Brand marketers listen up. The arrival of Landon Donovan and Abby Wambach in the distinguished U.S. Soccer legends club is a potential game changer for soccer marketing and brand activation.
As someone who has been in the soccer business for a long time I’ve been fortunate to observe first hand the impact many U.S. Soccer legends have had on the game of soccer, and the business of soccer marketing in the U.S. Messrs Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, Marcelo Balboa, Eric Wynalda, Tony Meola, John Harkes, Brian McBride and co. embodied the ‘90’s rise of the red, white, and blue and drove MLS through its infant years. On the women’s side Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy. Kristine Lilly, Joy Fawcett, and Brandi Chastain are iconic pioneers not just of soccer, but of women’s sport. Each is a tremendous ambassador for the game and also for the corporate brands they represent.
Landon and Abby, though, are different. They are different for the simple fact that they played during the “modern era” of soccer in the U.S. An era when soccer was readily accessible on TV and the internet. Their highlight moments have been viewed and debated by millions and their stardom transcended soccer into the celebrity mainstream. Landon and Abby are the first true mainstream American soccer superstars. They have a marketing platform greater than even the iconic Mia Hamm enjoys.
At this point in the article it’s probably appropriate to pause for a disclaimer. GESM does not represent or have any direct relationships with Landon Donovan or Abby Wambach. We derive no direct benefit from their promotion and the opinions expressed in this article are simply that – our opinions.
If you are a brand developing a soccer campaign, personality endorsements is one of the marketing assets you will likely consider adding to the mix. Aligning with an active U.S. Soccer or MLS player may well be the right move. They are the stars of the moment and could be the logical (and correct) fit for your brand message. But before you jump, I suggest you take a moment to think about the potential opportunity with Legends Landon and Abby. Here’s why…
- They are relevant to Millenials. Millenials are soccer’s driving demographic and this generation has grown up with and been heavily influenced by LD and Abby. Many probably had their posters hanging in the bedroom and a strong personal connection exists.
- They reach beyond soccer fans. Their mainstream celebrity star power can help your brand message reach beyond just the core soccer consumer. Scale is important.
- They have an active voice in social. One of the first questions a brand will ask these days is “what’s their social reach?” The chart below speaks for itself.
- They are accessible. Access is an important consideration for many brands looking to provide exclusive experiences to customers. Often it is difficult to access active players in person, particularly during high profile sporting moments that require an athlete to focus exclusively on the game. By comparison, a Legends #1 job is to take care of your needs.
- They will maintain a high public profile. Between media work, public appearances, and promoting their personal causes and passions, they will continue to have high profile platforms and public exposure. When major soccer moments (World Cup, Gold Cup, Olympics, Copa America Centenario) role around you can be sure they wont be far from the public eye.
- They are solid characters. This probably should have been point #1, but in the modern world of sports star scandals, you want to be comfortable in the values and integrity of the personalities with whom you align. Both LD and Abby are well respected and grounded personalities.
- They are not for sale to anyone. When you reach a certain level of status, you can be selective about what brands you align with. This is a good thing for a brand to know.
One of the things I love about working at the intersection of soccer and marketing is that these worlds are constantly evolving. Who would have thought two years ago that the biggest soccer event in the U.S. in 2016 would be Copa Centenario? Equally how much time did we spend two years ago thinking about augmented reality marketing applications? Times change and the soccer and marketing worlds evolve.
In our opinion, the retirement of Landon and Abby represents yet another significant development in the soccer marketing world. Should every brand run out to sign Landon or Abby? Of course not – it has to be the right fit for the brand campaign. But their newly found status as “Legends” make them an interesting new addition to the consideration set.