2022 will prove to be another milestone year for the soccer industry. If it feels like we say that every year, you’re probably right and that speaks to the sport’s continued growth. As fans, there’s a lot to be excited about. As marketers, there are plenty of storylines to keep an eye on as you plan your approach to the year. To point you in the right direction, here are fifteen soccer marketing stories to watch for in 2022.
The first-ever winter World Cup
Without a doubt, the biggest global sporting event in 2022 is the FIFA World Cup – the first to be held in winter and the first to be held in the Middle East. The winter season also happens to be the busiest time of the American sports calendar with the NFL, college football, NBA, college basketball, and others taking place simultaneously. Fútbol to football on Thanksgiving will happen, which means the ratings and viewership numbers have great potential.
2026 FIFA World Cup host cities to be announced
This may not have an immediate impact as the tournament isn’t for another four years, but the selection of 2026 FIFA World Cup host cities will undoubtedly be one of the more impactful stories in 2022. The announcement is expected to come in early 2022 following FIFA’s site visits across North America last year. 17 cities in the U.S. are vying for 11 spots – which cities will make the final cut?
Additional reading: Predicting the 2026 FIFA World Cup host cities
Brands look to soccer for growth
We just talked about it being a FIFA World Cup year, which means the ability for brands to leverage the sport to reach soccer’s young, tech savvy audience is at its apex. Digital and on-air cross-promotion across multiple sports during the FIFA World Cup presents an interesting opportunity for brands. Some brands may even see the 2022 FIFA World Cup as an opportunity to begin a four-year journey toward the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
MLS to announce new broadcast deal
In late 2021, the Premier League announced NBC would retain the league’s broadcast rights for the next six years at a value of more than $2.7 billion. This valuation will factor heavily into the value MLS receives from networks during its bidding process. Will ESPN and FOX Sports retain rights? Will a new network enter the mix? How do streaming and local blackouts factor in? What role will gambling and gamification integration play? These are all questions we expect to be answered sooner rather than later in 2022 with the new deal(s) to begin in 2023.
Additional reading: The future of soccer broadcasting
The Queen City joins MLS
After being awarded an expansion franchise in late 2019 and unveiling the club crest and branding in 2020, Charlotte will see its first MLS action when league play begins in late February. Charlotte FC will play its games at Bank of America Stadium, a venue it shares with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers thanks to owner, David Tepper. The league recently announced ticket sales for the club’s first home game are over 50,000.
Additional reading: Examining the top soccer markets in America
A new professional league emerges
Sitting on the third level of the American soccer pyramid, MLS Next Pro was formed to create an academy-to-first-team pathway for players in the MLS system. 20 of the league’s teams are affiliated with MLS clubs. The only team not affiliated with MLS in the league’s inaugural season is one with whom long-term fans of American soccer should be familiar. Rochester Rhinos, one of the most important non-MLS franchises in the past few decades, returns; however, the franchise carries a new name – Rochester New York FC. The team is, in part, owned by England and Leicester City forward, Jamie Vardy.
NWSL undergoes internal change
In the wake of scandals that rocked the league in 2021, NWSL formed an executive committee to manage oversight of the league’s front office operations. The committee hired an interim CEO and will search for a permanent commissioner. Several investigations and reform initiatives were launched to better serve and protect the NWSL players. It will be interesting to see how these changes continue to shape the league moving forward. Separately, the 2022 season will be the first in which U.S. Soccer no longer pays the salaries of the U.S. Women’s National Team players in NWSL.
NWSL adds Southern California presence
The NWSL enters the 2022 season having the most teams in its nine-season history. After more than a year of building sponsor and ownership support since its founding, Angel City FC will finally play its first game at Banc of California Stadium. A few hours down the Pacific Coast Highway, San Diego Wave FC will also debut this season with newly-acquired Alex Morgan leading the on-field charge and Jill Ellis leading the front office charge.
USL sees plenty of changes
In the Championship, Detroit City FC joins the league by way of NISA. Monterey Bay FC also joins the league for the 2022 season. In League One, Charlotte Independence enters the mix having moved down from USL Championship. Central Valley Fuego FC and Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC are also new to USL League One in 2022. Also on the horizon is the USL Super League, a second-division professional women’s league to be launched in 2023. Expect to see plenty of news surface regarding teams and league structure throughout 2022.
Sustainability’s place in soccer
Sustainability will undoubtedly be an oft-discussed topic in 2022. Qatar has organized what will be the most sustainable FIFA World Cup to date, infrastructure wise. All stadiums have earned high sustainability ratings. Public transportation will be widely available and easily accessible. Key sustainability learnings from this tournament will hopefully be applied across the soccer landscape.
A shift in the soccer calendar
One of the more hotly-debated topics in the second half of 2021 was the FIFA-led discussion around a biennial FIFA World Cup in an attempt to, in part, alleviate international schedule congestion. This conversation will only heat up as we head toward the tournament in Qatar, especially with the recent speculation from FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, that the Euros would follow suit.
Soccer continues its pop culture mainstream inroads
Ted Lasso continues to be one of the more popular shows in the U.S. and beyond. Will other shows or movies take the sport to new heights? One candidate for this may be the Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney-led, Welcome to Wrexham, which is slated to debut later this year.
A seismic shift in soccer video games
In 2021 it was announced FIFA and EA Sports would no longer be collaborating on the popular FIFA video game series because of a financial dispute over player names and likeness costs. FIFA 22 was the last collaborative release between the two, so what will FIFA 23… or whatever it will be called… look like?
Evolving trends and their relationship with sport
Gambling’s domestic integration into soccer will certainly continue, but how will it evolve and adapt to the shifting landscape? NFTs were a hot topic in 2021 and aren’t going anywhere in 2022. How will artists, brands, teams, and rights-holders look to digital art and assets for growth opportunities? Cryptocurrency brands and platforms continue to make a heavy push into sport sponsorship, soccer included. Don’t expect this trend to slow in 2022, but do expect the conversation around crypto mining’s environmental impact to become a hot topic. How will 5G and other technology advancements increase the level of interaction and engagement for in-stadium and at-home viewers?
Technology in youth soccer
We spend the a lot of our time thinking about the professional leagues, but the youth soccer fields across America present arguably the largest opportunity for brands and marketers to reach soccer consumers. Technology brands like Playermaker and many more have products that help young players better their skills through data or video capture. Keep an eye on this space for a brand or two to emerge as major players in a very crowded industry in 2022.