Steve Goff touched on a topic close to my heart yesterday. He asked readers, “What do you think it is going to take for an American soccer player to re-enter the mainstream commercial industry?”
I live in two worlds: soccer journalism and the non-sporting mainstream media. At magazine after magazine soccer is shot down for editorial coverage–the blow off usually arrives with something like “oh, another soccer pitch from Spangler.” A few laughs and editors move on. Asking why soccer and its players aren’t the kings of media would not be hard to answer–surprise, by and large no one cares about soccer in this country–but bringing that around to ask what it will take is a whole different matter entirely. Moreover, how do we get there? People caring about soccer is just the beginning.
Goff asks specifically about mainstream TV ads, giving up the Gillete commercial with Theirry Henry, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods as an example. For soccer specific ads he offers up the Dick Sporting Goods ads which air during MLS broadcasts. Goff comes to his question after seeing a low-budget commercial starring Braylon Edwards in which the Cleveland Brown’s wide receiver pitches one of the 457683 energy drinks on the market.
Now I wouldn’t exactly call the Dick Sporting Goods ads high budget or especially good for that matter. But I can’t think of another one, so hell, we’ll take it. But I can’t think of a single quality commercial of any kind, soccer or otherwise, since the lead up to the last World Cup that individually features an American soccer player. The past two years, those that follow a World Cup year, are on the wrong end of the ad dollar cycle that comes around every four years. Yet all the while companies spend big dollars on flashy ad campaigns based around foreign players and teams… club teams. Every day it seems another commercial-come-documentary appears from the internet ether to wow soccer fans. And they eat it up.
Even Stateside they eat it up. So my question–beyond asking why MLS can’t pay a Guy Ritchie to make some ads–isn’t so much what will it take to get a player back into the mainstream consciousness. I think we all know as much as we can what it will take–skill, personality, appearance, fame, money… the question is how do you get there?
There is no easy answer, any soccer fan in this country can tell you that. It’s another tangled version of the old chicken and the egg argument. Or is it a Catch-22? For MLS it’s “do you grow the league geographically or through building a talent pool of players?” For success, which one comes first? Or which one should come first? Does one have to come first? Can you do both without sacrificing either? For soccer in this country the question could also be, “do advertisers draw fans or do fans draw advertisers?” Would a great commercial help a young star become famous (Freddy Adu?) or do you have to prove your worth before the commercials come? (where have you gone Freddy?)
Especially in these tough economic times a company is probably wise to get more bang (or Youtube pageviews) for their buck with a commercial featuring a team or player the world recognizes than with one that doesn’t have that same global allure. A Cristiano Ronaldo ad goes around the world in seconds while even the best ads featuring American players merely bounce between our borders.
What would it take to break through? How do you attract an advertiser?
the most recent ad sent my way makes me wonder whether an American player could inspire such emotion?
tell me a story. the best commercials always do, but that takes time, talent, and money to produce–three things rarely bestowed upon American players.
Of my non-soccer friends, which is just about all of my friends, more than just a few have sent me a link to a soccer commercial that they loved. It’s as if the sport has on lock down the formula for good internet campaigns. Maybe I’m not looking, but I haven’t seen nearly as many “films” for other sports as I see for soccer. People who aren’t soccer fans are watching soccer commercials and enjoying them, and in turn they remember who the player is.
A player’s face becomes more recognizable every time their face is flashed on screen. People form an opinion. They love them and hate them. That in turn feeds the marketing machine and the player gets more offers–how do you think Beckham got famous in the U.S.? It wasn’t for his soccer playing, but the safe bet would be that the first commercial Becks was ever in was about soccer. And now he doesn’t even need the sport to sell himself. But you gotta start somewhere.
And that’s the rub. American players don’t transcend their sport into popular culture so they don’t get mainstream ad work and don’t elicit the potent fandom that fuels the fire. Getting a foot in the door–getting some mainstream ad work–would sure help with that whole transcendence thing. And that’s if a player even wants to do it; some clearly don’t.
American players aren’t the best, aren’t world famous, and so they don’t get the fabulous commercials with the Hollywood budgets. But it’s not like we weren’t ever there. The U.S. doesn’t have the world’s best player with a beautiful face to flaunt now, but the last time we did, she was in plenty of commercials ((and still is in a few))). How do we get back to there? What will it take? Goff answered his own question in his introduction.
Be like Mia.
banner image found on Flickr.