By Fabio Sa, SVP US Soccer, Minute Media
Can you feel the rumblings of excitement? The slow burn of anticipation? That’s the feeling around the world of soccer fans getting ready for the World Cup this November. This World Cup is shaping up to be the most watched, consumed and engaged World Cup ever for American fans, both the die-hard soccer fans and the occasional 4-to-4-years bandwagoners.
And while the next World Cup will come to the US in just four short years, now is the time for brand marketers to start getting involved. Here’s why:
There’s much greater interest in the World Cup this year on a global level overall due to a few reasons.
- It is the first World Cup to be held during the northern hemisphere’s Winter in history – because it’s happening right in the middle of the European season, the vast majority of the top-shelf players will be in their physical prime.
- It will most likely be the last World Cup for two of Soccer’s GOATS (Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) – which is like being able to watch Pelé and Maradona play the same World Cup, and for the last time ever. How much would you pay for that ticket?
- There has never been such a “well balanced” World Cup – meaning that there are no clear favorites and so the trophy is up for grabs, at least when it comes to the 5-6 powerhouses. Will it remain with France, who has a superb team but has not been doing so well lately? Will Brazil pay off its condition as a favorite in all sportsbooks? The team is doing well, but what about their recent loss at home to Argentina in the Copa America final? Will Messi finally give Argentina a World Cup? Will England bring football “Rome”, I mean, home, this time? What about Germany’s and Spain’s young and refreshed squads? Who can seriously tell who’s taking it home this time?
Specifically in the US, this World Cup is bringing a new level of excitement, also for a set of very clear reasons:
- Because the USMNT didn’t make it to the 2018 World Cup, there is a pent up demand from eight years ago with a sense of FOMO to players and fans alike. And while the USMNT is not a favorite this year, they are expected to play well and be tough competition for the other teams, potentially moving up the farthest in their history.
- This is partially due to homegrown American talent in some of Europe’s tier 1 leagues, such as Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Dortmund), Tyler Adams (Leeds), Matt Turner (Arsenal), Weston Mckennie (Juventus) and Sergiño Dest (AC Milan) to name a few.
- The USA x England game already at Group Stage adds a lot of spice to the mix.
- Lastly, the next World Cup will be hosted in North America, the first time it will be Stateside in 32 years, and the vast majority of the games will be played on US soil.
If you’re a soccer fan, you already knew all of this. But, if you’re not, no worries, I’m here to help explain the magnitude of this event. For fans outside of the US, the World Cup is like taking the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and World Series and giving them a super charge. Ok, maybe that’s still not as true for the American fans as it is for the rest of the world, but, please do notice what is already going on in the Soccer landscape here in the States:
- The streaming & TV rights wars are already showing how serious the big media companies are about global & domestic soccer pillars like the Premier League, the Uefa Champions League and the MLS – these three have recently been fiercely disputed and negotiated by the billions of dollars by companies such as Apple, NBC Universal and Paramount;
- The MLS average club valuation has surged in the past few years, including the arrival of many celebrities in the clubs’ ownership groups, both athletes from other sports (mainly NBA and NFL) and American entertainers;
- Now the NWSL is also on a hyper-growth phase, with LA club Angel City having reached an $100m valuation, which is almost TWENTY times as much as other NWSL clubs were valued at just a couple of years ago;
- All the relevant International Football Leagues have already established their businesses in the US, with offices in NYC or in Miami – and, if you ask me, soon to expand domestically too;
- More than half of the Premier League and many other global football powerhouses already belong to American owners and/or VCs – and many of the ones who still don’t “belong” have already built strong ties to American banks through debt, like FC Barcelona, for example.
As a brand marketer or a media professional, you are witnessing an INCREDIBLE opportunity in the making. Sponsorships, advertising, content partnerships – the opportunities are endless for brands looking to tap into the young, diverse and motivated audience of soccer fans in a market that is growing like crazy.
As an endnote, my two humble questions to you are:
- Where else will you find such a hyper-growth market with the right scale if not in the USA and if not in Soccer?
- While some of the brands will wait to dive deep only in 4 years’ time and make it an opportunistic play, are you also going to wait and watch, or are you going to take the lead and become actually relevant in the Soccer landscape in the States?
Before we close it off, did you hear me say anything at all about Qatar? This is already the last breath of the article, and I haven’t mentioned it once up until this point. You know why? Because it’s not about Qatar. This is about the World Cup: The pinnacle of an athlete’s career. The moment fans day dream about during four very long years. The greatest example of passion in sports in the entire world.
That said, as publishers and advertisers who cover and invest in the sport, we can not and should not ignore what is happening in the host country. For every brand, this may look a little different, but in our case, we’ve empowered our journalists and athlete contributors to openly and authentically share their thoughts about the host country, and to cover player and fan sentiments as it relates to what is happening on-the-ground.
So, if that was what was scaring you, if that was what was keeping you from embracing the World Cup, my humble advice to you is that you find the right partner(s) who will allow you to champion the World Cup for what it is: the players, teams and fans that make this sport so beautiful. Don’t just simply embrace it with any partner though – find the ones who share your company values. But get on with it. Act on the World Cup and on soccer in general now, not in 4 years time, and thank me later. A whole legion of fans is craving for you and your brand to embrace their passion and also make it yours.
If you’re convinced already but don’t know where to start, find me on Linkedin and we’ll take it from there. Regardless of that, prepare your hearts for what might be the most exciting soccer tournament ever.
Counting down the days…