Soccer in America
By Richard L. Worsnop
The United States is a sports-loving nation, but there's a blind spot in its devotion. Although millions of Americans play soccer, they show little sustained interest in watching it in person or on television. That may change after the 52-game World Cup soccer finals are staged in the U.S. for the first time, starting in mid-June. An estimated 2 billion TV viewers worldwide will watch the July 17 championship. . . .
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Sports fans in the United States may not be fanatics about soccer, but they'll find it hard to ignore as the World Cup tournament draws closer. Between now and the opening games on June 17, nearly two dozen commercial sponsors will launch nationwide promotional campaigns aimed at whetting Americans' interest in the sport -- and in their products.
World Cup tie-ins include Canon, Coca-Cola, Energizer, FujiFilm, General Motors, Gillette, McDonald's, Snickers, adidas, American Airlines, Budweiser, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), ITT Sheraton, Sprint and Sun Microsystems.
Much of the promotional activity will consist of television commercials on the two networks showing the World Cup, ESPN and ABC. (See story, p. 354.) But MasterCard has devised a more comprehensive approach, including a program through which shopping-mall patrons can receive World Cup premiums by presenting a MasterCard receipt from a designated mall. The company also has arranged World Cup promotions targeting fast-food outlets, movie theaters, supermarkets and restaurants.
Because soccer action is virtually nonstop, except in rare cases of player injury, World Cup games will not be interrupted by commercial breaks. Instead, the sponsors' logos will be prominently displayed on screen during periodic scoring updates. Most of the commercials that do appear are likely to run during pregame and halftime shows.
Alan Friedman, publisher of Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based sports business publication, doesn't envision Americans “sitting down and planning big parties around the World Cup finals.” He adds, however, that “if this doesn't sell soccer in the United States, nothing will.”