What: With the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) exit from World Cup play, sports marketers could face some adjustments to their marketing strategies.
Why it matters: The World Cup is the most relevant sports tournament globally, so brands look to take advantage of the platform for both its local and international impact.
A week ago, the USMNT was defeated by Trinidad and Tobago in the qualifiers leading up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. The team’s 2-1 defeat, combined with Panama and Honduras winning their qualifying rounds, means the U.S. soccer team will be sidelined for the rest of the season.
This is the first time since 1986 that the United States will not be present at a World Cup, making it a somewhat unexpected situation for marketers. “No one thought that this could happen,” says Jaime Cardenas, CEO of AC&M Group.
Some brands may now find themselves needing to adjust their U.S. campaigns to this unique situation. However, sports marketing experts tell us that these changes would actually be minimal.
“The loss of the USMNT won’t negatively impact any pre-existing activation plans around World Cup ’18. Brands have invested heavily in aligning with a global property and although the USMNT will be surprisingly absent, the World Cup will still draw the largest sports ratings of the summer,” says Michael Neuman, EVP, Managing Partner at Scout.
Dan Donnelly, EVP, Managing Director at Publicis Media Sports, agrees. “Marketers will have to talk about soccer in a general way without focusing on the U.S. national team.” In addition, Donnelly explains that the USMNT has never really been a very strong contender in the tournament. Had the team made it to World Cup play in Russia, it would have been a surprise if it played more than three matches, he says.
“The U.S. national team in not a world powerhouse anyway”, he adds.
Benefits of a multicultural audience
“The absence of the USMNT will eliminate any chance of converting fringe or casual fans into frequent viewers next summer. But the most passionate fans will still turn out to engage with the World Cup as many of the best players in the world will be representing their countries,” explains Neuman.
According to Cardenas, brands will bet on supporting the biggest soccer stars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be playing at the Cup. Therefore, the loss of the U.S. team simply means that marketers will be shifting their focus to the game itself, rather than on the national team.
For lovers of the game, there will still be enough attractive matches to keep them watching next summer.
A loss for broadcasters
Fox and Telemundo signed a $1.2 billion deal to secure broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Fox will televise the matches in English, while Telemundo will broadcast them in Spanish.
According to Donnelly, the loser here will be Fox, as its audience has closer ties to the national team, whereas Telemundo will have the support of the Hispanic community, especially Mexicans, whose national team will be playing in the World Cup.
In addition, broadcasters will lose ratings from those viewers who are not soccer fans, but are willing to watch a game if their own country is playing, says Cardenas.
For now, those taking the biggest loss will be the benched players themselves, who will not get the exposure that could make their careers take off.
“Having the USMNT miss next summer’s World Cup eliminates many early marketing opportunities for Christian Pulisic, the dynamic young American teenager currently playing in Germany. He’ll lose five years of his career before he can expose his name and skills in front of a global audience. It’s difficult to elevate your status as a player influencer when you’re not seen on the biggest stage of your sport,” concludes Neuman.