World Cup: Has it really been 20 years?

June 2, 2014 by Mike Goff

As the world readies for World Cup 2014 and concerns about Brazil’s ability to pull off this massive quadrennial sporting event, it’s hard for me not to think back 20 years to when World Cup came to the U.S. for the first and only time to date.  That event was my first foray into sports marketing and the merry band of brothers and sisters who engaged in the management of Sprint’s first sport sponsorship remain valued friends and colleagues.

World Cup USA 1994 was Sprint’s first serious entry into the world of sports marketing.  The company was evolving from US Sprint to Sprint and thus the platform of soccer’s biggest stage seemed only fitting for a brand expanding internationally.  Additionally, World Cup was a brand play intended to make Sprint more relevant in a then long-distance world dominated by AT&T, with competition from the other upstart—MCI.

Thankfully, we made the right decision to engage with sports marketing agency partners who knew this space and who would become valued consultants in the 18+ months that led up to the summer of 1994 and the matches played out over nine U.S. markets.  Sprint became not only a U.S. sponsor of the World Cup and the U.S. team, it was a vital technology partner given the challenge of linking together the nine venues and the media center, which was headquartered in Dallas.  Sprint used this platform as a way to prove the company’s ability to handle large-scale telecommunications challenges that stretched domestically to internationally.

I think back to that time and to the burgeoning technology that was used by our group of Sprint associates and agency partners.  Wireless phones were a God-send but the devices of 1994 weren’t called “brick phones” for nothing.  And, our team utilized a service called “800 number” as a 24/7 way to get problems remedied quickly through calling in to customer service representatives.  Yes, it all seems incredibly dated now, but 20 years ago, it was a key part of how we handled this massive undertaking.

I will attentively follow the upcoming World Cup, will root for our U.S. team to survive the “Group of Death,” and will fondly recall those many days and long nights managing Sprint’s soccer involvement.  That initial sports investment set the groundwork for the significant sports and entertainment partnerships that followed—NFL, NASCAR and many others.  It’s a legacy that our team in 1994 should be proud of.