Leveraging US' burgeoning love affair with soccer

For the next month, the world will tune in to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup, arguably the biggest sporting event on the planet.

For the next month, the world will tune in to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup, arguably the biggest sporting event on the planet. Fans and tourists from near and far will travel to South Africa to experience the games, soak up the sights, and root for their favorite teams. And, yes, Americans are leading the pack.

The American love affair with soccer has been slowly growing over the years to new heights of fan following and loyalty. Case in point, besides the host country, the US has more ticket holders than any other country to this year's World Cup. FIFA figures state more than 130,000 of the nearly 3 million tickets sold went to Americans. Furthermore, the US has more official soccer players – 18 million – than any other nation in the world; making it one of the fastest-growing sports among young people in America.

Over the past two decades, ESPN's commitment to the sport and the FIFA World Cup has dramatically increased through its investment and coverage of the event. The Associated Press reports that ESPN is paying $100 million for the rights to the 2010 and 2014 tournaments. Additionally, according to sports columnist Jim Collins, the network has gone from broadcasting seven World Cup matches in 1982 to covering all 64 matches live and in high definition in 2006.  

Companies are also taking notice of consumers growing affection toward soccer and turning it into huge marketing and PR opportunities. McDonald's, Sony, and Visa are just a few of the partners and sponsors leveraging the World Cup to connect with consumers. 

The Coca-Cola Company has been a sponsor of the FIFA World Cup since 1978, but its roots in soccer go back to 1936. This year, the company created several programs to bring the FIFA World Cup to a diverse group of consumers, including the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola, with stops in more than 80 countries, and two contests sending young people and college students to South Africa and the World Cup.

As soccer now transcends culture, gender, and ethnicity, it allows companies to leverage the game and connect with consumers to reinforce brand love, as well as impact the bottom line. And if the frenzy around the 2010 FIFA World Cup is an indication of how much consumers really love the sport, then companies who tie into soccer may be able to not only impact their bottom line, but increase it.

Lori George Billingsley is director of community and multicultural communications for Coca-Cola North America. She can be reached at lbillingsley@na.ko.com.

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