The English national team has reached the World Cup semi-finals for the third time, generations on from Italia 90 and a chasm in time from England 66. As a result domestic advertisers have been presented with an unprecedented opportunity to tap into a historic moment in football – if they've the budget.
For a steep, one-off fee which could tie down around about an hour of day-time TV, brands invest in 30 seconds of creative to connect with a passionately engaged audience encompassing much of a nation. These fans will be keenly supporting a side that has been lacklustre in recent decades. And they are guaranteed to be invested in what is happening on the screen.
ITV's England first dalliance into the knockout stages against Columbia already hit a TV audience unmatched since the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony, it raked in a peak of 24.4m viewers. The quarter-final routing of Sweden attracted a peak of 19.9m (it was of course devoid of that extra time and the drama of penalties). Now the tie against Croatia on Wednesday at 19:00 on ITV will decide which team makes the final in Moscow against either France or Belgium.
But how much will it set brands back?
At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, brands would pay as much as £300k for a 30-second spot during the group stages for matches featuring England. Although England never made it out of the group, these spots could have reached as much as £400k if the side advanced to the knockout stage. Amid all the talk that TV audiences are dying (Champions League sponsor Nissan believes big live sports events are the exception), the price for the knock-out stages appears to have remained mostly static in the four years since.
While ITV refused to expand on sensitive commercial information, Zenith UK believed that it could cost a brand between £400,000 and £500,000 to run a 30-second ad during the half time break of the England semi-final. David Mulrenan, head of investment at Zenith UK, told The Drum: "The nation has moved on from Brexit and is only concentrating on whether football is coming home.
"My six-year-old son is singing in the front room and it is the only topic of conversation in pubs around the country. But, why should advertisers get involved and buy into ITV’s coverage of the latter stages of the World Cup?"
Mulrenan advised brands not to worry about what the spot costs, but more what it is worth. Brands that have bought into the tournament will likely have first refusal on the spot that would not have been part of ITV's wider auction. He noted that they would be sold on a first come first served basis.
"ITV expect up to 25 million viewers to tune in on Wednesday night delivering unparalleled mass reach with one spot. You can certainly deliver the same cover on TV for cheaper, but you will never be able to achieve it in the same amount of time – and isn’t mass reach the reason we use TV advertising in the first place?"
How the price compares
For the price of a single World Cup ad, more than 100 ads could be run during ITV's Good Morning Britain (£4,000). Peak times on the network may demand a sum between £10k and £30k. Daytime Sky One could cost between £150 to £250 for a spot. Sports prices vary, depending on the draw of the fixture. A spot on Sky Sports can cost between £60 to £750. So, for half a million pounds, a brand could saturate its creative among a relevant – and much smaller audience – if it so desired.
The World Cup's global appeal is perhaps most directly comparable to the Super Bowl. In the US in 2018, it attracted 103.4m viewers with spots costing $4m (£3m). A US Oscar spot on the other hand may have cost as much as $2.6m (£1.96m) in 2018.
So why the substantially higher premium on the semi-final ads, isn't it just a game of football?
As Mulrenan said: "This will not just be a water-cooler moment around the nation on the following day, but rather an event people will talk about for years to come. Brands want to be talked about; they want to become household names and nothing gets people talking like TV."
He admitted that it is difficult to measure the emotional engagement and social buzz around the match, but that the spot would serve well as part of an overall campaign. He said: "It would serve to super-charge other elements on the media plan, but not lost as a one-off spot if your brand has been supported by advertising recently."
So with the BBC and ITV sharing the final, the England semi on ITV is the most likely source of a record-breaking TV audience.
Mulrenan concluded: "History says that BBC usually wins this battle. So the real question is, do you believe?"