Sports super show kicks-off in Germany

MUMBAI: The biggest global sporting event on the planet kicked off in Germany with the hosts playing Costa Rica. Around 1.5 billion viewers around the globe are expected to tune in to the opening fixture of the World Cup alone.

A record number of deals: What is helping television viewership in this regard is the sheer number of deals that have been done by football's governing body Fifa's marketing agency Infront. Besides getting deals which will ensure the event gets viewed in over 200 countries, InFront has also signed deals with more than one broadcaster in key territories like Germany.

The World Cup is projected to get a cumulative viewing global audience of 32.5 billion. This marks a 10 per cent increase compared to 2002. For 2006, there will be more than 500 broadcast partners including 240 television licensees, a record number of 220 radio stations and more than 50 New Media Licensees (Mobile Telephony and Internet). By comparison, the 2002 event was transmitted by 300 broadcast partners.

Distribution has been handled on an open-market basis. This offers viewers variety and choice in how they watch the event and an exciting array of production advances to add to their enjoyment. Infront achieved these record results through 'layering' different television offerings for the various markets worldwide. The event will be shared between a broad range of distribution platforms, offering viewers a variety of options. Infront has contracted with two or more broadcasters in 120 territories.

Strong deals in the key markets: In the top television markets Infront?s marketing strategy has led to impressive results. For instance in host country Germany Infront signed deals with three Free-TV stations - ARD, ZDF, RTL. It also signed a pay TV deal with Premiere. Another important market is France. There it has signed two Free-TV (TF1, M6) and two Pay-TV (Canal+, Eurosport France) agreements.

In soccer mad Brazil, it has signed four Pay-TV
(Bandsports, DirecTV, ESPN do Brazil, Globosat) deals and one free TV (TV Globo) agreement. 77 per cent of Brazilians are eagerly counting down the hours to kick off, a figure exceeded only by the 79 per cent recorded in Mexico and Japan.

Radio coverage of the event is also becoming increasingly important as a category of the overall broadcast. The 2002 World Cup was the first time that radio rights were offered independently and separately from television. The 2006 event continues with this expansion, further acknowledging the growth in radio and its importance as a communication medium.

Around 80 regional and local radio stations will ensure record radio coverage in Germany. In France five stations have done deals while in Brazil the number is 24.

Fifa taps into new media: New media coverage of the event is set to reach new standards. In 2002, new media coverage of the event was limited to the official Fifa website and trial transmissions to mobile phones in Japan. This year fans will be able to receive near-live coverage of the most dramatic and decisive moments of all the 64 matches on their mobile telephony devices or their home computer. More than 100 territories are covered by a New Media license.

Technological inovations: The event will showcase HD technology. Following 2002, this is the second World Cup host broadcast in private hands ? a break from the past when this function was handled by the world?s television unions. Infront?s wholly-owned subsidiary, Host Broadcast Services (HBS), is charged with the task of delivery.

2006 will be the first Fifa World Cup produced exclusively in the high definition (HD) 16/9 widescreen format and will be the first major international sport event to commit fully to the format of the future and to showcase it on a significant scale.

All 64 matches will be produced in HDTV and made available in both high and standard definition (SD). While the majority of broadcasters will still broadcast in SD 4/3 the demand for widescreen format and HDTV gains momentum.

Several broadcast partners will pick up the state-of-the-art HD feed produced by HBS and HDTV will be featured in more than 70 territories worldwide, including host country Germany (Premiere), France (TF1, M6), United Kingdom (BBC, ITV), Italy (RAI, Sky Italia), USA (ABC, ESPN), Canada (Rogers Sportsnet), Brazil (TV Globo, Bandsports), Mexico (Televisa, TV Azteca), Japan (Japan Consortium, Sky Perfect), South Korea (KBS, MBC, SBS), and China (CCTV).

HBS produces 2,200 hours of host broadcast coverage, as opposed to 1,200 hours for Korea / Japan 2002, filmed by a total of 170 cameras. Super feeds will include specific team and player coverage to help broadcasters tailor their offering to a national audience at home. 25 HD cameras will capture every moment and nuance of every match.

A serious money spinner: All the marketing and promotional activity is expected to pay off big time. A report from indicates that the event is on course for profits of ?1.1 billion. The estimated ?1billion cost of staging the event is far outweighed by revenues from the sale of media rights, sponsorship, merchandise and tickets.

Fifa?s anticipated media rights revenues of ?1.2 billion for the 2006 World Cup represent a 34-per-cent increase on the media rights revenues it realised at the 2002 World Cup, held in Japan and South Korea, a less favourable time zone than Germany?s for most of soccer?s top television markets.

The UK?s BBC and ITV are among the largest contributors to overall 2006 World Cup revenues, jointly paying ?105 million for the rights for the event. The largest single contribution to 2006 World Cup revenues is coming from ARD and ZDF, the German public-service broadcasters, which jointly agreed to pay ?170 million for the television rights to screen the event.

All not hunky dory: There has been criticism in some corners over the aggressiveness of Fifa in terms of merchandising and also regarding ticket sales. A report in Deutsche Wells indicates that this is the first World Cup where Fifa got aggressively into the business side of things. Cracks are said to be forming in its relationship with the German Organising Committee as Fifa allegedly pockets millions from the sales of tickets at the expense of fans.

Fifa has also been strict in the use of branded phrases. Such is the power of Fifa that Hamburg's AOL Arena has had to remove its name for the duration of the World Cup, since it is not an official partner, as has Munich's Allianz Arena. The logo on sportswear giant Nike's headquarters in Frankfurt has also been covered after Fifa took objections to it. German businesses and politicians are furious over Fifa imposed zones around stadiums where only official sponsors can advertise. For example, milk cannot be used on match days in the Coca Cola area.

A recent survey by SID sports news agency showed that a third of Germans are annoyed at the level of commercialisation that Fifa is doing around the World Cup. To offer an example Budweiser is the sponsor of the event and Germans are upset that at the stadium popular German brands will not be allowed. The head of Fifa Sepp Blatter has had to defend the organisation from accusations over the past few weeks that big business concerns are spoiling the spirit of football.

Fifa, not surprisingly, justifies its aggressiveness as each partner pays a lot of money to be associated with it. On an average each partner has forked out around $ 60 million for the 2006 WC. However the fact that there are as many as 15 partners means that there is the danger of clutter. That in fact is a major reason why Phillips had earlier chosen not to renew its deal with Fifa.

'Sport selling its soul to big business': That Fifa's aggressive marketing tactics have not gone down well in some quarters can be gauged from what former German football great Franz Beckenbauer, who is the head of the World Cup organizing committee, had to say. He recently expressed concern that the sport is selling its soul to big business. Therefore he feels that there is need for discussion on the limits of money-making. Blatter countered that by talking about the importance of a mutually beneficial partnerships between Fifa, television and the global economy.

A small but significant example of economic benefit can be seen in England's pubs. The Independent did an investigation on the phenomenon of the rise in the number of people looking for jobs in pubs up and down the UK. In terms of atmosphere Britain's pubs are considered to be even better than watching the game live according a job applicant.

On the ground level a report in VOA News indicates that the German government has spent around $7.7 trillion on improving stadiums and transportation infrastructure. The country expects a 1.6 percent increase in its gross domestic product this year, with analysts saying a half per cent of that will be because of the World Cup. Germany is expected to get around four million visitors on account of the event. Each visitor is expected to spend around $400 a day. The World Cup is expected to have generated 60,000 jobs in Germany alone. 20,000 are expected to remain once the event concludes.

A report in The BBC says that "A Time to Make Friends" has been the slogan in Germany and over the past two years the country has striven to spread its message far and wide. Other official messages have included "We Want to Roll out the Red Carpet For You" - the tag for the 6 billion euros invested from both public and private funds in stadiums, hotels, roads and train stations.

It is a chance to portray Germany as a dynamic place to visit or do business

However, there are mixed feelings in Germany about what the economic outcome will be. Germany is looking to show itself as not just a place that is passionate about soccer but also a country that is an excellent tourist destination.

A study, from Postbank claims the additional sales of TV sets, beer, soft drinks, VIP hospitality, sports goods and other WM-themed products will come to between two and three billion euros.

However another report from Germany's influential DIW economic research institute seeks to puncture this growing optimism, forecasting that the World Cup will not significantly aid the country's economic situation.

The World Cup, it says, will have a negligible impact on the domestic economy, which for years has been beset by weak demand at home.

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