Top U.S. companies primed for World Cup

June 06, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

For Hoyt Harper, a vice president at ITT Sheraton, the true marketing power of the World Cup came to him in the form of a little girl.

Mr. Harper was watching a U.S. Cup soccer playoff in Boston when he heard the child patiently explaining the game to her father.

"Listening to that little girl, it hit me," Mr. Harper said. "Today 16 million kids are playing soccer in the U.S. This is the beginning of the history of soccer in America, and it's happening right now."

If you haven't noticed, major U.S. advertisers are spending millions to promote World Cup soccer -- a global event being played in the United States for the first time ever this summer.

Fifty-two games will be played in nine American cities this month and in July.

And companies from General Motors to MasterCard to Sheraton are hoping that the game adored around the world will finally take hold at home.

For years, top American companies such as Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch have sponsored the World Cup internationally. For them, the World Cup games and the Olympics are the only two sporting events that can reach the world.

With the World Cup finally in the United States -- the last frontier for the black-and-white ball -- advertisers are seizing the chance to tap into the game's biggest consumer market.

Americans may be obsessed with the Super Bowl, but soccer is the world's passion. While an estimated 750 million people around the globe watched the Super Bowl this year, 1.3 billion watched the 1990 World Cup finals between Argentina and Germany.

Two billion viewers are expected to tune into the finals this July.

As part of deal to land the World Cup, the U.S. Soccer Federation is launching a 12-team professional soccer league in 1995.

World Cup advertisers and ABC Television, which is airing the games, get first dibs at U.S. pro soccer deals.

The marketing potential, ad executives agree, is enormous.

"The United States clearly is the largest potential growth market for soccer in the world right now," said Jim Latham, General Motors World Cup '94 project manager.

"While it is a mature sport throughout the world, we believe World Cup 1994 will be the watershed event for the sport here."

That is what has brought General Motors to the game as a top sponsor this year. The company is using World Cup to push its GMC Trucks, Pontiacs and its credit card in the United States, its Chevrolet cars in Latin America and Opel car in Europe and Asia.

The U.S. venue, Mr. Latham said, made GM's involvement possible.

"No one GM division could have justified the expense of World Cup," Mr. Latham said. "But the U.S. piece made it a complete deal for us. Every division is looking at its area and saying, 'How can we make soccer work for us?' "

For global brands such as Coca-Cola, which today is in 195 countries, the sudden U.S. interest in soccer is just an added benefit of long-term involvement in the sport.

Coke has been active in World Cup marketing since 1930, largely because of the game's wholesome, family orientation and its broad-based appeal internationally among men and women in all economic groups, said Bruce Kirkman, the Coca-Cola USA vice president in charge of World Cup.

"Coke is clearly a global company and World Cup is the ideal venue for a global brand to reinforce its identity," Mr. Kirkman said.

"Until now, we have concentrated our efforts internationally, but this year we also will have a number of big events in the States, particularly in the host cities. And World Cup always has been a strong marketing vehicle for the U.S. Hispanic market."

For Coke, and other global businesses, worldwide soccer sponsorships -- which, at top levels, span three years -- are a relative bargain for the huge audiences.

Global game rights, such as Coke's package, cover the World Cup qualifying games and the final 52-game series. The rights cost between $12 million and $16 million and include signs around the playing field as well as the right to use the World Cup logo in all advertising.

Second-tier marketing partners, which get the same package for the final 52 games only, pay about $7 million.

Global advertisers also have first rights to ABC television advertising packages. And, this year, because only four million to eight million people in the United States are expected to watch each game on ABC, the deal is inexpensive.

ABC, along with its ESPN and ESPN2 sports channels, will air all the World Cup games. ABC is charging its five major sponsors a total of $12 million for advertising and sponsorship packages.

By comparison, NBC charged $950,000 per half-minute spot during the 1994 Super Bowl, which was viewed by about 150 million people in this country.

Spanish-language Univision, which airs all 52 games and controls a soccer-loyal Latin audience, commands a higher price for its shows and will get a total of $20 million in sponsorship for the 1994 games.

Competition is fierce among advertisers for the limited number of World Cup sponsorship slots.

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