Let’s Talk Soccer: Music and the Cup of Life

The entire month of June 2010 seemed to be utterly consumed by the 2010 FIFA World Cup.  No matter where I went, it seemed like everyone around me had caught this highly contagious sort of “soccer fever,” where having a TV of any kind in the general vicinity would trigger very specific and uncontrollable symptoms:  Eyes would glaze over, all work/ conversation would be immediately halted, and random spastic outbursts of cursing and/or applause would periodically ensue.

For the few months out of every four years that the tournament comes around, the FIFA World Cup really does capture the attention of the entire world, and from a music business perspective, the promotional/marketing opportunities are like a gift from the heavens.

Throughout its history, music has been a very integral part of the FIFA World Cup celebration, affording many artists worldwide recognition virtually over night.  In many cases, it’s thanks to the World Cup that an artist or song even gets noticed in the first place.  For example, the song “Olé, Olé, Olé (The Name Of The Game)” was originally written by Deja Armath in 1982.  It wasn’t until the late 1980’s when the song was used for the World Cup that it really started gaining popularity.  Now, the song is an industry standard and is literally imprinted on the minds of soccer fans all over the world.

Understanding the vast potential for world music marketing that the World Cup offers, many artists over the years have used it as a platform to launch their careers into the stratosphere.  When British rock legend, Queen’s 1977 release of “We Will Rock You” was used in the 1978 World Cup, the song was met with instantaneous, worldwide acclaim— reaching number 4 on the Billboard Charts.  In 1994, the song was revived onto the mainstream when it was chosen for the 94’ World Cup’s official theme song.  “We Will Rock You” reached its commercial peak when in 1998, after being rereleased in France three separate times, it was used as the French anthem song in the 1998 World Cup.  After the country’s victory that year, the song stayed on Billboard Charts for a staggering forty-five straight weeks.  Ever since then, the song is heard thousands of times per year in sports arenas across the world.

For this year’s FIFA World Cup, a Somali-Canadian hip hop artist named K’naan seems to be making giant career strides with “Wavin’ Flag”, which was chosen as the official theme song.  In addition to the invaluable global exposure that K’naan is getting, he has also signed a $300 million deal with Coca-Cola— this year’s official World Cup sponsor— for which he was advanced $1 million in cash.  K”naan also anticipates generating a considerable percentage in promotional dollars tied to the project as well.

But all monies aside, “Wavin’ Flag” is affording K’naan free promotion in almost every part the world.  Top artists from every major country including David Bisbal (Spain), AI (Japan), David Guetta and Will.I.am (USA), have remixed the song into their own versions that will cater to their own country’s listeners.  K’naan’s name, of course, is attached to every copy.

K’naan is not the only artist to capitalize on the World Cup’s vast marketing opportunities this year:  South African groups, Freshlyground, The Parlotones, and Soweto Gospel Choir all had memorable performances at the World Cup kick-off concert and even teamed up with artists from other countries for performances and studio sessions.  For example, the Soweto Gospel Choir worked with R. Kelly to record the song “Sign of Victory” , which became the official FIFA World Cup Anthem.  Freshlyground also joined Colombian singer Shakira for another World Cup song, “Waka Waka (This time for Africa).”  Other performances for the kick-off concert included artists like Alicia Keys, the Black Eyed Peas, Pitbull, and Angelique Kidjo.  The chance for artists like these to meet and work with other artists from all over the world is another thing that makes the World Cup such an amazing opportunity for the music business.

Sponsors of the World Cup have also used popular artists’ music in their televised commercial ad-campaigns.  For instance, Akon and Keri Hilson got an immense amount of exposure when their song, “Oh Africa” was featured on Pepsi’s World Cup Sponsorship commercial.  Gnarls Barkley’s “The Odd Couple” was used on PUMA’s FIFA commercial and J.R.’s “ColourFULL” was used on a TV campaign for the World Cup launched by Vodacom— both of whom received an abundance of airtime and promotion for their music.

Throughout the history of the event, the World Cup has served as a launch pad for the careers of many new artists around the world.  Its widely televised events, concerts, and commercials afford artists— new and established— the ability to market themselves to all major world markets instantaneously.  Soccer is responsible for the dissemination of some of our favorite and most widely known songs today, and its impact on the mass consumption market for
music is perhaps unrivalled by any sport.

By Dahyun Ed Jeong



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