With the 2014 Fifa World Cup now over, it’s a good time to reflect on how big tournaments affect shopper behaviour and look at any lessons for retailers.

Although the England team returned home early, the World Cup managed to thrill UK audiences, with emotions running high right up until the final. This was good news for retailers. The more emotionally involved consumers are in any given event, the more they splash out.

For example, during the last World Cup in 2010, households that identified themselves as ‘football fanatics’ accounted for nearly 40% of total food spend during the competition. Those who said they would be watching the tournament also increased their total food spend, at twice the rate of non-watchers.

The principle is simple: excitement drives sales, and this has significant implications for the ways retailers can use the power of occasions to continue to secure growth in mature markets.

Importantly, people’s emotional engagement with events is not static – particularly for tournaments. Enthusiasm can grow dramatically once a competition is underway. We saw this with the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, with household excitement levels doubling after the opening ceremony.

Our data shows that the further a person’s team or player progresses in a mega-sporting event, the more excited and engaged existing and ‘halo’ supporters become. Retailers that are able to guide consumers through the emotional rollercoaster of tournaments and create ways to tap into fans’ passion will benefit from increased sales.

During the World Cup in South Africa we found that those consumers who said they weren’t interested in watching the matches were actually the group most likely to make last-minute purchases to accompany their football viewing, with nearly 20% making a dash to the shops.

Crucially, however, enthusiasm for a sporting event doesn’t just stand and fall with a particular team doing well. During South Africa 2010, only a quarter of England supporters said they stopped watching the competition after England dropped out.

Making the most of occasions

Understanding that different people engage with occasions for different reasons can help unlock growth in mature markets. For some, it is all about the game, while for others it could be an excuse to get some friends or family together for a themed party.  Although the majority (90%) of viewing occasions for England games during South Africa 2010 were household members only, when guests were present they drove a 10% increase in food sales. Either way, a tailored promotion can deliver even the biggest brands with an uplift of 200% or more.

Events like sport, festivals and public displays bring people together. Developing themed meal deals and free giveaways – including for non-food items – helps prompt people into thinking about experiencing the event as an occasion and will encourage greater spend. During South Africa 2010, a fifth of all households bought non-food World Cup merchandise, and sales of replica England kit increased from £2 million to £17 million across all UK retailers.

Retailers can apply the learnings from mega-events at a more local level, providing them with the chance to support communities and tap into their enthusiasm around regional events – for example, a team getting into the FA Cup final or play-offs.

Understanding how and where people watch local and international events will also help tap into new occasion opportunities. At the last World Cup, 79% of households watched England games at home and it was households that identified themselves as ’football fanatics’ that were most likely to watch games out of the home. For this World Cup, out of home screenings have evolved – instead of going to pubs and bars, there are more public gatherings, such as in city squares or parks, where people watch events on the big screen. Thinking about how and where an event might be experienced will inform decision-making around the required stock.

It may be all over for this year’s World Cup, but with the Tour de France still underway and the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, there are still plenty of opportunities for retailers to win big on sporting events.

Giles Quick is director of the Kantar Worldpanel usage business