Google and Nike Take Stab at Footballer-Generated Media

Could an international social networking site named after the Portuguese for “play beautiful” translate as a beautiful play for Google and Nike? It’s anyone’s guess, but if anything, Joga.com is a unique venture, pairing the increasingly wide-focused Google with a global brand known for its apparel and footwear rather than its content.

Derived from “Joga Bonita,” Joga.com takes the online social networking and consumer-generated media trends to the next level by applying them to a distinct affinity group: footie fans. The project has been described as an experiment for Google, which built the site and the technology that will power it.

“Google does not have many platforms for sponsorships or brand-style advertising. This is an interesting way for them to tap into brand advertising dollars online,” suggested David Card, Jupiter Research VP and senior analyst.

Google has dabbled in the world of social networking before through its Orkut site. What may seem more out-of-the-ordinary is Nike playing the role of content-provider. The apparel and footwear maker will be providing profiles of Nike-sponsored players as well as other content for the site, according to a Nike spokesperson. Joga is “part of our overall football marketing initiative,” explained the spokesperson.

‘Nike does have access to athletes, so they might be able to deliver something [interesting],” commented Jupiter’s Card.

The bulk of the content, however, will be created by Joga site members themselves. Football fanatics will be able to create profile pages and mini-communities dedicated to individual players or other subjects, post to blogs, upload video and photos and develop fantasy teams. Google is hoping the soccer-centric site will attract the same types of passionate fans of the sport that its general audience social networking site, Orkut, has.

“We definitely found with sites like Orkut.com…that the communities that are very vibrant are the football communities,” said the Google spokesperson.

Reportedly, more than 70 percent of Orkut’s registered users are from Brazil, where football is an obsession. According to traffic measurement site Alexa, Orkut ranks number 78 on its list of most-trafficked Web sites. Still, it lags far behind its social networking/CGM competitor, MySpace, the world’s eighth most-trafficked site.

Most likely, part of Google’s aim is to parlay its success in Brazil into a global soccer social networking hit. Joga will be made available in 14 languages: English, Brazilian Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Russian, Thai and Czech.

The partner companies are maintaining a low-profile for Joga.com until future site members begin populating the site with their own content, so there is little fanfare surrounding Joga’s beta launch. At the moment, users can join the community site by invitation only; however, according to the Google spokesperson, the company will be “making it available to all after a while.” Nike is doing direct marketing through its database to promote the site to potential members.v Nike, which has taken a light-handed approach to branding the site, is promoting its Joga3 Futsal National Tournament through Joga. The worldwide event will involve small grassroots teams, and smaller balls and playing fields than traditional football. At this point, Nike has no specific plans for similar sites focusing on other sports. Noted Nike’s spokesperson, “It’s too early to tell; the focus is on football.”

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