OPINION: Beckham injury stirs sponsors' football frenzy

The Queen Mother may have just been buried and more suicide bombers may be on the warpath in the Middle East but one news item was much more important: the injury to David Beckham's foot.

When, back in the 1960s, the late Bill Shankly said football was more important than life or death, the only football on TV was Match of the Day. Today, via cable, I can watch football 24 hours a day, and what Shankly said all those years ago (probably in jest) is now true.

For the first time in years both of Britain's biggest selling daily papers had exactly the same picture on the front page. Mirror editor Piers Morgan may have moved his paper upmarket, but even he knows that a snap of the England football captain's broken foot sells more papers than pictures of dead Palestinians.

TV also loved the story. ITV bosses may want to renege on their deal with the Football League but they are still desperate to show anything relating to the Premier League and the England team, which is why their news bulletins led with the story of Beckham's foot.

One of the first thoughts that hit me following the Beckham injury was how much this would affect his big sponsors Adidas, Police and Pepsi. The very next day Adidas was due to launch its World Cup promotion with Beckham - and here he was, crocked. Adidas's PR team must have been pulling their hair out and wishing they had plumped for Owen instead. It didn't take long to realise that for the corporate giants who use his name, the Beckham injury was the best thing that could have happened. For a couple of days there was wall-to-wall coverage of their prize asset, with the nation awaiting the next medical bulletin even though it was obvious that Beckham would be fit to play and captain England in Japan and South Korea.

The story had added spice because the chap who tackled Beckham was an 'Argie', whose country is one of England's opponents in Japan.

Adidas should probably send the poor chap a substantial reward for his actions - the publicity is probably worth well over £1m.

What we were going through was just a foretaste of the sort of media coverage that the country will have every day during the competition. It is no wonder then that companies are falling over themselves to get in on the act. Anyone with a big PR budget wants to get on the football bandwagon.

Flicking through the Spurs matchday programme the other day, I counted more than 200 companies with corporate hospitality at the ground - and that's for a team that hardly ever wins anything.

Sponsorship of the England team brings in so much cash that the Football Association can now afford to cut down the number of 'friendly' games that generate about £5m a time.

But can you imagine what it would be like if England actually won the World Cup. The mass celebrations would make the numbers that turned up to the Queen Mum's funeral look like the crowd at a Hartlepool United reserves match. Goodness knows what the Sun and Mirror would do.

Whatever, there will clearly be some imaginative work from the sponsors.

Last week Nationwide was first off the blocks with a picture of a foot in plaster and a 'get well soon' caption. We've already seen pictures of a 'naked' Beckham in sunglasses and Sven Goran Eriksson in a pair of Union Jack pants, so maybe there's not much scope for anything new. Then I remembered Posh and Becks have got another sprog on the way, so even if England don't win the World Cup you won't get Beckham off the front pages.

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