2014 World Cup: What a Difference 4 Years Makes

America, if you think the big game is a big deal, just wait until the World Cup. What the rest of the world considers "football" kicks the gridiron to the curb, at least in terms of worldwide interest. It's catching on stateside too, and fast. This year, professional soccer is more popular than ever in the U.S., driven in part by the growing U.S. Hispanic population (known for their love of the game). This means that the tournament is an unparalleled opportunity for marketers, but the playbook has changed. Over the past four years, technology has let fans engage with the games in new ways, and brands are following suit. Here are the new realities that every marketer should know to win over the World Cup audience.

This year's World Cup will be a huge global moment.

The World Cup is the largest, most connected global sporting event. Worldwide, it has more interest on Google Search than the big game, the Olympics, and the Tour de France combined. If you’re looking to reach an audience of sports fans—from the crazed to the casual—the opportunity doesn’t get any bigger.

Search Interest for Major Sporting Events
Source: Google Data, January 1, 2010–May 14, 2014, Indexed Search Query Volume, Worldwide

While it’s big everywhere, the World Cup is most popular in Latin American countries. Sierra Leone, Brazil, Haiti, Costa Rica and Uruguay are the world leaders in Google searches for the tournament.

Searches for FIFA World Cup by Country
Source: Google Data, January 1–May 15, 2014, Search Query Volume, Worldwide

The web makes it easy for American audiences to become soccer fanatics—and many are, especially young urbanites and Hispanics.

U.S. interest has been rising over the past five years, bolstered by key events such as the World Cup and the Olympics.

U.S. Growth in Soccer Interest
Source: Google Data, January 2009–April 2014, Indexed Search Query Volume, United States

England’s Premier League is fueling U.S. interest in soccer, perhaps because there’s no language barrier. We’ve seen 233% growth in interest over the past year alone. UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) is popular as well.

U.S. Interest in Premier League, Major League Soccer and UEFA
SOURCE: Google Data, January 1, 2004–May 15, 2014, Indexed Search Query Volume, United States

Soccer is becoming the “go-to sport of the thinking class,” according to the New York Times. To that point, we’re seeing the most searches for the World Cup coming from cities with a lot of young, creative types.

Top Metro Areas for "World Cup" Searches
Source: Google Data, January 1–May 14, 2014, Indexed Search Query Volume, United States

Most of these cities also have large Hispanic populations. Indeed, just as Latin American countries are fueling global interest, the population growth of Hispanics is a large driver of interest in the U.S. According to Pew, 46% of Hispanics are looking forward to the World Cup, compared with 15% of non-Hispanic whites.

The web, especially mobile, might be a cause of this growing interest. As pundit Roger Bennett puts it in the New York Times, “Soccer is the perfect sport for the Internet era. American fans can follow games and instantaneously track information from global leagues both big and small, feeling as close to their favorite teams as if they lived within a thrown beer of their stadium.” It’s also worth noting that U.S. Hispanics are digital trendsetters, adopting smartphones faster than any other demographic, according to Nielsen. It follows that digital should be a core part of any strategy to reach and engage these fans.

Mobile has changed how soccer fans get in on the game, creating chances to reach them in real time.

The shift to constant connectivity means that many fans watching a match now have a smartphone in hand. This wasn’t the case even four years ago. In 2010, about 18% of searches for games, players and teams during the World Cup final were done on a mobile device. Compare that with 2014, when 63% of those searches during a popular UEFA Champions League match were done on mobile—an early indicator of what we’ll see during this year’s World Cup.

Fans aren’t just searching more on mobile; we’re actually seeing a new pattern of behavior emerge. During the 2010 World Cup, query volume dipped during games as fans were focused on the big screen. Most search activity happened at the end of games on desktop, as you can see in the Spain vs. Netherlands World Cup match. This has changed significantly. Looking at a UEFA game this year, you can not only see that more searches happen during the game (mostly when goals were scored), but their combined volume far surpasses the searches at the end of the 2010 World Cup match.

Searches For Games, Players and Teams: During 2010 World Cup Spain vs. Netherlands Match
Source: Google Data, July 11, 2010, Indexed Search Query Volume, United States

Searches For Games, Players and Teams During 2014 UEFA Munich vs. Madrid Match
Source: Google Data, April 29, 2014, Indexed Search Query Volume, United States

Now, watching games is a much more active experience. “Second screening” has become so common that it’s striking to see that it barely existed a mere four years ago. This is creating more moments for marketers to reach fans online right when they’re most engaged.

Soccer fans get their fix on YouTube, and brands are scoring big with chart-topping videos.

Soccer is by far the most watched sport on YouTube globally this year.

Views of Sports Videos on YouTube, April 13–May 13
Source: Google Data, April 13–May 13, 2014, Indexed Video Views, Worldwide

Looking at a 30-day period this year, many more hours of soccer content have been watched on YouTube than were broadcast during the 2010 World Cup—over 900 times the amount.

Source: Google Data, April 13–May 13, 2014, Video Views, Worldwide

Savvy advertisers are serving up great soccer content for fans. This year, four of the ten ads on the April YouTube Ads Leaderboard are related to the World Cup. Interestingly, Nike has two of the top ads, and they’re not even an official sponsor. Further, the top five most watched soccer videos in the U.S. right now were all published by brands. This is a brand-new phenomenon. In May of 2010, only one of the top videos was branded (an ad for Brazilian food company Seara). And before the games have even begun, this year’s top videos already have 4.6x more views on YouTube than the top five in 2010.

Why is this audience so valuable for marketers? Soccer fans care—a lot. According to a Google Consumer Survey conducted in May, 25% of men in the U.K. admitted to getting at least teary-eyed during a match (only 15% of women in the U.K. said the same). You don’t have to be in the sports business to tap into this passionate audience (in fact, most of the official sponsors aren’t). An inspiring example: Ogilvy Brazil won a Grand Prix at Cannes for Immortal Fans, an integrated campaign that encouraged fans of Sport Club Recif to become organ donors.

It’s clear that brands are recognizing that global moments such as the World Cup offer exciting opportunities to connect audiences around the world through digital, a trend we’re sure to see more of in coming months.

For the first time, you'll be able to see unique Trends insights from every match throughout the tournament, including players to watch, and questions people are curious about. Visit google.com/worldcup starting on June 9.

Jordan Rost

Analytical Insights Marketing, Google

Brad Johnsmeyer

Analytical Insights Marketing, Google

Allison Mooney

Editor-in-Chief, Think with Google and Head of Trends & Insights, Google

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