With the Fifa World Cup taking place in winter this year on account of the extreme heat in host country Qatar, there are dozens of implications for media buyers who (in the west at least) will simultaneously be plotting Christmas campaigns. As part of The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, we explore how the moved tournament is kicking up a media sandstorm.

For decades, the World Cup has drawn some of the largest linear TV audiences, both in the UK media and beyond. But with the schedule change this year, there’s a conundrum for marketers who now need to plan for a World Cup that could be charitably called controversial and uncharitably called a brand safety risk, while at the same time considering Christmas, Black Friday and back-to-school campaigns.

Speaking to The Drum on the TV Talks podcast, Mark Trinder, sales director at ITV, reflects on the absence of the tournament in the summer as a commercial broadcaster, saying: “A Euros or a World Cup for four weeks in the middle of the summer is literally like an island in the ocean. You can isolate it and wrap around it.”



How marketers are planning media around the Qatar World Cup

Thankfully for ITV, it has Love Island in its ocean, which has been pulling large audiences for the broadcaster this summer, but does Trinder think a Christmas ad campaign can really merge with a problematic desert World Cup? “You can’t put all those tactics together without breaking any codes or constants,“ he says, but he has seen brands develop creative that could feasibly click.

One thing that’s for sure, he says, is that audiences will turn up despite the wider debates around the tournament. “If you’re looking at your window at 4pm into the pitch black, you’ll probably prefer to watch an amazing game from Qatar – it’s going to feel so different [from a summer World Cup].” And if workforces are still remote this winter, there’s nothing to stop them from watching every game (10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm in the UK) from their desk.

In the UK, broadcasting is split between commercial broadcasters ITV and the BBC, which literally draw lots, each with different objectives. Trinder says: “We are going to competitively schedule. We will be putting something on for a broader audience against those games.”


The advertisers’ perspective

Yatin Patel, head of AV at Publicis Media Exchange (PMX), points out that advertisers will be able to buy TV spots across linear and live streaming on the ITV hub, hitting millions of people at once. “This is an opportunity on TV we have never seen before on this scale.”

He sees the World Cup bringing less of a revenue lift for broadcasters than if it was in that isolated summer ”island” Trinder previously mentioned, with the usual World Cup £30m-£50m broadcaster bump expected to total £15m-£30m instead.

Some clients are pursuing normal winter activity, some are getting more heavily involved with the football and a final few are keen to rethink their balances across linear TV and BVOD.

Patel adds: “The unknown is whether supply chain issues and rising costs will hamper clients’ budgets between now and the time to commit to buying activity in the World Cup, but agencies will have a better idea by the beginning of September when the official ITV advanced booking deadline passes.”

Meanwhile, he’s ”not aware of any clients that are looking to avoid advertising around the tournament” – but that could change. He predicts that the tournament will deflate the cost marketers need to pay for male-skewed TV audiences – we know many will be watching the best football the world has to offer.

Richard Kirk, chief strategy officer at Zenith, noted during Euro 2020 (in 2021) that the tournament offers ”cost-effective reach”. In the UK, the match represents some of the most ”reliable moments”, he says, at a time when moments where you can hit 10 million people with the same message are ”vanishing” in linear.

Another point is around targeting. Brands like to reach ”decision makers” in households at Christmas, which in many households still tend to be women. Outside of home nation games, the World Cup viewership will skew dominantly male. ”There’s quite a lot of demand for some of the programming that’s going to be non-football at these times because, if the logic follows through, those programs could deliver quite a lot of female viewing.”


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It stands to reason that ITV and BBC could compete with each other for audience in this manner. Why battle for the same audience when you could split a household over control of the remote? Obviously, these insights aren’t quite as set in stone as they once were, but statistically still hold true.

Meanwhile, it seems brands are quite comfortable buying advertising packages around the tournament. They’re not worried any negative associations will rub off and are confident viewers know the ads support the broadcasters. Some brands might even make use of a TVC to speak out against Qatari policy, with on-the-ground guerilla action ill-advised.

He concludes that the tournament also overlaps Black Friday and Cyber Monday – and with shoppable media maturing and digital viewership increasing, he could see some interesting direct response ads appearing.

Lee Mabey, the DEI lead of media and managing partner of Dentsu X, adds: ”Let’s make one thing clear. Despite the protestations, Qatar 2022 will be going ahead. Marketers need to consider the ethics of spending around the tournament, but this is not new territory. There are myriad examples of global sporting events hosted by countries with poor human rights records.

”The World Cup now falls in the ‘golden quarter’ and will only amplify the peak winter TV schedule. Almost 24 million people watched England’s historic victory against Denmark in the Euro 2020 semi-finals and a combined 29.85 million watched the final. Should England have similar success, we could expect similar viewing levels again. Will brands really want to miss out on those audiences? I do not think so.”

Credit: Thedrum