SBJ/June 30-July 6, 2014/Marketing and Sponsorship

U.S. Soccer: Big goals

U.S. Soccer’s sponsors, who activated heavily around the World Cup, have enjoyed the ride

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When Clint Dempsey scored 30 seconds into the USA’s first World Cup game in Brazil, you could understand why Unilever executives were celebrating as loudly as any soccer fans.

For its Degree Men deodorant brand, Unilever is not only a sponsor of U.S. Soccer, but it also has a personal services contract with Dempsey, who is appearing in the company’s broadcast and print ads throughout the tournament in Brazil.

“A bunch of us were in New York, in our Twitter war room at [agency] Weber Shandwick,” said Unilever senior brand manager Ryu Yokoi. “There’s this incredible build-up to the World Cup, and suddenly our guy, Clint, scores 30 seconds in against Ghana. I was so excited, I think I strained just about every muscle in my body. We were basically freaking out. It doesn’t get much better.”

For U.S. Soccer, which has seen its men’s national team survive group play and now advance to the Round of 16 (with a match on Tuesday), sponsorship around a World Cup has never been bigger.

“It’s exponentially bigger; there’s really no comparison,” said Dan Flynn, CEO and secretary general of U.S. Soccer, who has been with the organization for 14 years. “We have more sponsors than ever before, and they’re doing more than ever before.”

There are 20 sponsors of U.S. Soccer, from Anheuser-Busch and AT&T to Visa and Yingli Solar (see chart). If the sponsors were placing their bets on the U.S. men’s national team capturing some front- and back-page headlines along with big television ratings at the World Cup, they have been justified. The team’s second game, a 2-2 draw against Portugal, was the most-viewed soccer match ever in the United States, with 18 million viewers on ESPN and 6.5 million viewers on Univision Deportes.

(Viewership data for Thursday’s match against Germany was not available at press time, but ESPN reported that its WatchESPN service peaked at 1.7 million concurrent viewers during the match, a record for the service.)

“As much as our own expectations were extremely high, those numbers surpassed even what we anticipated,” said David Wright, senior vice president of global sponsorship for Soccer United Marketing, MLS’s commercial arm that represents U.S. Soccer. “We’re happy that our sponsors are being rewarded. Whether it’s been in retail or on the ground in Brazil, they’ve been very active.”

Degree gave winning fans a chance to meet endorser Clint Dempsey.
Photo: COURTESY OF UNILEVER
Degree, for which Unilever signed a two-year, $4 million deal with SUM in March to sponsor the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams, hosted 11 sweepstakes winners in Brazil. The contestants won tickets to the Ghana match. Three days later, they watched practice and took part in a meet-and-greet with Dempsey at the U.S. team’s training facility in São Paulo.

After scoring the early goal, Dempsey suffered a broken nose during the opening-game win.

“Clint may have been hurting, but he posed for photos with the fans and couldn’t have been more friendly,” Yokoi said. “And then U.S. Soccer invited all of us in to see their press conferences after practice. That made it even more memorable.”

Degree also made a media buy of television spots for ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup. During “SportsCenter,” the Degree Do:More Moment spotlights an important play during that day’s action in Brazil.

“We feel like our mantra of ‘Do More’ has resonated throughout the tournament,” Yokoi said. “When you look at the humidity and all of the conditions pushing the players to the limit in Brazil, the U.S. players pushing themselves to have success has been great for our brand.”

Among other U.S. Soccer sponsor activity for the World Cup:
Mondelez International calls its “official snacks of U.S. Soccer” campaign its biggest multibrand effort ever.

Mondelez International: In what the company is touting as its biggest multibrand campaign to date, Mondelez has 40 million packages of products of its major brands like Oreo, Ritz, Trident, Honey Maid and Sour Patch Kids labeled as the “official snacks of U.S. Soccer” and featuring the hashtag #PassTheLove to promote sharing a passion for soccer. The same can be found on 17,000 retail displays in stores.

Mondelez’s current deal with U.S. Soccer continues through next year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada.

“Internally, our three goals for the U.S. Soccer sponsorship are winning in-store, selling more product, and bringing our employees together,” said Stephen Chriss, Mondelez’s senior director of U.S. media and consumer engagement, speaking last week in a phone interview from Brazil. “We’re winning in-store, with customer activation from Wal-Mart to Piggly Wiggly and everywhere in-between. The tremendous press coverage and all of the attention the U.S. team is getting from longtime and new soccer fans means we’re getting the results we wanted for our products, [and] the U.S. team being so competitive is great for our company culture. It’s been a fun time.”

More than 1,300 Mondelez employees watched the U.S.-Germany match last Thursday together at one of the company’s offices in New Jersey.

McDonald’s: His team had just conceded a last-second goal for the 2-2 draw against Portugal, but American goaltender Tim Howard had fans he wanted to acknowledge. So before heading for the locker room, Howard had the presence of mind to walk to the corner of the pitch and wave to a young group of fans and their parents.

At the start of the game, those youngsters had walked with the teams out onto the pitch as part of the McDonald’s player escort program. As a FIFA sponsor, McDonald’s has 1,408 children (1,200 from Brazil) participating in the program. As a U.S. Soccer sponsor, McDonald’s arranged for 26 kids from the United States to escort the U.S. starters at the beginning of its first two matches. The winners were randomly chosen from a national sweepstakes. Entrants had to submit an essay explaining why soccer means so much to them. The youngsters also took part in a beach soccer game in Brazil that Howard visited.

McDonald’s has a personal service agreement with the goalie.

“Tim’s humble attitude really had a positive effect on the kids,” said John Lewicki, head of global alliances for McDonald’s.

Glad: Through its parent company Clorox’s sponsorship agreement with U.S. Soccer, Glad has 1.5 million U.S. Soccer-branded packages of trash bags in supermarkets. One of its television and digital spots challenges consumers to treat its ForceFlex drawstring bags like a soccer ball. “Kick it, it can take it,” goes the narration as a bag is kicked from a kitchen to outside a family home and onto a soccer field.

Glad is activating through packaging and a sweepstakes; Century 21 (below) is a fresh renewal.
Glad is holding a sweepstakes for a post-World Cup vacation to Brazil (a trip valued at $25,000).

“A large part of our consumer target are moms who love soccer and are watching the U.S. in the World Cup with their families,” said Lin Zhao, Glad brand marketer. “This approach, supporting the U.S. team during its biggest moment and emphasizing the strength of our bags, works extremely well for us.”

Castrol: Tom Cavalli, a 39-year-old soccer fan from Willowick, Ohio, won a contest to become the Castrol Correspondent for the two weeks of group-stage play. Cavalli, who won by submitting a video professing his love for the game that was chosen in a Facebook vote as the best, attended the U.S. team’s first three matches and wrote blog entries and posted videos on the squad for Castrol’s Facebook page.

Century 21: During the first week of the World Cup, the world’s largest real estate sales organization renewed its deal with U.S. Soccer through February 2016. Century 21 is airing ads with the narrative “Based on a True Feeling,” depicting what it’s like to work with one of the company’s agents, during ESPN’s coverage of the tournament.

“It’s a perfect integration for us,” said Bev Thorne, chief marketing officer for Century 21. “The thing with home-buying and selling is that engaging in conversation is key. This World Cup has given us a lot to talk about. It started with [coach] Jurgen Klinsmann not selecting Landon Donovan, which had a lot of people talking. Then the games were fantastic and made headlines all over the country. Everyone has been watching the U.S. in the World Cup, so that has been very good for Century 21.”

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