of its core fan. The absence of some casual observers will impact reach but the fundamental reasons to believe in World Cup soccer still remain.
- Soccer fans are worldly. Soccer is a global game and soccer fans in America are global creatures. Did-you-know that thirteen matches not involving the U.S. from the 2010 + 2014 FIFA World Cups drew more than 10 million viewers? The way fans follow this sport has no borders, with America routinely being a top viewership market for England’s Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga – homes to some of the World Cup’s biggest stars. Walk onto any youth soccer field and you’re guaranteed to see international soccer jerseys everywhere. Soccer fans in America don’t need to be introduced to the international stars on stage in the World Cup – they already know and adore them.
- Casual observers know these World Cup icons, too. Star power matters, particularly to the younger generations, and soccer’s biggest names have transcended the sport across America. The five most popular athletes in the U.S. (based on U.S. Facebook data) are LeBron James (NBA), Tom Brady (NFL), Lionel Messi (La Liga / soccer), Neymar Jr (Ligue 1 / soccer), and Cristiano Ronaldo (La Liga / soccer). World Cup locker rooms are akin to Hollywood red carpets for soccer – it’s likely FOX and Telemundo will double down on these ‘A-list’ athletes even more than originally planned to engage the widest possible audience.
- World Cup remains a multicultural marketing powerhouse. There is arguably no nation on Earth more patriotic than America. Yet, everyone has a heritage somewhere beyond our borders. The NY Times said it well, “Soccer has become the sport by which Americans most passionately express their patriotism.” – whether it be for the U.S. or their country of origin. World Cup has always been seen by many a brand marketer as an opportunity to tap into the purchasing power of the U.S. Hispanic audience. Multicultural marketers understand the dynamic of Hispanic American duality and while we won’t see the stars and stripes next summer, make no mistake the passion for Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, etc. will be there for all to see. With 82% of the 55 million Hispanics in the U.S. hailing from countries rich in soccer culture, this audience alone represents tens of millions of fans.
- Global is cool. So soccer is global, and America is a melting pot – ok got it. But there’s a third element to this story that marketers should not overlook. Soccer has embraced globalism as an authentic point of difference in America. GESM’s 2017 Fan Survey revealed that 81% of millennial soccer fans agree that the international nature soccer is a major part of the sport’s appeal. When interviewed about the 2014 FIFA World Cup, NBA superstar Kobe Brant said “It’s the NBA Finals times 10 because you’re putting it on a global stage. You’re seeing people from different cultural backgrounds, speaking different languages, coming together through the sport of soccer.” Like the Olympics, World Cup puts globalism on a pedestal, and tapping into this cool international essence could be your point of connection.
- The biggest millennial marketing happening of the year. Of the 75 million18-34-year-olds in America, 42% are multicultural. Given the role soccer likely plays in their own culture, and the value they place on cultural experiences outside of their own, World Cup marketing is an absolute bullseye for authentic brand connections and the scale is significant. From an age perspective, the average World Cup viewer in 2014 was 38 years – considerably younger than the NBA Finals (43 years), Super Bowl (44), Stanley Cup (47), World Series (54) and Olympics (55). The average age of core soccer fans skews even younger at 34 years. If you want to catch Millennial in 2018 (which many a brand does), then there’s nothing better than a months’ worth of World Cup honey.
- If the summer matters – soccer matters. The NBA Finals are over and the dog days of MLB loom large. Big time international soccer tournaments have always seized on this gap in the sporting calendar and staked a claim to the summer months – but every four years, during a World Cup cycle, soccer matters even more! Throughout June and July, the World Cup will be center stage providing plenty of opportunities to summer-relevant categories such as beer, real estate, ice cream, grilling, garden and lawn, and electronics.
- A digital marketing catwalk. if the Super Bowl is the biggest showcase for TV creative, then the World Cup has arguably become the marketer’s catwalk for digital. In 2014, 97 brands created video content around the event from long-form epic creations by Nike and Beats to quick hit ‘snackable’ Vines (remember those). If digital and social aren’t a huge component of your overall marketing plans then you’ve misread the landscape. Six of the ten most talked about sporting events in the U.S. on Twitter in 2014 were World Cup matches, both U.S. and non-U.S. games. Attention digital marketers – you need to bring your A-game next summer because we will all be watching.
- It’s time to pivot. There’s no denying that the historic events of October 10th served up an awkward curve ball to brand marketers planning to leverage next summer’s soccer spectacle. But we are used to change and the need to make marketing pivots based on new developments. In this moment of “so, what’s next?” for World Cup planning, we couldn’t disagree more with our friend Homer Simpson.
With uncertainty comes opportunity. We hope you’ll leave the door wide open for World Cup activity in 2018 and – should you need an assist – believe we are well positioned to help you score.