Sponsors connect World Cup with US soccer growth

Global sponsors of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil have launched integrated marketing efforts in the host country and extended them to the US, where the popularity of soccer has grown in recent years.

Sponsors connect World Cup with US soccer growth

Global sponsors of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil have launched integrated marketing efforts in the host country while relying on digital and other components to extend their campaigns into regions such as the US, where soccer has been growing in popularity.

As the official ball supplier of the World Cup, Adidas kicked off its efforts in September 2012 by inviting fans in Brazil to name the match ball. After more than 1 million people cast votes, Adidas named the ball “Brazuca,” an informal expression of Brazilian national pride.

Earlier this month, Adidas staged a 3D light projection show at Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro to unveil the Brazuca ball. At the launch, the company also introduced a Twitter handle for the ball (@brazuca). Michael Ehrlich, senior PR manager for soccer at Adidas, says this will help the brand connect with audiences in other regions.

“Our vision is to be the most accessible brand at the World Cup, to really share the excitement, passion, and all of the activities that will go on in Brazil with audiences here in the US,” he says. “Obviously, PR is a great way to do that whether through social, digital, or PR editorial.”

The company will use the Twitter handle to post updates, photos, and interactions with athletes as the ball visits each team in the World Cup before making its way back to Brazil.

“It's something no other sports brand has done before – giving a Twitter handle to a product,” explains Ehrlich. “We wanted to provide fans with a different perspective.”

Adidas has also released home and away jerseys for several teams, including Mexico, which Ehrlich says is a key team for Adidas' outreach efforts in the US. The sporting goods company has arranged for Mexico's national team to visit the US through appearances at stadiums used by NFL teams.

At the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Adidas designed jerseys for the Mexican team, which sold on a 1:1 basis in the US, the company said.

“That is a good testament to how many and how passionate Mexico fans are in the States,” he notes. “Fan engagement and activation, whether pre-game or post-game, is really incredible. We'll be doing a lot with the Mexican team.”

GolinHarris is providing PR support for Adidas, Ehrlich confirms. Yet the sporting goods company is not the only brand looking to translate its efforts in Brazil to the US.

To promote Hyundai's global sponsorship, Hyundai Motor America will give away tickets to quarterfinal World Cup matches at participating auto shows in North America through April 2014.

Johnson & Johnson, which bought the final global sponsorship slot for the 2014 World Cup, kicked off an ad campaign in Brazil this week based on its global Care Inspires Care platform. In a statement, the company said a key element of the global campaign will be an infinity ribbon, which it created to symbolize the “caring touch” that J&J brings to the event.

Ketchum Sports & Entertainment expanded its presence in Brazil last year to take advantage of the event, as well as the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Clients including World Cup sponsor Budweiser are planning to begin their World Cup activities in the US given the sport's rising profile here, says Ann Wool, partner and MD of KS&E.

She points to the steady uptick in coverage of international soccer highlights on programs such as ESPN's SportsCenter, adding that NBC's coverage of the Barclays Premier League will also boost soccer in the US.

“The unique thing about North American activations is that there is an opportunity to target the passionate fans of every national team living in the US,” says Wool, who points out that most other countries have less diverse populations where the vast majority of fans only support the national team.

As for clients who are not officially involved with the World Cup but want to piggyback on its popularity, “it means looking for ways to tap into the soccer fervor that will ratchet up this summer as the excitement builds,” she adds.

Andy Sutherden, global practice director for sports marketing and sponsorship at Hill+Knowlton Strategies in London, says there are extra opportunities for brands involved in the World Cup. Yet that doesn't mean they won't have to make difficult marketing decisions.

“Companies such as Coca-Cola and Visa are in the privileged position of sponsoring both the World Cup and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” he says. “It will be interesting to see if they think of the next two years as one big campaign or two very distinct ones.

“It would be a smart and an efficient piece of comms planning to think of it as one campaign,” advises Sutherden.

“Sports fans are bombarded with so many sponsor messages that the sponsor who has the most consistent piece of communication that resonates over a period of time stands the best chance of having its message really heard and understood,” he suggests.

This article was updated on December 20 to correct Ehrlich's title. He is senior PR manager for soccer at Adidas.

It was also updated to correct the fact that Adidas makes the Mexican national team's jersey, not the jersey for the US team. We regret the errors.

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