BSkyB has pumped almost 1bn into English football in the past six years. It has the exclusive live rights to all Premiership games and a contract to show all home England international matches live until 2001. But for the four weeks of the biggest football tournament the world has ever seen its screens will be virtually football free.
Prevented by law from showing World Cup games live – the finals are a listed sport for terrestrial TV only in the UK – Sky also missed out on the rights to show a highlights package. It was a similar story for the 1996 European Championships – the biggest sports event in England for 30 years – because the TV rights to the finals were sold to the European Broadcasting Union, a joint body of terrestrial broadcasters.
According to Barb, Sky Sports’ share of the TV audience dropped from 3.12 per cent in June 1995 to 2.14 per cent 12 months later. The expectation is that it will fall again between June 10 and the final on July 12, especially if England and Scotland do well. Sky News is sending four reporters to follow the competition and it will have four daily news updates on the events in France.
“This is a complex situation because parts of Sky will benefit while others lose out,” says a Sky spokesman. “The TV rights for the World Cup were assigned long before Sky Sports even existed and we have obviously known for a long time that we were not going to have those rights. But we will not ignore the finals.”
Despite the bravado, even before a ball is kicked, Sky is a World Cup loser. This should be an opportunity to exploit its virtual ownership of football in the UK. Sky Sports has bought the rights to show all England’s warm-up games between now and the finals live. But it will not be showing the main event.
Instead, it is one of several companies which are having to soften the impact France 98 may have on their business. There will be a worldwide audience of billions and an expected UK audience of more than 15 million, but they will not be watching Sky to catch up on events in France.
Leaving aside the official World Cup sponsors and those like Nike, which are determined to ambush the event, World Cup winners and losers basically fall into two categories.
The winners will be those companies that can fit their marketing around the football experience. Shirt maker Ben Sherman which, on a limited budget, is set to make a controversial splash with a themed ad campaign (MW February 26) falls into this category. Takeaway restaurant chains and pubs with live coverage of the games will also benefit.
Losers, in the main, will be companies that offer other forms of entertainment such as cinemas or video stores. They are developing marketing plans to soften the blow. All the players involved know just what to expect – it is only two years since Euro 96 had us glued to TV screens in homes, pubs and clubs, across the country.
British Retail Consortium figures for June 1996 show that high street electrical stores also lost out because of the high number of England games played on a Saturday afternoon. Last week the pub chain JD Wetherspoon said it was “anxious” about the impact the World Cup will have on its business. It operates a ban on television and during Euro 96 it lost sales.
The cinema trade is also being cautious. Last June saw high profile openings for Batman & Robin, The Fifth Element, Con Air, Liar Liar and Scream – it was a record June bringing in an average 1.96 million people per week. This June sees no equivalent blockbuster. The film distributors fear that an opening weekend could be hit by England or Scotland qualifying for the later rounds and playing on a Friday or Saturday evening.
There will be eight film releases during the weeks of the World Cup but only the 20th anniversary re-release of Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John will come close to generating the same level of interest as was offered in June 1997. But even that does not open until July 3, by which time direct UK interest in the competition could be over. The May launch of The Blues Brothers 2000 may give the figures a boost in the early part of the month.
In an effort to offset any fall-off in audiences UCI Cinemas marketing director Paul Biggins is in talks with several companies about developing World Cup tie-ups to promote cinema.
During Euro 96, UCI struck deals with NescafÃ© Gold Blend and Elle magazine. Biggins says that the chain also released a number of romantic films – including Up Close and Personal starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford – during the competition “to target football widows”. The NescafÃ© and Elle deals had the same objective.
But the idea failed. The “football widows” watched the football. “The group we were targeting got behind the England team because they did so well. In the end we took a bit of a beating. Audiences were definitely down,” admits Biggins. He refuses to give any more detail on UCI’s plans but a strike force of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John will feature prominently.
Cinema audiences averaged 1.4 million each week of the Euro 96 tournament, an increase of 3.2 per cent over the previous year. Ironically in 1994, during the US World Cup, audiences averaged 1.65 million but there was often a five-hour plus time difference with the UK and, crucially, England and Scotland did not qualify.
This time around World Cup overkill is also affecting opportunities to strike promotional marketing deals. Interfocus, the sales promotion agency appointed last December to negotiate promotional tie-ups for the Warner Brothers’ movie The Magic Sword, admits that it had problems finding interested parties for the feature-length animated film which breaks in July.
At the beginning of February, Deborah Hill, business development director at Interfocus, explained that the timing of the film’s launch meant that many potential promotional partners were already tied up with the World Cup.
TV advertisers will also feel the impact. Some media buyers say that airtime could cost more on average this June/July as a direct consequence of the championship. Car companies building up to their key August sales period may be especially badly hit.
Michael Heap, managing director of Warner Home Video, does not seem unduly worried by the competition across the channel. “We will be releasing some key titles at the beginning of June, and we will run a number of promotions throughout the World Cup. Though we would have done much of this anyway. There will still be space and time for people to watch videos.”
A spokeswoman for Blockbuster Video, the country’s largest video rental retailer, largely agrees with Heap. “This is an important time of year, and we will be carrying out promotions throughout it,” she says. “We will focus on female renters who have had enough of football. We feel there will be enough windows between the matches to watch a video.”
Video may have better cause than cinema to feel optimistic. According to the British Video Association there were around 18 million transactions in June 1996 more than June 1997 when there were 15 million transactions.
There are, however, just as many companies looking to take advantage of the World Cup rather than simply negate its impact. Domino’s Pizza, the country’s largest Pizza delivery chain, expects to increase its sales 45 per cent in and around the World Cup.
Ben Johnson, the category marketing manager of frozen pizza company Schwan’s, does not think that Domino’s estimates are wildly optimistic: “The World Cup is a huge opportunity for the frozen pizza market overall.”
Johnson says the company’s internal research shows most people eat a pizza in front of the TV. On a scale of one to ten it rates as a nine on a list of enjoyable places to eat the food.
However, no industry is rubbing its hands as expectantly as the drinks and pub trade. A spokesman for Scottish & Newcastle estimates that the amount of extra trade generated by Euro 96 increased sales by between 25 and 30 per cent. It added three per cent to the group’s total revenues in 1996 in a market which has been static for several years.
Bass Taverns is also getting into training for the main event by using all sporting events broadcast in its 2,600 pubs – including the Five Nations rugby tournament and its coverage of cricket – as a dry run for the World Cup.
“All of this is a build-up to the World Cup,” explains a spokesman for Bass Taverns. “It gets people used to coming to our pubs to watch sport. This is still quite a new thing. Watching sport on big screens in a pub in serious numbers has only been around for a year or so.”
Scottish Courage holds the licence to brew Budweiser, an official sponsor of the World Cup. The brewer lost an appeal against a European Commission ruling banning advertising hoardings inside the ten different stadia, because of French restrictions linking tobacco and alcohol advertising to sport. But it is developing a series of Budweiser promotions in Scottish & Newcastle Retail chains throughout the UK during the finals.
“The landlords who know how to have a party will be the ones who get big increases,” says a Scottish & Newcastle spokesman. “You have to build up certain games, and not just the ones involving England or Scotland, for which you will get a large audience anyway. With games involving say, Chile or Brazil, you might want to put on special food, or a special theme for the night.”
Carlsberg, the official beer of the English Football Association for the past two years, is determined not to lose out to Budweiser. It has the right to use the three lions England team logo, and plans to print it on about 30 million cans between now and the finals. It will also launch a nationwide pub scratchcard game, with prizes ranging from signed shirts to radios pre-tuned into stations that carry football coverage. Between 8 and 10 million cards will be printed.
Carlsberg marketing controller Niall O’Keeffe reckons these finals will be more like Euro 96 than the 1994 World Cup. “The 1994 finals didn’t get the media interest that we hoped for, because England was not there. During Euro 96, our sales in pubs and clubs jumped between 20 and 30 per cent. There was nothing like that for the last World Cup.”
O’Keeffe claims there are also longer-term gains to be had. “The World Cup can drive sales over May and June, but in the long term it allows you to target the 18-to-24 age group. This is a very expensive group of people to target. The finals give us a chance to talk to them directly, makes our brand relevant to them, and enables us to carry on that association.”
The key factor is the success of the England and Scotland teams. Everyone Marketing Week talked to – winners and losers – said that the teams doing well was crucial to their plans.