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Op-Ed \ Mark Noonan

U.S. Soccer about to launch major grass roots campaign.

By Mark Noonan
Special to SoccerTimes

Mark Noonan, chief marketing officer for the United States Soccer Federation, responded to a recent SoccerTimes column by Jerry Langdon calling for fan support for the United States national team and said a drive to involve the soccer community in a grassroots campaign would be launched shortly. Excerpts from his letter to the writer:

(Friday, March 12, 1999) -- I, more than most, appreciate your comments about U.S. fans supporting our product either by attending National Team matches or watching them on television.

One of the key things we need to do is convert all those participants in to fans and consumers of U.S. Soccer. Needless to say, this will take a long term concerted effort focusing on an improved product on the field and a much better presentation on television. In short, we have to offer a product that people want to buy and package it in a way that compels them to buy. Then we need to tell them when and where it's available.

With Bruce Arena's early results and our partnership with TWI on the television front, I think we're on the way. The key is consistency over the long haul.

One of the things that I've been preaching since I joined the Federation six months ago is the need to get the so-called soccer "family" to buy our products. Given our four million registered members (not to mention the millions more who aren't registered), if we can only convince our own family to consume U.S. Soccer, we'll be a force the television networks will have to reckon with.

Imagine a bidding war between the networks for soccer coverage. It can happen if we are together. Add to that the compelling demographics of our audience, and we've got a chance to compete for our fair share of coverage versus the established sports and entertainment properties.

Without it, we can complain all we want about the lack of respect we get, but the numbers simply don't lie. After all, like it or not, this is a business and it's about results (on and off the field).

A key to getting the soccer family together is simple awareness and consistent communication of what we need them to support. We don't have the luxury of multi-billion-dollar television deals that come with hoards of 30-second promotional spots. I also don't have a multi-million-dollar media budget to build the brand of U.S. Soccer and promote our products; the vast majority of sponsorship revenues are dedicated to player development and National Teams.

So, how do we do it?

In the coming months you will (if we're doing our job right!) hear about an initiative we're calling "TURN US ON" -- a grass roots campaign that will mobilize our family in support of our products. This will actually be represented in a graphic fashion with the U.S. Soccer logo bookended by TURN and ON. The campaign has a duel meaning:

(a) TURN US ON, the key being "US" as in us vs. them (us vs. other sports we're competing against for share as well as us vs. our opponents on the field. Here, we're trying to communicate a sense of ownership to our family; this is their sport; these are their teams), and

(b) TURN U.S. SOCCER ON; this speaks directly to television as in when and where you can see U.S. Soccer on television.

We will communicate this message via the Internet, at matches, via publications, speeches, media, television, etc.

We don't have all the details fleshed out yet but it is safe to say we'll have a fully integrated effort to ensure the word gets out among our target audience. Stay tuned the next couple of months, and we'll keep you posted when we're ready to launch.

This will be a monumental challenge given the dysfunctional nature of the soccer family and the massive competition we face in the marketplace. But, the challenge becomes a little less daunting when I read articles like yours! Thanks for saying what a lot of us have been thinking. I can only hope people are listening!

Mark Noonan is the chief marketing officer for the United States Soccer Federation.

Articles and opinions expressed by other columnists are not necessarily the opinion of SoccerTimes.