It is the world's most popular sports event, except to Americans.
The World Cup doesn't capture the attention of a Super Bowl or an Olympics. Never has not even in 1994, when it was held in the United States and probably never will.
For some U.S. companies, however, the World Cup is a great buy, carrying international prestige and a place among the heavy hitters of sports sponsorship. An official FIFA sponsorship costs $40 million, excluding company expenses for personnel, advertising, marketing and promotions.
Gillette, synonymous with boxing and baseball for decades, has been a partner with the World Cup since 1970. The tournament, which will run in Japan and South Korea from May 31 to June 30, will be Gillette's ninth World Cup.
"It is one of the few sports that truly has global appeal," says Michelle Szynal, director of communications/global business management for The Gillette Company. "And we don't just sell products in North America, but all over the world. It's a great fit."
It fits because, visually, World Cup sponsors get a lot in return.
"Unlike the Olympics, you get dasher boards, so you don't have to spend anymore than that and still you get a pretty good media buy for your $40 million," says sponsorship analyst Craig Tartasky, chairman of International Sport Summit and president of Vertical Sports and Entertainment. "There is a high, specific value to that, whereas an Olympic sponsorship costs $60 million for the rights to the five rings, but there is no sight value."
Gillette's involvement has grown from stadium signs during the 1970 Cup in Mexico to elaborate consumer promotions, including a "Million Dollar Kick" this year.
While selling the product is foremost, the World Cup is a compelling draw for a sponsor.
"It is hard to quantify it," Szynal says. "Of course, to drive sales at the retail level ... but we also substantially increase our prestige in the minds of men who watch sports."
This is the first World Cup in Asia, but the geography and time change has not soured American companies. Although the return on any TV advertising could be minimal with starting times ranging from 1:30 a.m. CDT to 6:30 a.m. CDT, few sponsors expressed concern.
Why? Because the target audience is not necessarily the folks watching ESPN and ABC.
For MasterCard, the host sites present an opportunity to reach new consumers.
"The U.S. market is a secondary consideration with this event," says Deborah Hughes, vice president, global sponsorships and event marketing for MasterCard International. "The TV audience will be for U.S. games, the semifinals and finals, and with the Hispanic market.
"But the World Cup is probably the most cost-effective and powerful marketing platform for our brand worldwide. Having it in Asia, it would be beyond our reach if we'd try to get to these consumers on our own."