Selling Soccer to An American Audience

Will the campaign drive the viewership for which NBC is hoping?  Only time will tell…The ads will bring viewers, but the product has to retain them.

The Barclays Premier League (BPL) season kicked off today with a full slate of matches (unfortunately, my dear Sunderland AFC Black Cats suffered a 1-0 home defeat).

Soccer, being the most popular sport in the world, is big business; however, it is a notoriously second-tier sport in much of North America (and in particular in the United States) despite decades-long efforts by FIFA, US Soccer, and MLS.  In fact, many of the world’s top minds are focused on two of the most vexing issues in business:

  1. How does one make money in China?
  2. How can you get Americans to like soccer¹ (en masse)?

NBC is the latest network to take on the challenge, investing a quarter of a million dollars for BPL broadcast rights in the United States.  On NBC’s side is the multicultural make-up of the American populace, a blossoming domestic league, high-profile American players achieving success overseas, and a large and relatively untapped (by soccer) population.  Working against the network is a potentially saturated sports landscape that includes powerhouses such as the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, and the NCAA, and to a lesser extent the NBA, UFC, and (in some markets) the NHL.

So the marketing folks at NBC asked themselves, “How do we sell soccer to an American audience?”  Well, they could do a lot worse than this hilarious ad:

American Football coach Ted Lasso faces a long learning curve adjusting to the beautiful game

American Football coach Ted Lasso faces a long learning curve adjusting to the beautiful game

Some Googling pointed me to this article at The Inspiration Room that informs me that the campaign was developed by The Brooklyn Brothers.  If you’re even remotely interested in advertising, then I encourage you to read their “About Us” page.  From that page, and something that the folks at NBC no doubt realized, is that “brands can no longer simply buy an audience; they have to earn their own”.

The “An American Coach in London” campaign does a lot of things right:

  1. It’s creative, funny, and memorable: I learned about it from a friend, and I’ve subsequently passed it along to a dozen or so friends.  Apparently, we’re not the only ones sharing the link – at the time of writing the video has been viewed more than 4 million times within two weeks of its posting. You can never be assured that something will go viral, but you can improve your chances.
  2. It doesn’t tip-toe around issues: Americans get mixed up between football and football?  The whole campaign plays on that!  Stereotypes about American coaches?  Check.  Confusion about rules like off-side?  Addressed.
  3. It relates something new (soccer) with something familiar (football): Advertisers understand the importance of mental associations (e.g., improves recall, generates positive feelings, etc.), and this ad succeeds in associating soccer with football without compromising either.

You can never be assured that something will go viral, but you can improve your chances.

Will the campaign drive the viewership for which NBC is hoping?  Only time will tell; however, at the very least people will know that NBC has soccer coverage.  The ads will bring viewers, but the product has to retain them.  After all, as David Ogilvy said, “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.”

What do you think?  Any favourite ads of your own that you’d like to share?

¹For the sake of clarity, I’m going to refer to “Association Football” as soccer; those familiar with my affinity for technical correctness might be aghast at this choice, but to those I say: more countries than you think used to call it “soccer” (even if it’s mainly a North American term nowadays), and I don’t want to have to say “American Football” every time I post something related to the NFL.

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Posted in Advertising, Everything, Marketing, Soccer, Sports

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