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The World Cup for Business Promotion

It’s the biggest sporting event in the world. Thirty-two countries, billions of dollars, a television audience that stretches from South Africa to North Korea, and 90 minutes of 22 men kicking a ball in a sport that Americans tend to dismiss as a girls’ game. The FIFA World Cup, an event that takes place once every four years and captures the imagination of (almost) the entire globe, is now under way in Africa for the first time. Like any event with an audience that runs into the hundreds of millions, it’s also a huge business. According to accountancy firm Grant Thorton, the games could add as much as 0.5 percent to host nation South Africa’s GDP this year, an injection of some $12.4 billion. Much of that will have come from the effects of tourism. About 373,000 foreigners are expected to visit the country during the month-long sporting jamboree, spending about $4,000 each. Most of the money though will have come from government coffers to pay for new stadiums, renovated roads and security. The biggest beneficiary is likely to be not the country, but FIFA itself. The organization’s profits from the last World Cup, held in Germany, were a cool $1.8 billion.

But the international sporting body isn’t the only one making money out of the World Cup. Sellers of vuvuzelas, the plastic trumpets that sound like angry bees and infuriate commentators, and which South Africans insist are traditional musical instruments, are clearly doing well. Earplugs that promise to block the sound are reported to be selling equally fast. Pubs and bars with big screens and expensive beer will do fine too, despite Fifa’s attempts to stop them. Makers of novelty items will struggle a little but websites that discuss the World Cup, optimize their AdSense units or offer decent affiliate products can expect to earn a little income too. Anyone can do that, although they’ll struggle to do well on search rankings when FIFA itself, big broadcasters and media giants are dominating the rankings.

The World Cup on Social Media

The best hope to make some money out of the World Cup then (other than scalping tickets) looks like social media. While Facebook and Twitter might not have done much to influence the UK election (depending on who you ask and how you measure the results), this World Cup does seem to have taken social media to its heart.

The biggest World Cup social media success has been Nike’s “Write The Future” ad. At three minutes, the full length version is too long to be played on television but on YouTube, it’s been viewed more than 15 million times. To reach that sort of audience during a television show would have involved a deep dip into the advertising budget, and even then the company would be lucky to get more than 30 seconds. Nike has managed to persuade an enormous audience to choose to watch an ad that’s three minutes long without having to spend a dime on placement.

It did however have to spend a lot of money on star sponsorships as well on the film itself, which is creative and as professionally-made as you might expect from a multinational footwear giant.

Outside the Xbox

YouTube isn’t the only social media tool that companies are using to spread their name during the World Cup though. Electronic Arts famously launched a soccer management game produced by Playfish, the social media game company it bought at the end of last year. The game, which can only be played across Facebook, may generate a small amount of cash but the real World Cup money for the video game company will come from its console games. 2010 FIFA World Cup sells for around $60 and moved more than 1.7 million copies in Europe in its first week alone, making it the most successful launch ever for a sports simulation.  If you’re really looking to make money out of the World Cup, the best approach it seems is to get yourself an official license.

But it can also pay to be think outside the Xbox. Korean company Hyundai has taken a broad approach to World Cup marketing. Describing its marketing activities during the event, the carmaker relegates television advertising almost to the bottom of the list. Perimeter boards are at the top, suggesting a high spend, but much of the focus is on the fans and on activities in which they have to play an active part. “Fan fests” consisting of screens and events around the world will put the brand in front of large audiences, a “fan of the match” will help to whip up enthusiasm, and an online program makes the interaction online too. The aim, the company says, is to “improve the quality of the interactive experience with the brand.”

The broad coverage is not without its risks however. After British broadcaster ITV cut away from England’s opening game in the fourth minute of the match to show a Hyundai ad, viewers were returned to the game to see captain Steven Gerrard celebrating the team’s only goal. ITV took the brunt of the blame for that faux pas but forcing fans to look at you instead of a goal is not going to lead your market to cheer your name.

So if earning from the World Cup has been dominated by companies with the biggest marketing budgets, is there anything left for small firms with deep enthusiasm but shallow pockets? Websites that already have plenty of traffic can certainly match their content to the event. Travel firm Bootsnall, for example, launched the WorldCupBlog, a site that’s managed to reach the first page of search results on Google for the keyword phrase “world cup” and is filled with affiliate ads, banners, and of course, ticket offers. Other sites will have to be a little more subtle with the odd promotion. Nor is it worth working investing too much in World Cup revenues. Unless you can repeat the formula for the Olympics in two years’ time, you’ll only have a month to cash in on your effort. If you’re Fifa, Hyundai, a pub with a big screen TV, or a stall-holder with a pile of plastic trumpets your best bet for making decent money from the World might well be Spain at 9/2.

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