Madison Avenue and brand marketers around the globe are taking stock after a World Cup that broke records online and in the ratings.
The tournament — and soccer generally — has proven itself to be the ultimate second screen event; Sunday’s final between Germany and Argentina broke Twitter’s tweet-per-minute record and 672 million tweets were sent throughout the tournament.
The sport’s global popularity and dramatic scoring events, combined with the light TV ad load (6 minutes per game vs. 32 minutes for the average NBA game), made the social TV one of the primary ways that brands could communicate with the global audience. According to Visible Measures, a total of 671 million video views were racked up by the top 97 social campaigns around the World Cup.
The legacy of this World Cup isn’t limited to those brand exposures. Record levels of social interaction also leave behind a vast trove of data that reveal the true nature of the World Cup audience, both at home and around the world.
As American brands ramp up year-round coverage of Major League Soccer and the Barclays Premier League, there is much to learn from understanding who tweeted about the World Cup and where. And frankly, the market research implications aren’t limited to soccer. Increasingly, all major live TV events leave behind a stream of millions of tweets that can provide valuable and granular insights for advertisers far beyond the overnight ratings.
Throughout the Cup, our firm Echelon Insights broke down a sample of tens of millions of World Cup tweets by country, by market, by city, by language spoken, and through data modelling, projected interest down to the ZIP code level.
Going beyond surface-level uses of social data (like tweets per minute or sentiment scores) we wanted to understand where soccer was penetrating the U.S. market, and where it wasn’t. We honed in specifically on the share of World Cup tweets as a share of overall tweets to get the best apples-to-apples read on the strength of the social TV audience.
Some of the findings aren’t shocking — soccer is huge among Spanish speakers in the U.S. — but others identify niche opportunities for advertisers and brands that aren’t as easily quantified by traditional market research.
Spawn of Soccer Mums Rise
In the mid-1990s, “soccer mums” were one of the most coveted political demographics. In 2014, their kids are all grown up, in college or entering the workforce. The data shows signs of strong interest amongst today’s millennials who grew up playing in youth leagues.
Our study didn’t specifically measure for millennials, but their footprint was unmistakable. College towns — even in the sleepy days of summer — were among the most consistently overperforming cities when it came to their likelihood to tweet about the World Cup.
Performanced ranged from 69% above average in college-heavy markets like Gainesville, Florida, to 44% above average in Madison, Wisconsin to 26% above average in Lexington, Kentucky. (Since we were looking at share-of-voice as opposed to tweet volume, we controlled for millennials’ tendency to tweet more in general.) This conclusion is borne out by Facebook data, where 18-24 year olds overindex for soccer interests by nearly 100%.
Takeaway: Looking to build awareness of your brand amongst millennials? Then soccer provides one of the most efficient sports-related plays.
Luxury Brands Take Note
The soccer audience is a potentially lucrative one for marketers. We ran a regression analysis on the World Cup’s share of voice in more than 2,000 cities. Median income came back as the strongest predictor of soccer interest, followed by the percentage of households with children. Suburban locales with bigger homes and younger families often performed best in our Twitter index of World Cup activity — including places like Reston in the Virginia suburbs of D.C., northern New Jersey, and Cary outside of Raleigh.
Takeaway: Traditional mainstays and athletic brands like Adidas dominated the airwaves around the World Cup, but the data suggests potential opportunities for luxury brands catering to families and an affluent clientele.
Will Bilingual Marketing Go Social?
Univision has already been dubbed the winner of this World Cup, delivering 35% of the total audience for the final. In key markets, and for certain games (like the Netherlands vs. Mexico), Univision routinely outdelivered ABC or ESPN.
This impressive TV performance was matched on social media. During the Final, 44% of Spanish-language tweets in the U.S. mentioned the game versus 24% for English speakers. This compares to nationwide World Cup Final conversation levels of 46% in Mexico, 45% in finalist Argentina, and 45% in Spain. Social data points to a Latino community in the U.S. that’s every bit as enthused about the game as any country in the world.
Takeaway: Without a bilingual component, social campaigns around the World Cup and soccer leave as much as a third of the potential U.S. audience on the table.
The MLS Effect
Soccer enthusiasts have been predicting the sport’s rise in the U.S. for decades. If there has been progress towards that end, the numbers suggest that Major League Soccer may have had something to do with it. Nationally, social interest in the World Cup was nearly 19% higher in MLS markets than in non-MLS markets, and in those markets, the highest performers are the hometowns of Real Salt Lake (overindexing by 35%), D.C. United (34%), and Sporting Kansas City (29%). The largest market without an MLS team to show such elevated interest was Miami — whose David Beckham-led expansion franchise may get off the ground in 2017.
Takeaway: As demographics (the rise of Millennials and Hispanics) serve to lift’s soccer’s popularity in the U.S. over time, local MLS teams are also providing an assist, especially in small to mid-sized markets. As the MLS and international leagues builds audience in the U.S., they can provide an attractive vehicle for reaching these rising demographic cohorts.
Patrick Ruffini is a partner and co-founder of Echelon Insights, a market research and digital intelligence company based in Washington, D.C.
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