What: The World Cup kicks off in Russia on June 14, 2018. While Americans won’t be able to cheer for their own national team this time, US soccer fans are more engaged and excited about the tournament than ever.
Why It Matters: We spoke to AC&M Group about how they will be helping their clients make the most of the highly engaged audiences that will be tuning in to watch the fastest growing sport in the US.
Despite the Failed US Bid, 2018 Promises to Deliver Most Engaged American Fans Yet
Soccer’s path into mainstream American society has been unique. Globally — almost without exception — the sport has enjoyed an unparalleled level of popularity and devotion among fans for years, while in the United States, it has struggled to compete with sports with deeper roots in American society like baseball, basketball, and American football. But over the past 20 years, the sport has become one of the most popular among the country’s youth, which has led to increased investment in the US Soccer program and, more recently, surging American interest in international soccer leagues and Major League Soccer alike.
The World Cup provides a solid benchmark for just how much the sport has grown in the United States: According to AC&M Group, in the last World Cup in 2014, over the course of group stage, U.S. FANS spent more time engaged with digital FIFA content than Brazilian, French, German and English fans combined. And during the final between Argentina and Germany, 10.5 million U.S. fans were engaged on Facebook, which is a larger audience than those from the two participating countries combined (Germany: 7 million / Argentina: 5 million).
Anticipating even bigger numbers for 2018, the rates for the rights to the tournament have skyrocketed: ESPN paid $50 million for the English-language rights in 2014, and FOX paid $212.5 million for 2018. For Spanish-language rights, Univision spent $162.5 million in 2014, and Telemundo paid $300 million in for 2018. And while just 10 of the 64 games were broadcasted on the ABC network in 2014, in 2018 FOX is expected to broadcast over 33 on its network.
And Americans are increasingly excited about international stars. Vicente Navarro, partner & VP of New Business at AC&M Group says that what is interesting about American soccer fans is that it is “one of the few sports where American fans grow up idolizing players from foreign leagues and teams,” adding that “with how accessible European soccer has become in the U.S. today, American soccer fans have become increasingly knowledgeable about what happens abroad and often follow teams in multiple countries.”
Today’s Fans ‘Expecting More than Your Basic Pregame Show’
How will TV and digital combine forces to deliver the material that American soccer fans are hungry for during next year’s World Cup? Navarro asserts that due to the rapid development of digital platforms and formats, “in this age of tech, fans have become accustomed to get more than your basic pregame show, game broadcast, and post-game reels.” With fans engaging with the sport around the clock (literally), “it is important for networks to build platforms that attract and sustain these conversations” through different formats like memes and user-generated content, taking advantage of fans’ “FOMO,” or “fear of missing out.”
For 2018, AC&M is working with clients and networks like FOX and Telemundo to deliver digital programs that engage fans and connect them digitally to the networks TV broadcast. When asked about the most significant difference between the digital scenario in 2014 compared to 2018, Navarro points to mobile as one of the most significant developments in terms of how fans engage with sports content. Thanks to smartphones, Navarro says, “it’s possible for American fans to watch full-length games, or highlights, from almost anywhere in the world.” This is a good thing for brands with a strategy, Navarro believes. Thanks to “continued advancement in social media, with features like Facebook Live and Instagram Stories, there is no better time in history to be a sports fan,” he argues.
Marketers Must Reach Diverse Fans
As more Americans get on board with soccer, brands must take advantage of the resources they have to address and connect with more diverse audiences. To Brendan Moylan, COO at Sports Endeavors, Inc. the parent company of SOCCER.COM, “one of the special things about the World Cup is that it is an opportunity for people to celebrate their heritage”. He believes that although it was crushing for the U.S. Men’s National Team not to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, that “we are a country of immigrants, and there is a place in our hearts for the countries where some friend or member of our family immigrated from.”
At AC&M, it is important to “develop campaigns that are relevant for hard-core and casual soccer fans” and adapt their strategies for clients based on objectives and assets. For example, some will have the rights to feature the World Cup as a part of their campaigns, but others “will have to leverage partnerships such as players or federations,” Navarro says. In those cases, the key is to help them leverage increasing interest in the sport during a World Cup year.”
Many of AC&M’s 2018 World Cup strategies will focus on engaging through content created by both brands and fans themselves, says Pacino Mancillas, AC&M’s Director of Brand Integration. As the digital world offers more and more ways for fans to engage with sports, Mancillas argues that fans “demand content that speaks to them and their specific interests.”
Because of this, getting as close as possible to the fans in order to develop an intimate knowledge of the various segments of the soccer fan community is central to AC&M’s mission. Speaking of soccer fans, Mancillas adds: “There are more similarities than differences, but knowing how and why to target each segment provides ‘cred’ and helps us have more success in engagement efforts.”
Exclusive Partnerships with SOCCER.COM and WorldSoccerShop Provide Insight, Global Team of Soccer Experts
AC&M Group has also teamed up with partners SOCCER.COM and WorldSoccerShop to pool their expertise and offer unmatched access to U.S. soccer consumers. The collaboration brings together three organizations with employees that “eat, sleep and breathe soccer, and when it comes to connecting with soccer fans, their insights are invaluable,” Navarro said. In contrast to other sports agencies, AC&M’s close contact with the soccer world enables them to “identify key passion points” in soccer consumers. With such immense diversity at the agency, employing team members from 14 different countries, there is a stronger and much wider “range of opinions and perspectives on how to connect with various consumer segments.”
As one of the most exciting global sporting events approaches, agencies like AC&M Group are invaluable sources of knowledge for many brands who are unsure of how to reach the growing numbers of passionate American soccer fans. “At AC&M, we have been doing soccer marketing for more than a decade,” Navarro says. “We know what works, what does not, what connects well and delivers results; we have seen it all.”