Soccer inspires frenzied fanaticism around the globe but barely makes the sports pages in the United States. It might be a niche sport in the U.S., but it’s a powerful niche, marketing experts say, with the potential to link brands to desirable customer segments domestically and abroad. Based on Data from Repucom´s World Football Report, the American Marketing Association looks at the future potential of soccer in United States.
Interest in soccer is high among two of the most valuable marketing segments, millennials and Hispanics, as well as among high earners in many demographics. American soccer fans are 4.6 times more likely to have income above $250,000, according to Exponential Interactive Inc., an Emeryville, Calif.-based digital media solutions company that researches U.S. soccer fans. And these fans aren’t just loyal to their favorite teams: Avid Major League Soccer fans have 85% brand loyalty and 87% purchase consideration for sponsored products, according to Repucom, a global sports marketing research and consulting firm.
To leverage the World Cup’s fanatical following and to continue to attract brands such as Coca-Cola, Samsung and Visa to sponsor the sport in the U.S., soccer marketers are working to boost soccer’s standing in the American sports hierarchy and to better position soccer to compete against other sports as a viable marketing vehicle.
‘America’s Sport of the Future—Since 1972’
27% of the population in the U.S. are interested in Soccer
Globally, the United States ranks near the bottom in terms of its level of interest in soccer: 27% of the U.S. population is interested in the game, compared with 83% in Nigeria, 70% in Mexico, 69% in Spain, 67% in Brazil, 52% in the United Kingdom, and 30% in China and India, according to the World Football report, a study on the commercial landscape of soccer conducted by Repucom.
Around the world, soccer adheres to the typical sports fandom formula: People tend to follow sports that they, themselves, have played. But in the U.S., it’s a whole, new ballgame, says Michael Lynch, head of U.S. consulting at Repucom. “It’s, by far, the most popular sport in the world for a reason: Everybody can play it. All you need is to have a soccer ball and you can play. Countries that, economically, may not be what the economic superpowers are, are at equal, if not better, scale because of the power of what fútbol can do to the marketplace. In this country, though, we’ve got a lot of options.”
‘America’s Sport of the Future—Since 1972’
The NFL garners the most followers of any sports league in America, with 76% of sports fans stating that they’re interested in American football. Meanwhile, 60.7% follow Major League Baseball, 59.7% follow college football, 54% follow the National Basketball Association, 42% follow the National Hockey League and 42% follow NASCAR. MLS attracts 30.8%, with only 9% of Americans reporting that soccer is their favorite sport to watch on TV, according to Repucom. More Americans are interested in Ultimate Fighting Championship, professional golf, World Wrestling Entertainment and Indy car racing than MLS, the study shows.
Professional soccer, of course, doesn’t have as long a history in the U.S. Until MLS launched in 1996, there hadn’t been a professional soccer league in the U.S. since 1984, when the North American Soccer League ceased operations after a 16-year run. Roger Bennett, co-host of the weekly Men in Blazers soccer show, which previously ran as a podcast on ESPN’s website, Grantland, and will be a weekly TV show on NBC Sports Network to accompany the network’s coverage of the English Premier League this fall, says: “Since the 1950s, it’s been boom and bust, league after league opening up with great fervor and promising that ‘soccer is here and now,’ but soccer is not a sport that’s going to have an overnight revolution in America. Instead, its climb is slow and steady, and we’re seeing a harvest of 20 years in which the sport has come so far, so fast.” Men in Blazers’ motto is, “Soccer is America’s sport of the future, and it has been since 1972.” “Our motto is a reflection of the fact that so many times, soccer has been proclaimed ‘the next big thing’ here and it’s proven to have the life span of the hula-hoop or the pogo stick,” Bennett says.