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November 1, 2022 // //  //       //  Opinion

Can The World Cup Make An Impact On American Sports Advertising?

Sports advertising in the United States operates under a different model than in other countries, but could the upcoming World Cup leave an impression on American sports?   

We’ve all watched one of our favorite American sporting events on TV and been at least slightly discouraged by the number of ads we sit through. Commercial breaks can make the end of a close NBA game an utter chore to watch, even for the most passionate basketball fans. But other countries don’t soil their sports like this. For example, European countries don’t sit through nearly as many commercials just to watch a game. This is for several reasons, including the nature of their most popular sport, fan demand, and even legislation. The World Cup broadcasts later this month could give U.S. sports fans a taste of what they miss out on.  

The most popular league in the U.S. – the NFL – requires fans to sit through 50 minutes of commercials throughout a typical three-hour and twenty-three-minute broadcast. And these numbers go up in the playoffs. Across the pond, however, sports fans see about 10 minutes of commercials during a typical English Premier League match. 

This is a stark difference. American sports fans might be surprised to see how few commercials they’ll watch during a World Cup match in a couple of weeks. 

Soccer Demands Fewer Commercials 

One of the reasons why soccer doesn’t have as many commercials as American sports is because of the game’s nature.  

Soccer games are on running time, which means there’s no pause in the action and no opportunity for TV networks to introduce a commercial break. The clock doesn’t stop when the ball goes out of bounds or when there’s a substitution. And with no stoppage in gameplay, there’s no commercial break.    

Some professional soccer leagues attempted to introduce breaks in the action for the sake of commercials, but those plans were quickly tossed. The A-League in Australia and New Zealand tried to implement hydration breaks during games early in the COVID-19 pandemic. These were breaks in the action to broadcast commercials in the guise of letting players get a drink of water. Hydration breaks were quickly scrapped after fans, players, and coaches complained.  

Even in the U.S., soccer demands fewer commercial breaks. Broadcasts of the U.S. Women’s National Team, the National Women’s Soccer League and Major League Soccer have fewer commercials than broadcasts of other U.S. sports. The difference is not as many Americans typically watch soccer as other sports. For the games they do watch, such as the USWNT World Cup championships, there’s no doubt networks would love to squeeze in multiple commercial breaks but just can’t find the space.   

Will Americans Watch This Year’s World Cup?  

The difference in the advertising models hasn’t been front and center for American sports fans because simply put, they don’t watch soccer. These fans are accustomed to the advertising model they see in broadcasts for the four major American sports.  

Soccer is far and away the most popular sport in the world, but many Americans don’t seem to get what all the fuss is about. The World Cup has all the ingredients to draw in American fans toward a sport they don’t typically watch. It’s a massive international tournament with star power, the highest levels of competition, and – this year – U.S. representation. On its own, the World Cup is the most widely followed sporting event there is, and that won’t change this year.  

The United States Men’s National Team is about to play in this tournament for the first time since 2014. In that year, more than 24.7 million Americans watched the U.S. men play in a Group Stage match against Portugal. That is more viewers than the most highly watched 2022 NBA Finals game (16.8 million), 2021 World Series game (14.3 million) and 2022 Stanley Cup Finals game (6.9 million).  

On paper, this year’s USMNT is no slouch. It is arguably the most talented group of players U.S. Men’s Soccer has ever assembled with more players from professional European leagues on the roster than any USMNT before it. It ranks 16th in the FIFA World Rankings, despite being the youngest team to qualify for this year’s World Cup.  

Imagine the interest a competitive U.S. Men’s team would garner if it made a deep World Cup run. There could be many U.S. sports fans following a soccer tournament for the first time in their lives. 

Could The World Cup Have An Influence on U.S. Sports Advertising? 

If tens of millions of casual American sports fans watch this year’s tournament, they will quickly notice the stark difference in advertising models between a soccer broadcast and their favorite sports leagues. And if these fans followed the tournament all the way through, they could grow accustomed to this different model of advertising. 

Consumer demand always dictates how products evolve. If sports fans decide they don’t want their games to be saturated with an hour of ads, they won’t watch until they see a change.  

Some U.S. leagues have already been influenced by soccer leagues in other countries. In recent years, the NBA made the big change of adding advertisements to players’ jerseys, and the NHL will follow suit this season. But so far, it seems these leagues are slapping ads on jerseys without cutting down on commercial breaks. It would take a noticeable demand from fans for this to change.  

U.S. fans are about to get a different sports viewing experience than they’re used to. These fans could decide after this year’s World Cup that this is what they want – fewer ads, fewer breaks in the action, and more gameplay. What they do to get it remains to be seen.  

Ramin Edmond is a lead content strategist on the Marketing Innovations Team and is an experienced storyteller, interviewer and writer. He is a contributor for Allison+Sports, the sports marketing specialty at Allison+Partners.


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