EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Marketing VP Jim Zabel on Volkswagen’s US Soccer Partnership

What: We talked to Jim Zabel, Marketing VP at Volkswagen about the brand’s integrated partnership with U.S. Soccer, making VW the presenting automotive partner to the Federation through 2022.
Why it matters: Volkswagen has committed to help U.S. Soccer with the league’s mission to make soccer the preeminent sport in the United States by increasing participation, developing world-class players, coaches, and referees, and increasing fan engagement with the sport.

Some time back, U.S. Soccer announced its goal to make soccer the preeminent sport in the United States. In mid-January 2019, the national soccer organization announced that Volkswagen of America (VW) would be key to making this happen with its commitment as the official presenting-automotive partner to the Federation through 2022.

How are they planning to make this happen? By increasing participation, developing world-class players, coaches, and referees; and increasing fan engagement around the sport.

As part of this historic partnership, Volkswagen branding will be put on training tops for all U.S. Soccer National Teams, including the Men’s and Women’s National Teams; all Youth National Teams; the Football 7-a-side, Beach, and Futsal National Teams; and training tops used by the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

We talked to Jim Zabel, Vice President of Marketing at VW, about the recent partnership and VW’s marketing expectations.

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Volkswagen USAPortada: Why is U.S. Soccer the right fit for such a big partnership?

Jim Zabel: Volkswagen is a proudly American brand and we would like to use the U.S. national team partnership to broaden our appeal and showcase our SUVs to families all over the U.S.

Portada: Why is now the right moment for this deal? 

JZ: The US Women’s team is defending its World Cup championship. And the men are in a rebuilding phase. Soccer is the third largest participatory sport in the U.S., with many young families spending their weekends involved in the sport.

Also, soccer aligns with where we want to go as a brand: 32-percent of U.S. soccer fans are more likely to purchase an SUV in the next 12 months compared to the general population, and 32-percent are more likely to have participated in a carpool in the past seven days. Finally, soccer fans are affluent, digitally native, and millennial, and they represent a strongly diversified audience.

Portada: How will VW leverage this partnership?

JZ: We get exposure from the logo being placed on all U.S. national team training apparel, at U.S. team events and with child escorts for the players. We can use soccer events for vehicle activations, ride & drives, and dealer opportunities. Volkswagen marks will be integrated into U.S. Soccer controlled marketing, social media, digital, and mobile; and we can leverage using a variety of platforms.

Portada: Which platforms will you use? 

JZ: All the usual ones: broadcast, digital and social media, along with broadcast media integration; grassroots and stadium events; ride and drives at the grassroots levels; and PR events, by using players and launch support.

The Portada Los Angeles Summit on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

U.S. SoccerPortada: Where does soccer stand right now in the U.S. in terms of how attractive it is for brands to make marketing partnerships with it? 

JZ: VW owners have a very strong affinity for soccer. Soccer’s fan base is at least 10 years younger than fans of the NFL, MLB, and NHL, as well as college football audiences, and soccer is also the third largest participatory sport in the U.S.

Portada: How will VW help U.S. soccer become the preeminent sport in the United States? 

JZ: The goal is to be the most-played, most-engaged, most-beloved, and most-respected sport. Volkswagen plans to help accomplish this by creating awareness to drive increased participation at the grassroots level (youth and adult); the brand’s support will go towards programs for developing players, coaches, and referees; and finally Volkswagen’s strong brand reach will capture more potential fans across the U.S.