- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

The pantheon of big sporting events includes the Super Bowl, Olympic Games and World Series. Throw in the Daytona 500, Final Four and NBA Finals.

But one event reigns above them all: the month-long tournament of ball-kicking activity known simply as the World Cup.

Beginning June 9 in Germany, the world’s best soccer teams will meet in an event that every four years creates more buzz and bigger opportunity for global corporate exposure than any other event.

“It’s bigger than the Olympics,” said Salvatore Galatioto, president of Galatioto Sports Partners, a New York investment firm. “This is a single sport event that transcends everything.”

This year 15 companies spent $40 million to $60 million each to become an official sponsor of the World Cup, which gives them exclusive rights to advertise within stadiums. Some companies, such as Adidas, are rolling out ambitious marketing campaigns worth an additional $100 million or more.

FIFA, the World Cup’s organizing body, will pull in nearly $1 billion from its official sponsorship partners — and that is for an event that still is struggling to find a big audience in the vast U.S. market. Another $200 million will come from hospitality rights, including the sale of VIP packages and catering, and another $25 million from ticket sales.

Only the Olympics compare in terms of size, but sponsors of the Olympics usually spend a similar amount for a four-year agreement that includes both the Summer and Winter Games.

Industry experts said the World Cup offers far more marketing opportunities than the Olympics because there are fewer restrictions on where and how companies can advertise.

“There’s a lot of sponsorship dollars put into this because it’s so visible,” said Nigel Geach, a director with Sports Marketing Surveys, an England-based company that researches the impact of sports sponsorships. “The exploitation of the event is much larger.”

Indeed, companies are using the World Cup to show off new creativity in their marketing.

Coca-Cola, which holds the exclusive right to sell its products in World Cup stadiums, sponsored a three-month tour of the Cup trophy to soccer-crazy cities around the world. It also contracted four bloggers to chronicle the games and excitement surrounding the event and opened an apartment in Berlin to allow other bloggers to work for up to four days at no charge.

“It is like the Olympics. … You do have, in football, a global property,” said Philipp Bodzenta, Coca-Cola’s director of global marketing and communications. “We’re very happy with the growing interest everywhere and are seeing a level of passion we’ve never seen before.”

Gillette is sponsoring a special award for the “best young player” from the World Cup, and McDonald’s has started a campaign in which 1,400 children will be selected to walk onto the field during a World Cup game.

“It’s a very powerful message we send, that McDonald’s is the only company that can fulfill a child’s dream of attending the World Cup,” said Nick Marrone, McDonald’s senior director of global sports marketing. “We operate in 100 countries, and in all of those countries soccer is number one or number two to whatever the national sport is. It truly is global, and aligns with our global needs.”

Broadcasters are predicting a worldwide television audience of 19 billion for the entire tournament and are paying FIFA between $1.2 billion and $1.3 billion for the rights. Much of that viewership comes from Europe and South America, where more than 90 percent of people with televisions tuned in to key matches during the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

Viewership of soccer in the United States never has reached the levels it does in other countries, and only $130 million of World Cup broadcast revenues come from the United States. But ratings did hit an all-time high for the 2002 World Cup even though games aired live during the early-morning hours. The match between the United States and Mexico, for instance, lured 4.16 million viewers even though it aired at 2:15 a.m. on the East Coast.

The time difference for American fans will not be as drastic this year. Most games will air during Germany prime time, or mid-afternoon here. But network officials said new coverage online and through mobile phone updates has made the timing of the broadcasts less problematic.

This year, soccer fans in the United States will be able to see most games in high-definition on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, and Spanish-speaking fans can watch games on Univision, which is available on most cable providers.

“It is one of the biggest events we take on,” said Jed Drake, a senior vice president with ESPN and ABC Sports. “The scope of it is enormous, and many would argue it’s truly the biggest sporting event on the planet.”0

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