Rewind: The Day Soccer Came to U.S. Advertising

A Look Back to Spots From 1994 When We Hosted the World Cup

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Advertising Age Player

It took a football star to bring soccer to the mainstream. The year was 1994. The United States was hosting the FIFA World Cup, and during a commercial break during the first U.S. match to be played on home soil (against Switzerland), Powerade decided to tap the Super Bowl-winning Deion Sanders to tell Americans that soccer was the next big thing.

In the spot, created by McCann Erickson, a narrator asks, "What's the next thing, Deion?" The football star then looks at the camera and says, "Soccer, anyone?" After attempting to get the soccer ball, he ends up intercepting it -- with his hands -- and runs off. The ref gives him a yellow card, but Mr. Sanders gleefully grabs it and autographs the card, saying, "Must be a fan."

The brand is owned by Coke, which is one of the longest-standing corporate sponsors of FIFA. Powerade itself was only two years old: the brand was launched for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

According to Jamal Booker, manager-archives programs at Powerade, the ad was meant to parody Mr. Sanders' dual sports career with baseball and football. "At the time, Deion Sanders represented an evolution among professional athletes, someone who was proficient at conquering one new sport after another," Mr. Booker said. "His popularity as a versatile athlete was nearly unparalleled among Powerade's core target audience. His image and determination mirrored that of active consumers across all sports, including those who regularly played two or three sports year-round."

The match ended in a draw. The U.S. went on to the second round, losing to Brazil 1-0 with a strong performance. Brazil went on to win the World Cup.

But the U.S. love for soccer had just begun. Soccer star Tab Ramos also got his own commercial turn, via an ad for Snickers which also rain in 1994, in which he proclaimed that when he gets hungry, he reaches for the candy bar.

Commercials tried to bridge the gap between American-friendly sports like baseball and football and soccer. One example was Adidas, which also bought commercial time in 1994 with an ad featuring a cover of the baseball classic, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," interspersed with shots of soccer players in the U.S. It ended with the tag: "Soccer isn't coming to America. It's already here."

Coincidentally, Gatorade used the same song in 2006, via an Element 79 ad that played during the World Cup. It featured shots of the U.S. Men's Team's journey to the World Cup, and ended with the tag, "It's a whole new ballgame."

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