Changes in Marketing (and Fashion) Mark 20-Year Evolution of World Cup

June 23, 2014 by Mike Goff

June 17, 1994, was opening day for the only World Cup hosted in the United States. That same date also happened to be the day O.J. Simpson and his white Ford Bronco were involved in a game of cat-and-mouse with police on the highways of Los Angeles – one of the more surreal sports-meets-real-world dramas of my generation.

Once I got past reliving the zaniness of the Simpson saga, I was struck by the comparisons of that opening round day of the World Cup with what we have watched thus far with World Cup 2014. From fashion to marketing, trends have changed.

First, check out the kits of the ’94 participants.  The jerseys actually seemed oversized compared to the trim and, in some cases, skin-tight tops worn on teams in the current World Cup.  Next, look at the boots—in 1994, the color choices were black, black or black.  When watching the U.S.-Ghana first-round match this year, who could miss the rainbow of color on the feet of the two teams?  Yellow, red, pink, multi-colored—it was all there.

I had also forgotten until watching the 1994 clips that advertisers were provided a small window in the upper left hand corner of the television screen where the sponsor’s brand appeared.  The brands rotated over the course of the two-hour broadcast with no commercial breaks except at halftime.  Current coverage has eliminated that rotating branding, instead relying on field signage – and an interview backdrop of logo soup – to raise sponsor awareness.

Speaking of signage, in ’94 there were no rotating signs—only static signs along the length of the field in camera view and behind the end lines. Global sponsors received the prime positioning in camera view for the majority of the game with U.S. sponsors like Sprint and Budweiser receiving smaller signs beyond the end lines.  As the lead in managing that Sprint effort in ’94, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I picked up the Los Angeles Times the day after Brazil beat Italy in the Rose Bowl for the World Cup title. There, in full view, was our Sprint sign in the photo of the winning penalty shoot-out goal.  Looking back, that static signage served Sprint well as that photo was replicated in media outlets around the country.

There are many parallels and comparisons that can be drawn between the world’s most popular spectator sport today and 20 years ago. Recently, I conducted interviews with members of the Sprint marketing team in 1994, asking them to recall their enduring memories and relate how sports marketing and sponsorship have evolved over the years. You can find the transcript of that conversation on our website.

And, finally, If you’ve not yet watched ESPN’s June 17, 1994 in the magnificent 30 for 30 series, it’s must-see viewing given the unique style employed by director Brett Morgen, who relied solely upon video for his documentary with nary a narrator’s word.  The documentary relives that date 20 years ago—opening day for the World Cup; parade day in New York for the Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers; game five of the NBA Finals pitting Patrick Ewing’s Knicks against Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets; day two of the U.S. Open, the last one for Arnold Palmer, and the drama that built throughout the day surrounding O.J. Simpson.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another day like in the annals of American sports.