The 1998 World Cup in France this summer will be the biggest sports
event ever broadcast. A total cumulative television audience of 37
billion viewers will tune in to 64 games over four weeks, compared with
the 19.6 billion people who watched the Atlanta Olympics two years ago.
On the day of the final, three-quarters of the world’s population will
be glued to their sets. For advertisers and sponsors, the scale of the
World Cup makes it the most significant marketing platform of the year.
At a global level, 12 multinationals, including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s,
Mastercard and Adidas, have paid around dollars 35 million each for the
privilege of being associated with the event. Most will spend at least
the same again on advertising and sales promotions.
At a UK level, the event is a chance for advertisers and broadcasters to
tap into the same euphoria that swept the nation during Euro 96. With
both England and Scotland taking part, there is likely to be a ground
swell of interest from all sections of the community as the finals
If past experience is anything to go by, an England versus Germany tie
would attract around 25 million viewers. Even a seemingly innocuous
confrontation such as Romania versus Sweden managed to attract 25 per
cent of men in London during the last World Cup.
The BBC and ITV will share coverage of France 98, with each showing more
than 30 games exclusively and both broadcasting the final. ITV is
guaranteed a minimum of one England and one Scotland match and is
expecting an overwhelming response from advertisers.
’We are dealing with the greatest ever sports event on British
television,’ Alan Hodge, an account director at the airtime sales house,
’It features the best sides in the world and will be shown at the best
times. It is event television and we will make a point of selling it
hard as a major commercial opportunity.’
His view is endorsed by Barrie Gill, the chairman of CSS International,
which handles the Team England sponsorship with clients such as BP,
Canon and Green Flag. ’The major multinationals are seeking global
marketing activities,’ he says. ’And outside the US, there is nothing
sexier than football. The public is in thrall of it. English football,
in particular, has never been at such a high.’
The key opportunity for advertisers is undoubtedly young, upmarket males
- and the demand for ITV airtime will be high. Cars, beer and sportswear
are obvious categories of activity. But as Hodge points out, soccer has
become a platform for a wide range of new clients. L’Oreal, BT, Procter
& Gamble and Walkers are just a few of the companies that have used
football icons as part of their advertising programmes, he reveals.
Hodge says Laser will try to be as flexible as possible with
Although a substantial part of the ITV inventory is already spoken for,
Hodge says Laser will keep some slots open for the short-term
He adds: ’We want clients to be able to come in at a week’s notice if
they have to. There is nothing worse than a disappointed customer.’
France 98 belongs to a bygone era in terms of the cost of television
rights. The rights for the competition were granted before the Italia 90
finals in a contract between football’s governing body, FIFA, and the
European Broadcasting Union, which represents more than 50 broadcasters,
including the BBC and ITV. In today’s prices, the EBU paid approximately
dollars 135 million for this year’s finals. But since then, the cost of
European soccer rights has gone though the roof.
In the case of the World Cup, FIFA struck a deal in the summer of 1996
to sell the competition rights for 2002 and 2006 to Germany’s Kirch
Gruppe and the sports marketing agency, ISL, for a staggering SFr2.8
billion. That deal effectively values the European broadcasting rights
for the World Cup at ten times what the EBU paid for France 98.
The increase in the cost of soccer rights is driven by two factors.
First, pay TV broadcasters need to acquire programming that will drive
Sky’s willingness to pay pounds 650 million for the rights to broadcast
the English Premier League for four years is typical of a trend that has
swept across Europe.
But in the case of the World Cup, FIFA is adamant most of the games must
be broadcast to the widest possible audience - in other words, free TV.
This brings the second factor into play.
Jean Paul de la Fuente, the senior vice-president, media, of ISL,
explains: ’Our ability to get the money is based on calculations from
television funded by advertising revenue. With media fragmentation,
there are going to be fewer opportunities for advertisers to achieve
As a result, a large live audience will become increasingly
De la Fuente insists the World Cup is ’the bargain of the decade’. ’The
networks are making ten to 15 times what they are paying in rights, so
it is our intention to adjust it to a more realistic level for FIFA’s
benefit,’ he says.
De la Fuente is confident that when negotiations start later this year,
the increase in rights fees for the World Cup won’t discourage many
networks from bidding. ’They know the value of the competition and are
already queuing up to put bids in and acquire some or all of the rights
to broadcast the World Cup in 2002 and 2006.’
De la Fuente’s overt reference to selling ’some or all’ of the World Cup
to broadcasters is an indication that, despite FIFA’s broad ambition,
some elements of the World Cup are likely to be lost to the terrestrial
television audience. It is more than likely some of the early qualifying
rounds will find their way on to subscription platforms.
’We won’t sell the World Cup in a way that would upset the public,’ de
la Fuente says, ’but FIFA’s general view is that the World Cup has been
underpaid and under-distributed. Our objective is to present it in
various broadcast windows.’
ISL plans to offer the World Cup in six different windows, according to
de la Fuente. Although he would not specify them, they could include
pay-per-view, pay, free-to-air live transmission, delayed transmission,
highlights, radio, news access or the Internet. The key point, however,
is that ’potentially, six different companies in each territory could
acquire some of those rights’.
To ensure this distribution policy is adhered to, Kirch and ISL will
control the broadcast of games using digital technology. This way, they
can also offer digital enhancements to games. ’It might be possible, for
example, to show the same game on free TV and PPV,’ de la Fuente
’But a number of embellishments may be included on the PPV service that
would make people willing to pay extra.’
Despite such prospects, the World Cup is likely to remain a significant
advertising proposition. With sponsors likely to have to pay dollars 50
million each for the 2002 World Cup, they will need guarantees that they
can secure enough exposure to drive a year-round marketing campaign.
Although the France 98 finals will attract a frenzy of marketing
spending, official sponsors such as Gillette have had promotions running
throughout the past year. Equally, for Coca-Cola, the World Cup is only
one element of a strategy that revolves around the Olympics and football
Although there are reports that Nike - which is not an official sponsor
- may spend as much as half of its annual UK budget in the month of the
World Cup, the company’s spokesman, Graham Anderson, reiterates the
point that its strategy is apparent all year round.
’The World Cup is important from Nike’s point of view but we work with
players and teams every day of the year. Nike has strong links with
teams such as Brazil, Italy, Nigeria and Holland, as well as individual
stars such as Ronaldo, Romario and Maldini, and England’s Paul Scholes
and Teddy Sheringham. Most of these players have worked in various
guises in the development and marketing of our products and this is the
showcase for that activity,’ Anderson says. ’If they are performing
well, that is the best endorsement of our products.’
Mike Smallwood, chief executive of Western International Media,
underlines the appeal of the event from a media planner and buyer’s
His client, Vauxhall, has spent pounds 4 million on sponsoring ITV’s
coverage of the event, having previously linked up with ITV as sponsor
of Euro 96. Vauxhall’s European sister brand, Opel, is also one of the
main sponsors of the World Cup.
’It is a fantastic opportunity to get the message across to a mass
audience at a time when the opportunities are becoming rarer,’ Smallwood
’And if England does well, it really fires the imagination.’
However, Smallwood takes a pragmatic view that the escalation in rights
fees may have an impact on the cost to advertisers. ’We see the World
Cup as a premium product,’ he says. ’But if the price got too high then
we wouldn’t buy it. I think broadcasters are conscious of the likely
value of the event to their advertisers.’
De la Fuente stresses that there are many dynamics at work. ’The
experience of sports broadcasting in the US has shown that a major event
can bring up a whole network.’ Not only is there the chance to sell
sports-related airtime at a premium, but other inventory can be hooked
in as part of a package deal. Buying TV rights (or sponsorship rights,
for that matter) is also a way of making sure your competition doesn’t
get hold of them.
Bill Sinrich, the head of operations at Trans World International, the
sports production arm of the largest sports rights broker in the world,
IGM, believes the current frenzy for football rights is likely to
’In a world where there is an increasing number of broadcasting options,
it is harder for networks to differentiate themselves,’ Sinrich
’In Europe, football is the number one way of achieving that and it will
get richer while other sports get poorer. I firmly believe that as good
as Sky Sports is, if it lost the Premier League tomorrow, it wouldn’t
exist in six months’ time.’
The question for broadcasters is how much they are willing to pay for
sports rights. In the US, some networks have already reached the point
where their outlay on sport is so great as to make it a loss-leader.
’I don’t think football is a loss-maker in Europe yet. But it is
entirely possible that it will push the limits of some broadcasters’
ability to pay,’ Sinrich says.
BBC Radio holds a place in the hearts of many footie fans over the age
of 25 for broadcasting live games throughout the wilderness years of the
70s and 80s when TV coverage was mainly restricted to highlights.
For the World Cup, however, fans will have an alternative to BBC Radio 5
Live in the shape of Talk Radio, which is planning substantial live
coverage of matches throughout the tournament. A pounds 1 million ad
campaign will kick off shortly to promote Talk Radio as the official
World Cup station.
The potential of football as a ratings winner for Talk Radio was shown
by the Italy versus England World Cup qualifier last autumn when its
audience was boosted by 30 per cent.
Talk Radio’s head of sports, Moz Dee, says: ’Live sport is an audience
driver, and football rights in particular are very important to us. As a
station, we recognise the escalation of interest in the game.’ Like the
BBC, ITV and Eurosport, Talk Radio’s ownership means it is able to
broadcast live coverage courtesy of EBU. Dee admits the prospect of
head-to-head competition between radio stations is daunting. ’We are up
against a bloody institution but we believe there has to be consumer
choice in the marketplace.’
As it happens, Talk Radio can boast a number of advantages that will
make its coverage of particular interest to advertisers. The first is
that it has Sky’s highly regarded commentary team, Andy Gray and Alan
Parry, on loan while the satellite broadcaster’s football coverage goes
into hibernation. This will be a particularly attractive proposition for
the 16- to 24-year-old demographic.
Tim Bleakley, the head of airtime sales, adds to the list of plus
’With Sky unable to broadcast live coverage, Talk Radio is the only
option of a low capital entry cost for advertisers.’ Not only that, but
the BBC has the lion’s share of England and Scotland games in the early
rounds of the competition, making Talk Radio the only commercial
proposition available to clients.
According to Bleakley, 60 per cent of Talk Radio’s airtime has already
been booked. A mainline sponsor - as yet unnamed - has been found and
there will be a further 11 key partners. ’I couldn’t exaggerate about
how much interest there has been,’Bleakley says. ’And the fact that
radio is an interactive medium is a key advantage.’
Observers may wonder why anyone would be interested in listening to the
World Cup on radio when it is available free on TV. Bleakley explains
that a lot of games will be played in the 4.00pm to 6.00pm time period,
which is drive time. ’That’s where we will concentrate a lot of our
effort,’ he says.
After a few years in the sporting wilderness, ITV showed renewed
ambition with the broadcast of Formula 1 last year. Coupled with its
rights to show the Soccer World Cup, a variety of European and domestic
soccer competitions and the Rugby World Cup in 1999, the UK’s leading
commercial network can now boast a reasonably strong portfolio of sports
properties for the foreseeable future.
The World Cup rights come courtesy of the EBU and are shared with the
BBC. ITV will show 31 games live and also plans to run a comprehensive
highlights package. As far as possible, head-to-head coverage will be
avoided. Only the semi-finals and the final will be simulcast. In the
early stages, ITV is guaranteed one England game and one Scotland game
ITV’s head of sport, Brian Barwick, says: ’I can’t remember a time when
football has been so fashionable across every demographic group. ABC1
men, who are potentially difficult to attract, are drawn to it. But it
also connects with a significant cross-section of the UK public.’
Barwick, who crossed over from the BBC, regards the World Cup as
’football’s biggest festival’. ’It’s as big as sport gets and is a
fantastic product in the way it is delivered on air. Live football is
not a cheap event for a broadcaster but people make a real date to watch
it.’ ITV will rely mainly on the broadcast feed provided by the EBU but
add its own embellishments to give the coverage personality. The former
Chelsea boss, Ruud Gulit, has been poached from the BBC and Jean Michel
Jarre has been commissioned to write a theme tune. ITV has also decided
to take the show on the road by broadcasting live from the French stadia
- rather than using a studio location at home. ’This gives you more of a
sense of the live experience,’ Barwick says.
Another key development has been the transfer of BBC 2’s popular
late-night show, Fantasy Football, to ITV for a run during the World
Cup. ’That shows how committed ITV is to having an attractive schedule,’
Barwick says. ’It will also free ITV sport from the obligation to try
and be all things to all men.’
The World Cup is an important step in re-establishing the feeling among
viewers that ITV is the home of top-quality sport. ’Part of my brief
when I came from the BBC was to help awareness that ITV football hasn’t
turned into mothballs,’ Barwick explains. ’We are driving the message
home by heavy-trailing sport throughout the schedule.’
With the Premier League unlikely to return to free TV, holding on to the
World Cup next time round will be a key long- term objective for
’I don’t think any terrestrial broadcaster can take lightly the
opportunity to broadcast the World Cup. But it is a bit premature to
have a view on the 2002 World Cup. The negotiations haven’t really
France 98 may be the swansong for the BBC as far as World Cup coverage
goes. By 2002, it is likely to be priced out of the market by its
The only possible protection for the BBC is a political will in Europe
to keep sports on free TV. At the moment, the UK has a set of ’listed
events’ enshrined in legislation which must not be made available to the
public on pay TV only. These include football’s FA Cup final, domestic
test cricket, Wimbledon, the Olympics and the World Cup Final.
Last month, a government committee suggested some amendments which would
drop test cricket from the list but protect the World Cup Final, the
semi-finals and home team games for free TV.
The BBC’s response to the proposed amendment is one of
’The BBC will respond in due course with its view to the Government,’ a
spokesperson said. ’Meanwhile, it is of serious concern that (from the
2002 World Cup) viewers will not have the opportunity to see the whole
of the World Cup Finals competition, as they will this coming summer on
the BBC and ITV.’
ISL’s De la Fuente, like many in the sports marketing sector, is
fundamentally opposed to the principle of listed events, which he calls
’a market distortion in favour of the BBC and ITV’. ’It is based on the
idea that football is a basic need like water or gas - but it isn’t. It
is a market-driven business,’ de la Fuente says.
Eurosport is a member of the EBU, despite being a third-owned by
Disney’s ESPN and a third-owned by Europe’s largest pay TV operator,
As such, it is entitled to broadcast live coverage of the World Cup
alongside the BBC and ITV.
That opportunity is made all the more significant by the fact that the
UK’s major pay TV hitter, Sky, will be unable to offer anything other
than news updates from the event.
Of 64 games being played, Eurosport will show 33 live and the remainder
as delayed. Altogether, this amounts to almost 400 hours of
According to Eurosport’s advertising sales director, Tom Keaveny, the
whole schedule will reflect the emphasis on the World Cup. Each day,
coverage will start with highlights at 6.00am and run through almost
uninterrupted until midnight. Only major events such as the world
motorcycle championships will get a look in.
Eurosport’s usp is its ability to show sports events in a depth which
terrestrials cannot match because of their other scheduling
However, it does not take them on head-to-head. So while ITV will show
England versus Romania in peaktime on Monday, 22 June, Eurosport will
wait until the following day to broadcast the match. It will also show
everything from the quarter-finals to the finals on a delayed basis.
This policy is both strategic and political. On the one hand, Eurosport
knows most English viewers are likely to choose ITV or the BBC for major
games; on the other, it defers to those broadcasters which have paid the
lion’s share of the EBU’s commitment to FIFA. All the same, Keaveny
expects Eurosport to break its existing ratings record of six million
for last year’s Tour de France, and a cumulative 85 million for the
recent Winter Olympics.
Because the channel broadcasts across Europe, it does not use studio
talking heads. However, it has brought in a high-profile commentating
team which includes the former England captain, Bryan Robson, and the
Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger.
The appeal of Eurosport’s coverage is clear in the raft of advertisers
and sponsors it has attracted. Key among these are Gillette, General
Motors, JVC and Budweiser, though there will also be tactical support by
US movie studios for summer blockbusters such as Godzilla. In the case
of Gillette, the relationship has been running for nearly two years
through airtime and sponsorships - Eurosport is running a series called
Gillette’s World Cup Dream Team. During the championships, it will
sponsor a best goals package each day.
Keaveny says that most of the airtime and sponsorship options around
Eurosport’s World Cup coverage have already gone. However, he stresses
that the emphasis has been on long-term partnerships.
’The World Cup shouldn’t be seen in isolation. When it finishes, sport
doesn’t just stop. In September, for example, there is a beginning of
qualification for Euro 2000 and we want to take our partners with us for
that,’ Keaveny says.