21CF Chats: Robert Gottlieb, EVP of Marketing for FOX Sports, on the final 100 days to the 2018 World Cup


There are only 100 days to go until the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, and that means FOX Sports’ marketing efforts are about to ramp up in a meaningful way. There have been a couple times when the network dropped some strategic messaging during the NFC Championship game and a year out from the World Cup, for example, but the real countdown begins now — for all of 21st Century Fox, according to Robert Gottlieb, EVP, Marketing for FOX Sports.

“We’ve been talking with [21CF President and Fox Networks Group Chairman and CEO] Peter Rice on down to all the different divisions about how this is a 21CF project,” Robert said. “We don’t look at the World Cup as a FOX Sports effort; we look at it as our corporate investment. We have massive commitment from all participating divisions, channels and businesses under 21CF. The success of the World Cup will be a 21CF-wide success.”

I recently spoke with Robert about the driving theme for the 2018 World Cup, the global stars of the event, how FOX Sports approaches on-the-ground touchpoints and more.

How would you summarize FOX Sports’ driving theme for the 2018 World Cup?

Our driving theme is the transformative nature of this event. For this one month every four years, it literally changes things around the world. You’ll see the transformation on the field: allies will become rivals, rivals will become allies, small nations become superpowers, superpowers become tiny. You’ll see it in behavior: beer becomes breakfast and daytime becomes prime time. So across a variety of spectrums, we look at the World Cup as a moment that transforms everything around us and our behavior for a month, and that’s kind of what we’re amplifying.

To speak more to the global nature of the event, I was wondering if you could talk about the stars in the tournament and the role you see them playing in marketing the event.

The World Cup stars – primarily Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar – are worldwide icons. For a lot of people in this country in the younger demographic, these guys are as famous as LeBron James, Steph Curry and Tom Brady. The internet has brought them into our homes in a way that wasn’t accessible to global superstars before. We expect that when the World Cup comes, people are going to be really interested in watching them perform. These can be once-in-a-lifetime moments. Will Messi win his first World Cup? Will Ronaldo do it? Will Neymar rise to the moment? This can really catapult these guys into becoming worldwide legends.

FOX Sports has a legacy of doing things that are edgy, disruptive and unexpected. Can you talk about how your team’s work perpetuates that, and how you hope that manifests itself in the World Cup work specifically?

For all of us in marketing and advertising, the No. 1 commodity is attention. We need to gain people’s attention, then once you have their attention, you ideally are giving them the messaging to motivate the behavior you’re looking to see. Being disruptive, unique and unexpected is key to getting people’s attention, especially given how many things are fighting for it these days. With the World Cup, that will be at the forefront as well, though I won’t go into any specifics at the moment – we have a few surprises that we think will get people’s attention.



I read about the FOX Sports House at SXSW, which is a tangible, localized activation. How do you approach these kinds of touchpoints?

With any of those kinds of activations, you weigh the merits of what kind of reach you’ll get and what it’s going to deliver for you on the back end. SXSW is a pretty unique opportunity, and the demographic of the attendees could not be more perfect for our World Cup. It’s young, digitally savvy, globally minded, evangelistic and first adopters. That’s the exact audience that we want to be talking to and getting excited about our World Cup coverage, so it makes a lot of sense. And then of course, the opportunity to get scale for your messaging at a place like SXSW is very strong. You have to gain that attention, but once you do, you’ll reach scale beyond just that local activation. Any time you do a local activation or an on-the-ground activation, you’re looking at how it scales beyond that footprint.

How does marketing for the World Cup compare with marketing for other big sporting events?

It’s a unique challenge and it’s such a unique property, but it’s probably most similar to an Olympics. You’re dealing with a foreign country, a monthlong tournament with events almost daily and in this case very odd time zones. However, the demographic and the messaging need to be quite different than something like the Olympics, which is much more time-shifted, and has much more female viewership and a much grayer viewership than the World Cup. There’s a coolness, contemporariness and a pop-culture moment to the World Cup that is unique to it, and that’s something we look to capitalize on.

When the World Cup is over, what do you hope a viewer will say and take away about the FOX Sports brand?

We want them to walk away saying, “FOX Sports is the best place in the world for the biggest events in sports. Nobody does it like them.” And that’s the brand takeaway we’re striving for.

Read about how FOX Sports is celebrating the 100-day countdown, and hear its original theme song for the tournament: “Where Angels Fear to Tread.”

In case you missed it, here’s our conversation with Emmy Award-winning FOX Sports host Fernando Fiore about his preparation for the World Cup and more.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins June 14, 2018, and ends with the final in Moscow on July 15, 2018. All games will be live on FOX Sports and FOX Sports GO.