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While soccer is often portrayed as an also-ran among major U.S. sports, marketers have been paying attention to its growth in America.
The estimated amount spent by TV advertisers on soccer grew 43% to $378 million in 2013 from around $265 million during the last World Cup year in 2010, according to Nielsen. That number is sure to spike with the eyes of the world glued to Brazil this month. And fans claim they're paying attention. A Harris Poll cited by Nielsen also found that 62% of soccer fans "take notice of the companies that support their favorite teams and players."
Global sponsor Hyundai has cut deals with ESPN and Univision to be the sole sponsor of halftime shows. That's key because soccer matches have far fewer commercial interruptions than more popular U.S. sports such as the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and Nascar. Rivals such as Volkswagen of America and Chrysler will try to ambush Hyundai by advertising around World Cup programming from June 12-July 13.
And it isn't just the World Cup.
Marketers looking to reach soccer fans have more network and programming choices than ever before. The number of English and Spanish-language TV networks offering soccer programming rose to 21 channels televising 3,891 soccer events in 2013, from 11 networks televising 2,613 events in 2010.
All these trend are helping Major League Soccer. The league's TV viewership rose 24% from 2009 to 2013, according to Nielsen. The number of adult fans (aged 18 years old and over) who say they've attended a MLS game or other big-time soccer matches are up 87% since the last World Cup.
"The uptick is perhaps a bellwether that 'the beautiful game' has finally found a foothold among sports fans here in the States," said Nielsen.
Soccer fans are also brand-loyal -- and well-versed in social media and the second screen, according to Nielsen. Among the key findings from today's report, which also includes data from a Harris Poll survey of 2,286 U.S. adults from May 14-19:
- 45% of Americans who follow soccer plan to buy merchandise to support their favorite player, club or league during World Cup.
- 54% of Americans who follow soccer believe wearing licensed sports gear is an important part of their World Cup experience.
- 62% of consumers who follow soccer take notice of brands that sponsor their favorite players and clubs.
- One-quarter of 18-24 year olds said they will post to Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels while watching World Cup matches, compared to 12% for the rest of respondents. Over one third (34%) of all respondents plan to look up player, team and game stats on their mobile device during World Cup.