Get ready to fan the flames of World Cup fever

England’s die-hard football fans were not the only ones celebrating Holland’s victory over the Czech Republic last week after a match that guaranteed England’s qualification for next year’s World Cup.

Marketers will be contemplating how best to capitalise on the football fever set to sweep the country next summer. More than any other sport, say sponsorship experts, the World Cup commands a truly global following and is watched avidly by millions. It offers unparalleled opportunities for companies to raise brand awareness by targeting an emotional, passionate and captive audience.

The World Cup’s 15 official global partners have contracts with governing body FIFA that are not to due to expire until after the tournament. But this is set to change for the period 2007 to 2014, when the association will cut the number of top-line sponsors to six, each paying a reported &£180m. Individual deals vary, but the contracts are likely to involve global rights of association, high-visibility branding at World Cup venues and inclusion in the event’s promotional material.

Despite the price-tag, experts say the attraction of being an official sponsor is clear: association with a competition and a sport that cuts through language, class and cultural barriers. “It doesn’t matter what the cost is, because being a partner allows sponsors to communicate to 200 countries around the world,” says Andy Clilverd, managing director of BLM Sports Marketing. “If they were to try to buy that kind of exposure in each country, it would probably cost them a lot more.”

For the global giants that have signed a partnership deal, the passion that football inspires in consumers from all walks of life is extremely attractive. Patrick Simeons, head of sponsorship for Mastercard Europe – one of the current global partners – says its deal allows the company to build advertising campaigns around the competition and offers opportunities to encourage increased card use through ticket purchases. “Being a World Cup partner is more than just a branding exercise for us,” he says. “It allows us to generate additional business.”

For rival global companies without an official partnership contract, the World Cup still offers huge marketing potential. Some will inevitably try to hijack the event and observers predict that ambush marketing from major rivals will return in one form or another. Nike, they point out, worked hard to undermine Adidas’s official sponsorship of the 2002 World Cup, with arguably a degree of success. But aside from using ambush tactics, experts stress there are plenty of legitimate ways for companies to cash in on the event.

Cameron Day, head of business development for sponsorship consultancy The Works, points to tie-ups with the players as a way to tap into the brand equity of the World Cup. He adds that further down the chain, providing companies are careful not to make a direct link with the tournament, marketing opportunities still exist.

Day believes that practically any tie-up with football, from giving away balls to sponsoring youth training programmes, is likely to be successful, as the minds of the fans will be so focused. Other major sporting events, such as the Olympics, do not offer such powerful marketing platforms. Sponsors get fewer opportunities, claims Day, as viewers tend to dip in and out rather than tune in for a specific game. He adds: “When the World Cup rolls around, everybody will be talking and thinking about football. It just gets everybody in the mood.”

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