Letter From Paris: The Thrill Of The Feet

forget the super bowl, the world series, wimbledoN and even the Olympic Games. In the realm of sports, The World Cup is one championship that deserves the name. Soccer’s quadrennial tournament is truly a global media event, followed avidly by fans from Andorra to Zanzibar. In most of the soccer-playing world–which is just about everywhere outside of the U.S. and Canada–life comes to a virtual halt for five weeks as billions of fans cluster around their TVs to watch the 32 national teams battle for the coveted trophy. That’s no exaggeration: It’s estimated that this year’s tournament,which runs through July 12, will have a cumulative TV audience of 37 billion. That doesn’t count 2.5 million or so spectators who will attend the 64 matches held at 10 different stadiums throughout France.
With so many eyeballs up for grabs, it’s no wonder those global marketers which are big enough and rich enough are paying huge sums for the privilege of being tournament sponsors. Some 45 companies have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to FIFA, the Swiss-based governing body of soccer, for exclusive rights to France 98, as this year’s tournament is known. There are eight official suppliers, nine official product and services companies and 16 official equipment suppliers. At the top of the pyramid are a dozen companies, including mega-brands such as Coca-Cola, Gillette, Adidas and Opel, which have paid an estimated $35 million apiece to become official worldwide sponsors. In return, they have the right to plaster their logos and trademarks across World Cup stadiums and tickets, and have been granted product exclusivity in all venues.
But in this era of ad saturation, such eight-figure fees are merely the opening ante for some high-spending marketers. Coke, for example–which has adopted the slogan “Eat Football. Sleep Football. Drink Coca-Cola” for the matches–began work on its World Cup marketing strategy more than a year ago; privately, executives say the soft-drink maker will spend approximately $250 million on tournament promotion and ads, not counting the upfront sponsorship fee. Anyway you take it, that’s a lot of Coke.
“Programs in the host country are important but what’s really key is what we do in the nearly 200 countries where Coke is sold,” explains Ben Deutsch, Coke’s pr manager for worldwide sports. “We have strong World Cup programs going in 100 countries.” Most, though not all, of the promotions are focussed on consumers outside the U.S., given the states lagging embrace of the sport. “The U.S. had programs offered to it, but the local markets determine which work best for them,” explains Deutsch.
Perhaps the most creative promotion put together by Coke is “World Cup Tickets for Life.” Contestants in 11 countries (Austria, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) were invited to enter videos, letters and pictures demonstrating their passion for the game. In each country one lucky winner received a free trip for two to all future cup tournaments for the rest of his or her life–except in soccer-crazy Brazil, which awarded 10 prizes.
Other Coke promotions have cast a wider net. Some 18,000 lucky fans around the globe won free France 98 tickets, including airfare, in various national promotion programs. Meanwhile, Coke’s youth program selected more than 1,600 young people–including 17 Americans–to participate in the tournament as “ball kids” and flag bearers, among other roles. Coke also brought the World Cup trophy on a five-month, seven-nation tour starting last December. These and other programs have been supported by two global TV spots produced by Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam. Local Coke campaigns have been developed in at least 65 other countries as well. Says Deutsch: “It doesn’t just revolve around the three-week event.”
Whatever the cost, Coke considers it money well spent. While Coke executives won’t reveal how spending on France 98 compares with their budget for the last cup, they claim international sales are up significantly over the same period of last year and 1994. In France, for example, Coke’s sales have jumped 25 percent during the first quarter of this year, versus 1997. The company regards the World Cup as so vital to its marketing strategy that it has already signed up to sponsor the 2002 and 2006 tournaments. “We were the first company to commit,” Deutsch says. “It’s a clear demonstration that Coke believes in the power of football and especially the World Cup.”
Of course, few companies have the deep pockets to spend the huge sums Coke does. Or need to, for that matter. Crƒdit Agricole, France’s largest bank, paid appoximately $14.2 million to become one of the tournament’s official suppliers. It has set up big-screen viewing areas in cities throughout France for those without tickets, and its 8,200 branches are stuffed with reams of World Cup information. These efforts are backed by TV spots produced by Groupe FCB, including one featuring Ray Charles crooning “Imagine.” “Our objective was not to generate sales or heighten brand awareness because everyone in France already knows us,” explains bank spokesman Didier Blacque-Belair. “We wanted to reinforce the value of the bank’s image and create a sense of modernity.”
But there’s more than one way for brands to score in the marketing blitz that surrounds the tournament. No sporting event, it seems, is complete without Nike, but you won’t find the athletic-wear company on the list of worldwide cup sponsors. Instead, Nike has focused its efforts on the team level. It has paid to be a corporate sponsor of some of the world’s best soccer teams, including Brazil, Italy, Holland and Nigeria (the hapless U.S. team, which was eliminated in the first round, was sponsored as well). The payoff: shoes and team jerseys emblazoned with the Nike swoosh for the entire TV audience to see.
The Oregon company has also erected Nikepark: The People’s Republic of Football, a giant amusement area just outside Paris where fans can participate in assorted soccer-centric activities and meet members of various teams. In a clever bit of publicity, French soccer-great Eric Cantona was named “president” of Nikepark, which issues “passports” to some 10,000 visitors per day. The shoe and apparel maker has launched an aggressive $6 million TV, radio, print and billboard ad campaign in France, also produced by Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam. Marianne, a French magazine, called the work the most beautiful sports ad campaign ever seen in France.
The boost for Nike has been dramatic. According to The Financial Times, which launched a weekly index to track the cup’s most visible corporate logos, the swoosh has outshone Adidas’ stripes, Puma’s big cat and Reebok’s Union Jack logo. At least one big score at France 98 occurred off the playing field.

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