The changing landscape in North America


Growth of soccer and rugby offers a significant opportunity in the industry's biggest market

By Simon Lamb, Group Marketing Manager

North America is the largest market in the sport industry with 41% share and is core to our long-term strategy. With sports such as soccer and rugby beginning to get traction in the region and U.S. sports enjoying similar success on a global scale, the market is evolving and we are evolving with it.
Soccer is thriving in North America. This is driven by success on a national scale, notably for the U.S. Women’s team who won the 2015 FIFA World Cup, a tournament we created the ‘look and feel’ for. The dramatic 4-2 victory over Japan in the final was watched by more U.S. viewers than the NBA or Stanley Cup finals. Inspired by this success, and global stars like Andrea Pirlo and Steven Gerrard who are playing in Major League Soccer (MLS), the sport is now the second most popular, after the NFL, among 12 to 17-year-olds.

Another sport enjoying success at a grassroots level is rugby, with youth rugby growing by 25% in the last three years. The sport is also the fastest growing collegiate sport for both men and women which is a trend that bodes well for the national team. With the creation of the Super League, a semi-professional domestic league, the sport can now provide a route to professionalism for talent who would traditionally aspire only to a career in the NFL.
The United States 7s team, which turned professional in 2012, has enjoyed success on a global scale in the HSBC World Sevens Series, most notably a famous victory in the 2015 London 7s. A subsequent victory in 2015 NACRA Men’s Sevens Championships clinched a spot for the team in this summer’s Olympic Games, where stars such as Perry Baker and Carlin Isles, who is an Ambassador for our client HSBC, will be hoping to inspire the next generation of U.S. rugby players.
This globalisation of rugby and soccer is being replicated by U.S. sports, for instance with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, who we’ve worked with to promote their annual matches in London. This trend of sports expanding globally is creating the need to develop a connection with those fans who are not local through compelling digital and video content. The world is shrinking and sports are becoming more global.​

Gross impressions are a thing of the past, it is social traction that brands are increasingly striving for, particularly in the highly social North American market. Engagement is the barometer of success in today’s sponsorship landscape, and the second screen is the medium. Evidence of this was the remarkable social figures generated by Game 7 of the NBA finals, between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, with more than 43 million people discussing the match on Facebook, through 269 million engagements, and 7.5 million tweets, in three hours, from U.S. users alone.
Millenials in North America are interested in experiences, but when they can’t afford to go to a game each week, where are they going to find that engaging experience? Through their digital interaction with the properties and brands. Virtual reality is the next big step in digital engagement, providing unique opportunities to bring the fan closer to the sports and athletes.​

Another way in which this younger demographic in the United States is shaping the sport industry is by driving the rapid growth of eSports, which is estimated to expand from a $750 million market to more than $1.9 billion by 2018. After Asia, North America is the largest eSports market contributing $224 million in revenue. This revenue is overwhelmingly driven by sponsorship and advertising, which generates 78%, indicating an appetite from brands to invest in this sector. This is demonstrated by brands like Coca-Cola and Red Bull who are growing their marketing budgets specifically for eSports in the U.S.
This evolving landscape in North America is a major focus of our business and hugely exciting as we pair our regional and global expertise to deliver breakthrough solutions for clients.

Written by Simon Lamb
Group Marketing Manager