US Companies Kick around Idea of Soccer Sponsorship

Article excerpt

`SOCCER, why sponsor soccer? It's boring."

That's the question United States corporations wrestled with before the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament. But the World Cup has left behind a surge of interest in the sport among Americans, and US corporations are taking notice.

"Soccer got {a} cool {image} in the last 30 days," says Lynn Berling-Manuel, editor in chief of Soccer America Magazine, the country's leading soccer publication. "What the World Cup has done is given {soccer} visibility."

The biggest response in the corporate sponsorship arena so far has come from Nike Inc. The Beaverton, Ore., athletic equipment manufacturer announced July 14 that it would be the uniform-and-footwear supplier for six of the 12 teams in Major League Soccer, the US professional soccer league slated to debut next spring. Nike is the first to sponsor the new professional league.

Ms. Berling-Manuel says she sees Nike's decision as part of a natural progression. "If {corporate sponsors} don't stay on board in soccer after the Cup is over, I think they are not maximizing the investment they have already made," she says.

Businesses contributed a record $298 million for the rights to associate their products with the 1994 World Cup, says Jim Andrews, editorial director of the IEG Sponsorship Report. According to Mr. Andrews, that is more than the $236 million that companies chipped in to sponsor the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Mars Inc. (Snickers) is the first of the 11 1994 World Cup sponsors to jump on the soccer bandwagon in the US. The company signed a 20-year contract with the US Youth Soccer Association to sponsor a youth soccer tournament in the US called the Snickers Cup. The finals will be held July 27-31 in Blaine, Minn.

Other corporations that have not been World Cup sponsors are riding the new wave of soccer euphoria. Chiquita Brands International Inc. has been a longstanding sponsor of youth soccer in the US and is now increasing its level of involvement in the sport. …

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