All eyes on Germany

While the 2006 World Cup has already become a disappointment to fans in the United States – with Sam's Army dropping a 3-0 opening loss to the Czech Republic - the first cup to be played in a truly Web 2.0 environment has netted positive results for broadcasting partners and dedicated bloggers, while calling into question the presence of global sponsors.

While the 2006 World Cup has already become a disappointment to fans in the United States – with Sam's Army dropping a 3-0 opening loss to the Czech Republic - the first cup to be played in a truly Web 2.0 environment has netted positive results for broadcasting partners and dedicated bloggers, while calling into question the presence of global sponsors.

Television games are expected to attract an accumulative 30 billion views, according to media reports, and one billion people viewed last year’s final. Given the stakes, Infront Sports & Media, the owner of broadcast rights, sent pre-emptive letters to Web sites threatening legal action for any unauthorized streaming. It’s better off that way, as any rogue site that attempted to stream would suddenly find an overloaded server.

Yahoo is also streaming information about the games online, but with 32 countries (rather than a mere 64 universities) tuning in, the Web site has predictably creaked under server strain. Luckily for the few Americans who care about soccer in general, ESPN’s site was running smoothly, likely due to people across the pond tuning into the BBC or other sports-dedicated Web sites.

From travel Web sites (Bootsnall Travel Network) to mainstream publications (The New York Times) to blog empires (Gawker Media), all online destinations have dedicated staff pouring words upon words online about the tournament, fan experiences, and anything quasi-related to the month-long tournament held in various German cities. According to SiteMeter, which Gawker Media uses to check stats, its World Cup-live blogging site Deadspin has had robust numbers during the games. Last Friday, the opening day of the Cup, the Web site had 170,000 visits, compared to 100,000 that Tuesday.

Despite the options online, ABC and Univision, two of the three networks broadcasting games, have reported dramatic increases in ratings over 2002, when the last World Cup was played in South Korea and Japan. Some of those increases may be due to more favorable viewing times (due to the time difference), but all of the weekday games are being broadcast during office hours. Reuters reports that Univision said the Sunday Mexico-Iran match netted 5.4 million viewers, qualifying it as the most-watched sporting event in Spanish-language TV history. ABC broadcasted three games last weekend, with a 65% ratings increase from 2002.

All eyes are on Germany, and the tourism board took the opportunity to show itself off at an event last Friday for media and tourism partners at the bar Tonic, which serves as a multinational  headquarters for the Cup in New York City. Attendees watched the game as they ate pretzels and wurst. After Germany’s 4-2 victory, reporters left with large bags filled with tourism information and raffle winners left with future trips to Munich.

The tourism board can count on good behavior early on from both visitors and Germans. While the games so far have been devoid of reports of hooliganism, deaths, and scandals (Togo’s coach resigning and then returning before the first game was the biggest scandal to date).

But American-based sponsors have had a tough time, due to German nationalistic pride in their foodstuffs and beer. The food and drink sponsors are American institutions McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Inasmuch as criticism (and there is plenty) could be interpreted as anti-American backlash, it’s appears to simply be a case of preference.

The vocal Germans (and there are many) have filled American newspaper stories calling Budweiser “dishwater,” “bad American beer,” and “watered-down beer.” Budweiser is clearly a proponent of sporting events and a perpetual sponsor of them. But Germans complain that a corporation’s mandate on what they can eat and drink at the matches leaves them with a bad taste in their mouths.

Tony Ponturo, VP of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We respect the Germans' pride in their beer. But we are proud of Budweiser and what it's about. We think this is about giving consumers a choice."

While both McDonald’s and Budweiser have made compromises with World Cup governing body FIFA, and local purveyors and fans, to ensure that World Cup attendees have choices, it doesn’t give either company a great standing in the eyes of Germans.

But sponsors can reap the benefits of the event as it stretches on for weeks, giving them plenty of time to implant their signage on the viewing public’s retinas. Budweiser and McDonald’s will be everywhere, even if some don’t like it. And if the Germans win the World Cup at home, fans likely won’t care what beer washes down that sweet victory.

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