Fans will drive World Cup online revenues

As nations square up in Germany to win the 2006 World Cup, so media owners are fighting for the marketing budgets that surround the tournament.

As nations square up in Germany to win the 2006 World Cup, so media owners are fighting for the marketing budgets that surround the tournament.

And yet while TV is reportedly struggling, the “Sold Out” signs were out over MSN’s World Cup inventory well before Germany kicked off against Costa Rica on June 9. Similarly, Yahoo! appears to be doing a decent job of clawing back its massive investment as official partner.

One-nil to online. Maybe. But why? The answer is the interaction of online. Today’s football fans are not satisfied with 90 minutes of live coverage and ten minutes of post-match comment. They want to vote live for their man of the match, they want to air their views on Eriksson’s substitutes, they want to chat with other fans and feel immersed in the game, not just be a casual observer.

Millions of fans are choosing to press the red button during the BBC’s coverage. Even the print guys are running daily interactive votes and fan comments to bind in their readers. But it’s only the online channel giving fans the chance to connect with other fans who want to get involved.

Clearly it’s not game-over for TV and other media. Official sponsors like Adidas, McDonald’s and Budweiser are spending heavily on TV. But for them, and other brands, it’s the interactivity, creativity and arguably freer environment of online that’s proving attractive.

I love the work Adidas has done to extend its “Me +10” TV campaign online. It absorbs me into the campaign and gives me an emotional connection to the plethora of stars on show. Sure’s Fanzone is a good example of a brand being alongside the fans and helping them share the excitement.

Four years from now the goal posts will have moved again. With the continued emergence of new technologies like mobile TV and internet TV, the advertising market will have evolved. What won’t have changed are fans’ expectations that they will be involved in the tournament, adding their news, opinions and emotions to the mainstream media’s view.

That points to a strong future for online and continued pressure on traditional TV budgets as consumers put themselves at the heart of the action.

In true football pundit style, I’ll finish with a prediction: record revenues for online advertising in World Cup 2010. And of course an England win. One seems an odds-on favourite. The other, who knows?

Geoff Sutton is general manager of MSN Europe

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