Online Media Ready for Some Futbol

With the 2006 World Cup kick-off only one day away, online media players and their sponsors have unveiled their bids to attract U.S. soccer fans. Online and mobile media are especially important for the World Cup, because most matches will take place during business hours, when most fans will be at work.

One of the most prominent online players is Yahoo, which is an official sponsor of the World Cup and also host of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)’s official Web site. The U.S.-focused version of the site features the standard fare: news, photo galleries and team descriptions. When the tournament begins, users will be able to access video highlights from the matches themselves.

Many of the World Cup’s official sponsors get prominent placement on the site. Footwear sponsor adidas presents a countdown clock to the beginning of the tournament, while Budweiser gets a button highlighting its “Man of the Match” sponsorship. Yahoo, for its part, is linking to World Cup-related content on its new Yahoo Answers property. Small rotating banners link to other official FIFA sponsors.

Content-wise, the most innovative of Yahoo’s offerings is its array of mobile services. The company is offering a mobile portal, live mobile commentary on games, and SMS alerts along with phone personalization content like ringtones, wallpapers, games and video content. The mobile capabilities are highlighted prominently on the Web property.

The second-biggest player in the online World Cup game is probably ESPN, which will be airing the tournament on its cable network. On its site, the company is leveraging its roots in television via its ESPN Motion video feature, which currently offers World Cup related commentary and an interview with U.S. coach Bruce Arena. It’s also offering a full version of its site in Spanish, presumably to attract a U.S. Hispanic audience.

The network’s dedicated World Cup site is anchored by sponsor adidas, which gets “presented by” placement as part of the site banner, which runs on every page. The athletic shoe maker also sponsors team pages for various countries: England, Germany and Mexico.

Fox Soccer Channel, the media property that’s made the biggest bet on the growth of the U.S. audience for soccer, has beefed up its online presence, which is hosted by MSN, for the occasion. Its most stand-out feature is a series of blogs on the tournament, all of which are emblazoned prominently with Cingular branding. The site’s other most prominent advertisers are Nike and Hyundai, which is sponsoring the U.S. team page.

The New York Times has aggregated its World Cup-related content and is cooperating with sister publication the International Herald Tribune for coverage. Roger Cohen, editor at large of the IHT, will have a blog, as will other writers and columnists; enthusiasts will also be able to post to a fan blog. Matches involving the U.S. team will be covered live via commentators who will incorporate reader reaction. A fourth blog, featuring observations by fans in Angola, Argentina, England, Iran, Japan and Mexico, will be a part of the Times’ premium TimesSelect tier.

Despite media properties’ efforts, advertisers haven’t hesitated to go directly to soccer fans at World Cup events. Nike, with its site and JogaTV video effort, is one of the most notable marketers. Coca-Cola is sponsoring a gathering of bloggers to cover the World Cup at

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