Yahoo!, MSN Court Soccer Fans

Both Yahoo and MSN have launched new content and advertising opportunities around the FIFA World Cup, beginning a six-month run-up to one of the most popular sporting events in the world.

Since 2002, Yahoo has sponsored and hosted the official Web site for the international soccer tournament, which takes place every four years. The 2006 FIFA World Cup will take place in Germany in June. The action began last week when teams learned what match-ups they would be facing initially.

FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) and Yahoo are jointly producing, marketing, and commercially operating the site, and Yahoo is one of 15 official FIFA partners worldwide. Yahoo will market and promote the sponsorship, advertising and promotional opportunities on the site. Many of the content areas are sponsored by FIFA partners, including adidas, Anheuser-Busch, Avaya, Coca-Cola, Continental, Deutsche Telekom, Emirates Airline, Fujifilm, Gillette, Hyundai, MasterCard, McDonald’s, Philips, and Toshiba.

“For the millions of passionate soccer fans worldwide, will serve as the most comprehensive site for information that users will not find anywhere else — regardless of country, time zone or hemisphere,” said Jorge Consuegra, general manager of Yahoo’s FIFA sponsorship. “With a wide range of video clips, breaking news, interviews and real-time results, the site enables consumers worldwide to engage with the biggest sporting event in the world.”

For its World Cup coverage, MSN has enlisted seven of the world’s top soccer players to provide exclusive content. Brazil’s Ronaldo de Assis Moreira (Ronaldinho), England’s Michael Owen, Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, Spain’s Xabi Alonso, Netherlands’ Edgar Davids, Germany’s Kevin Kuranyi, and France’s Claude Makelele, will each create a player diary and weekly Web casts on MSN.

Advertisers will be able to buy 300×250 rich media ads in those content areas, as well as section page takeovers and streaming video content sponsorships.

“It’s a massive event, just huge. This will be the biggest Internet event ever,” said Dan Watson, digital marketing specialist at MSN.

MSN will also integrate World Cup content into MSN Messenger, with theme packs, news alerts, and an interactive soccer game — specifically designed to be shared with friends — which was developed for MSN Messenger. MSN launched an earlier version of the game last summer, sponsored by Nike. The new game features more peer-to-peer features and improved gameplay, Watson said.

Because of its near-universal appeal, MSN expects to draw a wide range of advertisers, seeking to reach a wide range of users. “The audience will be male-biased, but not exceedingly male-biased. Football is such a universal game, it really does appeal to everyone,” Watson said.

MSN kicked off its coverage with an event in Munich last week, where the athletes involved met with press and select advertisers. The players also showed off their skills, signed autographs, and raffled off the MSN-branded shirts they were wearing.

MSN expects to promote the World Cup content heavily throughout its network, and is currently developing plans for a broad online and viral campaign.

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