The Global (Sports) Village

There’s a soccer ball bouncing through the global village.

Soccer—or more properly, “football”—is a global sport, similar to others traditionally played in the U.S.

This simple truth strikes home every four years with the FIFA World Cup, as a panoply of national teams compete—and more and more of your friends and relatives are interested in those colorful telecasts with each successive World Cup. We were all amazed to learn that 910 million people watched the 2010 FIFA World Cup final between Spain and Holland, and I include myself among the surprised, despite a career in international sports programming.

The most obvious reason for the rise in soccer viewership is the booming interest in the sport among younger Americans, but demographic shifts are another big catalyst. Surges in Latino and other ethnic populations in the U.S. are causing sea-change shifts in viewership patterns. An example of this is Univision’s regular dominance of NBC in primetime viewership among 18- to 34-year-olds over the past year, according to the Nielsen ratings service.

Other areas of entertainment reflect similar shifts toward global models. The movie box office now is dominated by international receipts, and once “emerging” markets in Asia and elsewhere are home to some of the most lucrative territories anywhere.

Meantime, it’s not just “football” that captures the fascination of Millennial America. A recent study by Frank N. Magid Associates found that an impressive 60% of 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed nationally are interested in global sports, compared to almost half of consumers overall.

There is no question that the youngest adult generation sees the world differently. For those of us in our industry who are making programming decisions, it is paramount to understand what content these tenuous pay-TV customers want to see —and also how they want to view it. 

Millennials are truly networked and globally engaged. They have grown up with a worldwide horizon, thanks to the Internet, multicultural DNA and greater access to international travel. They are proudly global citizens who look beyond physical borders for answers and inspiration—and that carries over to sports.

What does this mean for pay-TV programmers? Candidly, a lot.

The Magid study shows that offering a global-sports channel can play a key role in helping distributors acquire and retain subscribers.

The additional good news—for those securing programming rights for a 24/7 network geared to globally demanding American sports fans—is that there is a plethora of exclusive, live sports programming available to deliver on a multiplatform basis. And this can translate into enormously high value for pay-TV operators seeking to satisfy millennials’ demand.

So stay tuned, and watch for a conga line marked by a bouncing soccer ball. The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil approaches.

Brown is president and CEO of ONE World Sports