Imagine if you could buy a Super Bowl ad for 1967’s price ($37,500 vs. today’s $7 million); refinance your house at 2021’s rate (under 3% vs. today’s 7%); or buy Apple stock for September 15, 1997’s price (the day before Steve Jobs was announced as interim CEO, when their stock hit $0.20, vs. today’s approximate price of $190). Wouldn’t that be sweet? A deal of a lifetime? This “time machine opportunity” is what soccer is offering marketers in 2023.
Soccer isn’t small. It’s just smaller.
The “world’s game” has been around for generations, but most Americans didn’t pay much attention until 1993, when Major League Soccer - the highest level of professional men’s club soccer in the United States - was created as part of a successful bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. In 2013, we saw the launch of the NWSL (National Women's Soccer League), expanding the professional game even further domestically.
Over the past 27 years, soccer has experienced growth in professionalism, quality, infrastructure, number of teams and value. The $10 million fee paid by Toronto FC to join MLS in 2007 feels like a bargain today when compared to the astounding $500 million reportedly invested to launch the latest expansion franchise in San Diego. But despite all its success and growth, MLS and the NWSL are still small players in comparison with other more traditional leagues.
The National Football League (NFL) is the gold standard - in all aspects, it is multiple times the size of other leagues (44 times more revenue than MLS). Baseball has been America’s pastime for over a century. The NBA is a global powerhouse thanks to superstar players, storied rivalries and an outstanding international expansion plan that was first set in motion decades ago. The top three are followed by other regional or target-specific propositions such as the NCAA, the NHL, motor racing (NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula 1), premium propositions like tennis (managed by the ATP & WTP) and golf (through the PGA + LIV Golf).
Soccer’s size relative to other leagues is misleading because on a global scale, soccer is much bigger than MLS and the NWSL.
In fact, MLS is not even the most watched men’s club soccer league in the United States. This distinction goes to our southern neighbors from Liga MX, the top division of professional soccer in Mexico. Driven by the competitiveness of the league, successful clubs (i.e., Club América, Guadalajara, Cruz Azul and Pumas UNAM), the changing demographics in the United States and the quality of broadcasting, Liga MX dominates club soccer audiences in the United States.
Other leagues also play an important role in overall soccer consumption. Today, it is possible to watch most international matches on open TV or through the many digital streaming services available to fans (i.e., Paramount+, ESPN+).
When aggregated, in the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, MLS, the Italian Serie A, the German Bundesliga (not including any of the other many international leagues available), American broadcasters invest around $800 million per year. This is 72% more than college football, 30% more than the NHL, 16% more than the PGA, and only 1% less than NASCAR. Not a bad financial snapshot for a relatively young sport.
The recent growth of soccer has been impressive, but it is nothing compared to what the future holds for the sport.
In the next three years, the United States will host some of the world’s greatest soccer events. The action will start in 2024 with Copa America (South America’s premier national team competition), followed by the first US edition of the FIFA Club World Cup in 2025 (bringing the 32 best clubs in the world to play all over the country) and ultimately culminating with FIFA’s showpiece event: the 2026 FIFA World Cup (to be co-hosted with Mexico and Canada). All this action will have a massive impact on interest and engagement from fans.
Star players are another important factor in the development of any sport, and soccer is well served with several talented Americans playing in Europe’s top leagues. For example, there’s Catarina Macario and Lindsey Horan at Lyon, Weston McKennie at Juventus, Gio Reyna at Borussia Dortmund, Zack Steffen at Manchester City and Christian Pulisic at AC Milan. From an international perspective, MLS continues to see an influx of global stars migrating to the league, obviously headlined by seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi’s move to Inter Miami.
Brands can capitalize on the rapidly growing interest in soccer and build success in close alignment with business challenges.
Taylor has helped client partners like P&G and Diageo navigate a broad spectrum of opportunities within soccer. For example, P&G’s Secret gave women soccer stars the spotlight during the Covid-19 pandemic when the NWSL became the first professional team sports league to safely resume play. More than 40 players were tapped to put a twist on the viral “Wipe it Down” challenge promoting the start of The Challenge Cup as part of a campaign that generated 7.3 million views and 400K engagements.
On a community impact level, P&G powered possibilities with “Capitanes del Futuro," a program offering resources to Hispanic youth to become the next generation of leaders via the sport of fútbol. The initiative reached national audiences through Taylor’s bilingual multimedia efforts, amassing more than 73 million media impressions.
Finally, Diageo’s Captain Morgan spiced up MLS All-Star week with the first ever MLS Captain fan vote. On the heels of Lionel Messi signing with Captain Morgan partner club Inter Miami, we celebrated the true heartbeat of the sport and gave soccer fans an opportunity to name the captain of the MLS All-Star team with programming that generated more than 122 million impressions.
You may have lost the chance to buy the cheap Super Bowl spot, refinance your house with the best rates or become an early investor in Apple. But it’s not too late to catch the soccer wave as Americans prepare for what will undoubtedly be the most pivotal period the sport has ever experienced in this country. To do it right, talk to Taylor. We can help you shape new possibilities at the intersection of your brands and the beautiful game.