My Three Cents

Just as companies are nothing without their customers, sports teams are nothing without their fans.  In the same way that marketers are getting great ideas from customers via the internet, sports customers (the fans) are also delivering and extending the impact of certain brands — and they deserve just as much recognition. Actually, many of the most interesting stories from the 2014 FIFA World Cup came from the fans.  They left me wondering:  how will they steal the show in the future and how can brands embrace them?  

Here are four of the best examples — that have nothing to do with the players — to come out of the recent World Cup.

Rallying the nation Mike D’Amico is a world class soccer fan with a marked resemblance to Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States.  D’Amico’s enthusiasm as “Teddy Goalsevelt,” the USA’s unofficial World Cup mascot, was so infectious that he shot to fame.  D’Amico understood and embodied the real Roosevelt’s exhortation to his fellow Americas to “keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”  Soccer may not be the national pastime in the U.S. yet, but D’Amico showed the world that, as a nation, we make a practice of reaching for the stars.

  Right place, right time, wrong posting — Belgian teen Axelle Despiegelaere was rooting for her country’s soccer teamin Brazil when a cameraman snapped her photo, which ended up going viral on Twitter and was featured in several newspapers.  Unfortunately for Axelle, the potentially lucrative modeling contract she won from beauty company L’Oréal was cut when controversy arose over a Facebook photo featuring the teen with a gun beside an oryx — a kind of antelope that she’d shot — with the legend, “ready to hunt Americans today haha.”  (How long will it be before people finally learn that their lives are an open book on the internet … and potential employers know how to read?)

  True Sportsmanship — No one likes to lose, but when you do, it pays to do so with a little class. The Japanese fans showed incredible solidarity and honor — and touched spectators worldwide — by staying behind and cleaning up after themselves after every match at the World Cup. They left their corner of the stadium spotless. The state government of Rio de Janeiro last week recognized their efforts, holding a ceremony to thank fans of the Samurai Blue. 

  Reaching for the Stars — I noticed that this year that Americans were considerably more aware of the World Cup.  Businesswas booming during the games at sports bars and social media was buzzing with posts tagged “#IBelieveWeWillWin.”  FIFA declared that fans from the United States were the most active among pertinent countries on their websites and mobile apps. That’s pretty remarkable.

At 26.5 million, the 2014 World Cup viewing figures dwarfed those for the recent NBA Finals, whose TV audience maxed out at 18 million people on ABC.  It may well be that soccer’s popularity has finally reached a tipping point, with the sport poised to go mainstream. 

Even though it didn’t turn out exactly as they hoped, the L’Oreal example is a great demonstration of how a brand can capitalize on viral stories generated by fans. It also shows that this tactic has potential risks that marketing teams need to consider.

I look to the fans to provide even more fascinating and instructive stories at the 2018 World Cup.

thought leadership


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