Sports Management Panel Explores the Growing and Global Phenomenon of Soccer

On April 18th at Columbia University’s Lou Gehrig Lounge in Dodge Fitness Center, M.S. in Sports Management students, alumni, and guests convened to listen to a panel of sports insiders discuss the future of soccer in the U.S. and beyond. Their wide-ranging conversation covered the growing interest in soccer in America, how to monetize this phenomenon, and how millennials and new technology are changing the conversation around sports.

Moderator John Guppy, president of Gilt Edge Soccer Marketing, kicked off the discussion by speaking about the increasingly global mindset of the sports fan and the international appeal of soccer: “The world's getting smaller. Geographic boundaries are being broken down [due to] technology, and soccer is the ultimate global game.” Greg Lalas, who works on content for MLS Digital, explained the demographic changes that have driven this shift in attitudes towards soccer: “Our population [in the U.S.] has changed so much over the last 25 years. Our whole population is very hyphenated right now, and hyphenated people seem to really like soccer.” Rudolf Vidal, CEO of FC Bayern Munich LLC, said that his brand is aware of these developments and sees the potential for Bayern Munich in the international market in general and in the American market in particular: “We decided to go to the U.S. first [before focusing on Asia] because we saw this huge opportunity.” The sport has particularly taken hold in New York City, due to the city’s international and diverse population. “There are more soccer fans in New York than any other city in the country,” said Tom Glick, president of New York City FC, who said that his company sees its role as unleashing the power of soccer that’s already in the five boroughs.

With the increased appetite for soccer and soccer coverage, how can sports brands and sports media media monetize these opportunities? Amy Scheer, vice president of marketing, media, and FRM at New York City FC said that it all starts with engaging the fans by creating compelling content. She said that soccer brands and soccer media need to “give you the content that you want to digest, so that you are part of our team, our family, and our community.” That sort of deep engagement, she implied, can attract and retain fans. Of course, audiences delight in highlights, too. Russell Sargeant, director of NBC Sports and Telemundo Global Sports Sales, said, “You tweet out [videos of] goals, there's a link in the tweet, and there's a 15-second pre-roll that's part of it – so that we can monetize that.” And because soccer fans tend to be young, affluent, and male, the audience is particularly attractive to advertisers, many of whom prioritize that demographic. Scheer summed up the appeal: “Our sport is not your father's sport.”

She also pointed out that not only is the soccer audience younger and, as Glick had mentioned, more racially diverse, soccer fans are also the most digitally savvy among sports fans overall. Compared with audiences for other sports, “soccer fans are the number one consumers of content via social and digital platforms. We did a 100 percent digital season ticket sales campaign, and I got 173 percent ROI, which is crazy,” she said approvingly. “For me, advertising-wise, because of millennials, it's 100 percent digital play.” Lalas said that social and digital media make it easier for fans to connect with one another not only nationally but also internationally, and that phenomenon “is really one of the drivers for MLS.”

Vince Gennaro, director of the M.S. in Sports Management program, said that these sort of insights into the global sports industry are exactly what employers in sports management are seeking. As such, “One of the things we're doing with the program is we're putting a global focus on it,” he said. “We feel, being based here in New York, there's no better place to have a program that has a global focus.”