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Volume 27 No. 10
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World Cup Roundtable: Dissecting Event Marketing, Hype In France

The U.S. plays England today at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in the first FIFA Women's World Cup semifinal, and while American fans are ready to fully embrace a U.S. team should they reach the final, the overall excitement level in France has been a hot topic throughout the tournament. With debate over whether FIFA and its partners have done all that they can to promote the event, THE DAILY talked to Endeavor Global Marketing Account Dir Dylan Leslie, the AP's Anne Peterson, the L.A. Times' Kevin Baxter and The Athletic's Meg Linehan -- all of whom have been on the ground in France covering and working the event -- to gauge how they feel this World Cup has played out. Some responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

1. How does the marketing and sponsor activation in France compare with other Championship/All-Star events that you’ve covered? 

Peterson: The marketing in Paris was scarce when we arrived. It is better depending on the city. Reims has signs everywhere and an information desk set up in downtown. Many fans going to games in Le Havre stayed in Deauville, which was way more excited about a triathlon there than the World Cup.

Leslie: Brands got an early start leading up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Recent investment in women’s football include, Visa, Nike, Coca-Cola and Barclays. You can also see the creative --mostly digital -- from the likes of Visa and Coke, who have rosters of players competing in the tournament. FIFA has multiple channels running and dedicated social reporters for each team to tell the inside stories. The FA really shined having David Beckham, Raheem Sterling, Emma Watson and more announcing each player individually.

Linehan: Pretty slim outside of official FIFA areas. The best sponsor activation I have seen is from Visa, and then Nike within their own stores, and solid from Adidas, but there is no other sponsor activation or advertising outside of stadium boards or a few small things within fan zones. Qatar Airlines and Coke definitely dominate the stadium/fan zone sponsorship. Compared to the one game I attended in ‘15 (U.S.-Germany in Montreal), the signage and visibility in a major city has taken a real step back.

Baxter: It’s been the worst. I’ve seen very little signage or advertising. In Russia, there was World Cup stuff everywhere. South Africa, too. I haven’t seen one souvenir for sale outside the stadium. The banners with sponsor names are ubiquitous at the stadiums. But around town you wouldn’t have any idea a major sporting event was taking place.

2. How has this World Cup been put together and carried out from a logistics standpoint?

Linehan: Paris is a city that logistically can handle big games without changing much, but games in other cities such as Reims and Le Havre ended up being a huge issue. It doesn't look like adding any extra or late trains for matches was discussed. Some fans were at Stade Océane into the wee hours of the morning trying to get any mode of transportation that would bring them back to their hotels.

Peterson: The men’s World Cup in Russia was similar to the Olympics, with designated media hotels and regular shuttles to and from the stadiums. Those resources are not used for the women’s tournament. The media shuttles are nearly nonexistent. It was much the same for Canada. You were kind of on your own covering a big, unwieldy event.

Baxter: The schedules have been accurate and events have started on time. But the amount of personnel in the media center has been very poor. Staffing has been far too low for the amount of journalists that are here.

3. Is the fan experience at and around the games on par with the scale of an event as big as the World Cup?

Leslie: Around the games has been much quieter -- the fan experiences and activation zones. But at the matches, fans feel like they are at a match -- there is singing, there is drama, and there is athletic achievement. Post-game is a major difference. I’ve never seen players come over to the stands to chat with fans, friends and family. These women are taking the time to recognize those that are celebrating and supporting them.

Baxter: No. In other World Cups there were always fan fests, fan events, viewing parties that were well-attended and well-advertised. I went to many of those in Russia. I have seen nothing remotely similar here, nor have I seen ads for them or media coverage of them, even for the French games.

Peterson: Not even close. In Russia, you knew there was a World Cup in your city. In France, not so much.

Linehan: In-game experience depends on the teams involved. France games have been incredible, as have USA and a few other countries whose fans traveled well (the Netherlands). But there was not much of an attempt to hype the tournament.

4. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the excitement level of locals about the World Cup?

Peterson: Maybe 5, if that. My Uber driver in Lyon had no idea what I was talking about.

Baxter: I’d say 2. Fans clearly watched the French games on TV and attended the home team matches. But I saw no one around town in a national team shirt -- rarely saw the games on in bars or restaurants and didn’t hear anyone discussing them. You wouldn’t have known the World Cup was here.

Linehan: 10 in the stadiums for France games. Maybe a 2 or 3 around the cities outside of France playing. I watched a France group-stage match in a small cafe, and the locals were asking why the table of Americans was far more invested than the actual French people in the room. The people around France generally don't seem wildly invested in the World Cup at all.

Leslie: 7. It has seemed quiet in the host cities, but the French drove attendance and the stadium atmosphere. French matches were electric and loud. You always hope the host country advances as far as possible for the tournament intensity and buzz, which is much easier when the French team was one of the top three teams in the tournament.

5. What is one thing that has surprised you (good or bad) about the on-the-ground marketing?

Linehan: How underwhelming it is. Arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport, there were giant ads featuring Serena Williams thanks to Roland-Garros. There hasn't been a single version of that for the World Cup I have seen yet. The fans have largely brought the atmosphere so far this tournament.

Baxter: It was non-existent. A few banners from the French football federation in the subway and that was about it. They had a long time to plan for the event, and given the country’s win in the men’s World Cup last summer, I expected more excitement.

Leslie: Unfortunately, the physical/tangible feeling of the event isn’t there. Signage is lacking, especially in the bigger cities. On the flip side, it’s a beautiful thing when you see men and boys wearing women’s shirts.

Peterson: The lack of it, except for the hype surrounding the U.S.-France quarterfinal in Paris. I would have thought there would be a lot more buzz.