Role: Brand Strategy
Independent study | Capstone project
Soccer is widely known as the world's game; however, in the United States, the game is still getting established. With booming expansion clubs in major cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Cincinnati, soccer has become what feels like an overnight success. With attendance and interest in the game rising, US Soccer wanted ways to boost their brand and attendance to their yearly tournament, the US Open Cup.
The US Open Cup is the oldest soccer tournament in America pitting all affiliated and qualifying clubs against each other in a yearly single-elimination competition.
Provide recommendations that promote non-traditional viewership of US Soccer to convert casual fans into avid fans.
Soccer is not engrained into American culture like baseball, football, and basketball.
Give US Soccer a strategy that will connect American soccer fans.
Every project begins with curiosity. I want to know the current state of the company, barriers keeping them from achieving their goals, and key players in the industry. For US Soccer I needed to know everything under the sun and become an expert as quickly as possible.
Created a survey and received over 300 responses
Conducted a focus group to better understand where fandom begins
Held one-on-ones with pros, MLS employees, and a team owner
Flew to Orlando to meet with one of US Soccer’s number one fans
Went to a friendly between the USMNT and Ecuador
I wanted to leave no stone unturned if I was going to help US Soccer. During an interview with Rob Ukrop of the Richmond Kickers, I asked about a narrative that is typically discussed at the conclusion of a World Cup cycle.
“America’s best athletes don’t play soccer…”
In the United States, we consider the “best athletes” as the ones who are the most physically gifted; however, when it comes to soccer, a former pro stated, “Messi is 5’9 and 165 pounds soaking wet. He has the chance to be creative, in America we take the creativity out of sports.”
Even more interesting is that, “Mentally, kids don’t think soccer is accessible,” according to former MLS player Amir Lowery. Kids are playing basketball, football, and baseball because they can see a path into college. If parents want their child to play soccer at the collegiate level or be scouted by a university, they have to succumb to the harsh demands of tournament soccer and the fees associated with travel.
Soccer is the world’s game, but stateside some feel soccer is inaccessible
I wanted to test my research with one of US Soccer’s top fans in Orlando. This man was none other than Teddy Goalsevelt, a US Soccer superfan who became a viral sensation during the Brazilian World Cup in 2010.
Teddy never grew up a soccer fan but became curious about the game in the mid-2000s. His road to becoming an avid fan started with dipping his toes in soccer culture. He began only listening and watching soccer related content and realized, “It’s not soccer, it’s me.” He doubled down on my beginning research on how soccer wasn’t interwoven into American culture. Teddy left me with this sage-like nugget, “American sports are like a top-40’s pop song, soccer is mind-blowing jazz. It takes a lot of work to understand.”
Becoming a fan takes time, effort, and dedication.
Full disclosure, I have never claimed an MLS team as my own. I wanted to take the same path that Teddy took to fandom. I picked an MLS team and began learning the ins and outs of the club, the philosophy, the players, and the club’s supporters. I decided to only watch and read content about LAFC. LAFC has an inclusive community that welcomes all fans. Unfortunately, some club’s don’t welcome new fans the same way as LAFC. I learned that more avid fans of the game are more cautious of who they let into their community. Fans that were new to the club or considered bandwagoners were ignored or shunned.
People want soccer to grow in America but also want to keep the game to themselves.
When LAFC’s club and fanbase was being developed, selected fans were sent to Germany to watch Bundesliga giant Borussia Dortmund play. Fans of LAFC interacted with Dortmund fans and saw the team compete in some of Europe’s largest matches. The fundamentals of Dortmund’s supporter's group was brought back to Los Angeles to help mold the “3252,” LAFC’s massive cult-like following.
American soccer fans are still developing their own style of fandom
People will follow the US teams to the end of the Earth every four years.
However, when the World Cup ends, and all of the coverage fades, it's exhausting and demanding to understand the intricacies of a sport that’s not innately American.
US Soccer welcomes you to connect with the world’s game
How do we did we get here?
I knew at this stage of the project, the question I was answering was bigger than the US Open Cup. This was about how US Soccer presents itself and how they could better engage with the casual fan. I segmented both the casual fan and avid fan to gain a better understanding of both audiences. I concluded that we should be extending our marketing efforts if we wished to convert casual fans into avid fans.
Who is the Casual Fan?
Here i plotted how the casual US Soccer fan views soccer in person and through television. Overall the casual fan is more open minded about their experience but US Soccer needs to make a positive lasting impression to engage them.
Who is the Avid Fan?
The avid fan is one who has a jaded edge to their fandom and tend to have a deeper relationship with a European club. They are hopeful that the USMNT and the USWMNT are successful in international competitions but are ultimately critical of their performance.
How do we do it?
I created three different sets of tactics that would help engage casual fans but not alienate the avid fan.
I set to enhance the game-day experience for fans seeing the US National teams play. I found that even when the US men’s and women’s teams play friendlies in the United States, they are merely playing in another team’s stadium. Even though the game is on US soil, the stadiums don’t feel like a home for US Soccer, they feel like a rented space.
I introduced the use of projection mapping and augmented reality to gamify the entrance into the stadium and put US soccer’s most powerful brand assets front and center, the players.
For non-traditional viewership, I designed and prototyped a TViOS application to better view the US Open Cup and connect fans with their favorite Americans playing abroad. In the “Homegrown” feature of my application, people can sort by soccer leagues around the world and access content and stats from their favorite players.
To address issues surrounding accessibility, I created a yearly community initiative “City Score” hosted by a USMNT/USWNT team player that would encourage youth to play futsal at various parks around the nation. The goal is to break down any pretentious walls that surround American soccer to help people better connect with the game.
Lastly, I recommended a set of social media tactics using Instagram to help create more engagement with the US Soccer brand and tell the story of the US Open Cup. The goal is to leverage the current base of US soccer to help elevate the US Open Cup tournament by drawing more participation.
What does success look like for US soccer?
Soccer is growing in America as more people are engaging with the sport. The MLS now averages more people in attendance than France’s Ligue 1 with over 22,000 on average per game. In order for the US Open Cup to be successful, we need to look further than developing only tactics for the tournament. By focusing on the game at the international level, US Soccer has the chance to engage and convert more casual soccer fans by focusing on the experience. We then created a platform to have casual fans be connected and remain immersed in the game. By targeting casual fans at all levels, we have given US soccer a strategy to help everyone in America better connect to a more accessible game.