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Brand Opportunity: Leveraging Soccer and the 2026 World Cup for Niche, Local or Global Market Growth.
As the 2022 World Cup Finals in Qatar approaches its halt, the global football gaze in the next 6 months will shift to the western world. The 2026 hosting of the greatest sporting event, The FIFA World Cup will be held for the first time in multiple countries; The United States of America, Canada and Mexico.
The 2022 hosting was the first winter World Cup ever and amongst all the off field criticisms, reservations and hesitations, the play on the pitch delivered and the young USMNT gave arguably its most mature tournament performance on the world's stage in two decades since a quarter-final finish, after a narrow 1-0 loss to losing finalists Germany who fell 0-2 to Brazil. Coincidentally the last time the Seleção got hands on the coveted trophy.
Well, enough with the history lesson. What’s the point of this article?
As the global game heads to the United States and its neighbors, brands have a unique opportunity to achieve massive growth and generate immense revenuein the years leading into the World Cup and extending beyond its hosting. The growth of the game has been immense in the US. It's no longer just the game young kids get registered to play at their local YMCAs or YWCAs. It's now a staple in American sporting culture.
- Major League Soccer (MLS) now has 30 teams.
- The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) has 12 teams.
- The United Soccer League (USL) now has 5 levels of competition with over 100 teams competing.
To complete the internal pyramid, several MLS and USL teams have academy structures that establish a footballing culture of player growth and development.
Caleb Wiley, Atlanta United first team player, academy graduate and U20MYNT player.
The vast number of teams at the varying levels reaffirm community and support. This structure is similar to the collegiate level of sports and its support across the United States. Fans are attached or invested to a team based on their own affiliations.
- Familial (dad supported the Ohio State, mom supported Georgia)
- Familiarity (cousin attended Alabama)
- Belonging (attended/graduated from Gonzaga)
- Localization (closest team to residence)
- Admiration (games are exciting and/or cute player on team)
- Threads (got gifted a Duke jersey for Christmas)
The same and many other reasons apply to fans of professional teams as well!
So what are the numbers then?
Taken from to the Athletic by Richard Deitsch; viewing numbers for the 2022 World Cup game between the USMNT and Wales
- Fox reported an average 8.306 million viewers
- Telemundo reported an average total delivery of 3.4 million viewers (total audience delivery includes linear, digital, and streaming viewership).
- Fox’s top-rated television markets for the game were Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas, San Diego and Philadelphia and also said it was the most-streamed Group Stage match in company history with an average minute audience of 563,000 viewers.
According to an article written by Josh Sim for Sports Pro Media the MLS numbers for average viewership and total attendance were:
- Average audience of 343k viewers per game across ABC and ESPN
- More than 10m fans hosted at stadiums across 2022 regular season
These numbers and consistent growth over the last 6 years no doubt informed Apple's decision to sign a first of its kind, 10-year partnership deal with MLS.
“ Apple and Major League Soccer today announced MLS Season Pass will launch February 1, 2023 — introducing an unprecedented subscription service to fans in over 100 countries and regions that features every live MLS regular-season match, the entire playoffs, and the Leagues Cup,1 all with no blackouts. MLS Season Pass will bring MLS to its biggest worldwide audience ever, in a more simple and streamlined way: All matches will be available on billions of devices through the Apple TV app on Apple devices, smart TVs, streaming devices, set-top boxes, and game consoles, and the web at tv.apple.com. “
Read more from the November 16th announcement.
So we’ve illustrated community and highlighted the numbers!
Where’s the opportunity for brands?
Sponsorship: 11 major cities in the US will host a minimum of 1 World Cup game in 2026, this provides several sponsorship opportunities across local streaming ads, in stadium branding, pre and post game activations, fan fest representation, swag, viewing parties, giveaways, meet and greets and so much more.
Content: depending on your target audience, the number of feel good, interactive or educational pieces of content that a brand could produce, leverage and circulate are endless. Here’s some free game “higher local talent at the very least to consult, your internal content team doesn’t know it all and often times, they can’t bring the viewpoints that will infiltrate and capture the hearts of the casuals or convert the naysayers who just want the World Cup to end because it’s causing traffic in their towns”.Community: several charities, soccer clubs, hospitals, coaching clinics, veterans associations, schools and communities love this game, they love to watch, learn, play and meet their role models. These initiatives are not only fundamental to winning the hearts but can bring lasting impacts to forgotten and undersupported people, organizations and communities. Is community and/or altruism a part of your brand’s frameworks or initiatives?
𝘾𝙀𝙇𝙀𝘽𝙍𝘼𝙏𝙄𝙉𝙂 𝘽𝙇𝘼𝘾𝙆 𝙃𝙄𝙎𝙏𝙊𝙍𝙔— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) February 1, 2022
In collaboration with @BlackArrowFC, we're thrilled to highlight #USMNT World Cup veteran @TonySanneh's work in the Twin Cities community.
Sanneh will serve as Game Ambassador for Wednesday's World Cup Qualifier in St. Paul. pic.twitter.com/NHtTkyorCT
🧤🧤🧤🧤🧤🧤🧤— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) December 17, 2021
Match on the line, you voted Ethan Horvath’s penalty stop vs. Mexico the Best Save of 2021! pic.twitter.com/HyUxb8xY2D
Patriotism: support America by amplifying America, what your brand has to offer and the USMNT on the global stage. This can take so many different shapes.
Market Growth and Expansion: A tournament that will attract the eyes of the world and more interest globally than ever before as the tournament will be expanded, featuring 48 teams. This means 16 more countries will be represented than the usual 32 countries at the tournament. WOW! So, how long has your global marketing team been pondering “how to enter a remote market with the proper local buy in?”
With visits from @Carles5puyol, @CassperNyovest and A LOT of passionate fans...#TrophyTour had a blast in #SouthAfrica! @CocaCola_ZA @FIFAWorldCup #readyfor #worldcup pic.twitter.com/8hWNXvu2wm— Trophy Tour (@TrophyTour) March 6, 2018
I could certainly write a lot more and even go in detail and assess particular brands, suggest strategies, tactics, timelines and develop plans to achieve all of what has been mentioned above, but I know great companies, hire great people to get this done!
Soccer is here and it’s growing, getting bigger and here to stay…
My name is Dwayne Smith and I'm not a writer or reporter, I’m a marketing professional with over seven years experience, a lifelong football fan and former player that is excited to experience the World Cup here in 2026 as a fan and I’m looking for my next role.
Got questions? Reach out, I’d be happy to help your brand grow.