Just How Popular (And Marketable) Is Soccer, Anyway?

The Drum digs deeply into the impact soccer’s global popularity is having in a country where it’s not top of mind for most sports fans.

Next year, the FIFA World Cup comes to Russia, and soccer (or football) will once again be certain it has the entire world’s attention, at least for a few weeks. And with this intense spotlight comes the usual questions: Why isn’t soccer more popular in the United States? How can Major League Soccer compete in a market so dominated by the NBA, NFL, and MLB?

The Drum has taken a long, hard look at the numbers, and the results are surprising. Not only is the notion that soccer disappears from the U.S. psyche minutes after the World Cup ends misleading, but advertising dollars are being well spent (and well rewarded) in this space year after year.

“Combine this popularity with the real-time nature of soccer matches – which discourages time-shifting (and the associated commercial skipping) – and soccer packs a powerful punch for advertisers,” writes Jeri Smith, chief executive of advertising research for consultancy firm Communicus, on behalf of The Drum. “Among those that have found smart ways to make the most of the sport’s short-term and long-term benefits is Target. The retail giant is not only an official partner of Major League Soccer, but is also complementing their sponsorship with a four-year investment in youth soccer. As the official retailer of U.S. Youth Soccer, Target has pledged $6m to build 100 soccer play spaces across the country. This is the kind of marketing that yields immediate value for the company. Crucially, it also helps build the brand for future success, by associating Target in consumers’ minds with doing great things for kids, families, and the sport they love.”

It’s also having a major impact on social media, particularly on Instagram. The photo-driven platform need only look at its own data to come to any conclusions about soccer’s ability to drive participation and fan support. According to The Drum article, in the past month alone, “Instagram revealed its data showing that, of the platform’s 700 million-plus users, three times as many are world soccer fans as are basketball fans. Those 146 million soccer-loving consumers on Instagram give an idea of why FIFA made $404million from marketing rights tied to the last World Cup.”

It’s little wonder that major brands like McDonald’s and Budweiser are starting to invest more heavily in soccer beyond the World Cup deluge.

Read the rest of Smith’s breakdown over on The Drum