ESPN, Univision In Strong World Cup Ad Sales Form

The 2014 World Cup finally kicks off in Sao Paolo today, but for viewers checking out the play on ESPN and Univision platforms back in the States the time has also arrived to become familiar with the sponsors supporting FIFA’s famed tourney.

In their final run with the World Cup under their expiring contracts, executives at both U.S. rights-holders report they are in a favorable advertising place.

Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN global customer marketing and sales, said the company was in a very strong position with the event as “interest in soccer and the World Cup is significantly higher than it was four years ago for ESPN.”

Univision president of advertising sales and marketing Keith Turner noted: “We are very well sold for the World Cup tournament. We have had an overwhelming response from advertisers who recognize that soccer and the World Cup in particular is by far the biggest sport for Hispanics. It has been the most successful tournament to date for our company.”

Last time around in South Africa, ESPN and Univision netted record audiences with their coverage overall, averaging 3.3 million and 2.3 million per match, respectively. Together, their 2010 World Cup presentations drew 111.6 million U.S. viewers who watched at least six minutes of play a 22% increase from the 91.4 million reach for the 2006 World Cup from Germany. 

With soccer interest having escalated globally and in this nation since the 2010 World Cup, and a more favorable time zone – Brazil is one hour ahead of the eastern time zone, placing more matches in afternoon and early evening time slots than four years ago --  the expectation is ratings will grow, especially if the U.S. and Mexico perform well.

While the tourney, which runs through July 13, plays across interest in the 32 finalists, both parties still have some units in reserve to capitalize on opportunities tied to the fortunes of Sam’s Army and El Tri advancing from Group G and Group A, respectively.

“You hold a little bit in your pocket,” said Erhardt. “It’s a month-long tourney, not one game.”

Turner acknowledged that Mexico is “obviously a team that is extremely popular with our audiences and delivers strong ratings. However, there are 10 Latin American teams that are followed closely by our audiences, as well as the U.S. squad.”

Noting that soccer’s flow of game limits commercials to pre-, post-game and half-time segments, Erhardt said sponsors –both official FIFA partners and World Cup sponsors and other advertisers – have secured positions in linear shoulder programming, as well ESPNWatch, the  revamped and ESPNFC.

“There is a lot more flexibility in social and digital,” he said.

Among those marketers that have secured significant positions in ESPN’s World Cup coverage are FIFA supporters like Adidas, which is the group presenting sponsor, Kia, the pre-match presenting, Hyundai (halftime presenting), as well as Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola and McDonalds.

Other key ESPN partners include:  Bacardi, Microsoft, Volkswagen, P&G, T-Mobile, Unilever, Pepsi, Nike, Apple, Gatorade, Subway and AT&T, which is sponsoring ESPN's multilingual World Cup bracket predictor. The tool allows users to choose which of the 32 teams they believe will advance to the finals. Similar to ESPN’s March Madness basketball brackets, the World Cup edition will assign point totals to each correct pick. The bracket is available in both Spanish and English across and

Univision’s lineup also represents a cross-section of official tournament backers and other advertisers, spanning the gamut of categories.

“We have seen significant activity across many of our top categories and significant growth versus the prior tournament in the auto category with Hyundai, Chevrolet, Volkswagen and Nissan participating,” he said, before listing beer (Budweiser, Bud Light and Crown Imports), wireless (T-Mobile and Verizon) and movie studios (Walt Disney Motion Pictures, Buena Vista, Warner Bros., Lionsgate Entertainment) as hot sectors.

Turner attributed the growth in no small measure to the conversion of the 40-million subscriber cable service, Univision Deportes Network, into a de facto 24/7 World Cup channel over the next month.

“Part of our success is our new Univision Deportes Network that we didn’t have four years ago and has played a big part of our activities,” he explained.  “In addition to showing a simulcast of live games and pregame and postgame shows, the UDN will feature shoulder programming around the event and will become a World Cup focused channel throughout the tournament.”

Overall, Turner is quite bullish on the tourney from Brazil. “Both from a ratings perspective and a sales perspective, this World Cup will be by far the most successful sporting experience that we’ve had on our air ever,” he said.