Media Forum: Is there a World Cup ad boom?

Has the World Cup delivered the advertising growth predicted?

The World Cup must drive some media owners to distraction. Every four years, the first signs of global football fever appear in late spring, as the air grows thick with reports from agencies predicting that the tournament will deliver a huge boost to the world's ad industries.

ZenithOptimedia said global ad growth would accelerate during 2006 because of the World Cup windfall. MindShare's prediction was more specific. It estimated that, in the best of all possible worlds, the tournament could generate a £30 million boost to the UK ad economy - though it predicted increases in TV spend would happen before and after, but not during, the event.

You can say that again. And this clearly isn't the best of all possible worlds, because the World Cup, especially for UK broadcasters, is something of a recurring nightmare. It's like that often-shown archive footage of a top player trying to walk the ball into an empty net during a big game - he slips, collides with the post and the ball dribbles wide.

Perhaps the biggest gap between expectation and reality came during France 98. Fearing clutter and a fearsome spike in airtime prices, planners and buyers thought they'd be clever by shifting their money into pre- and post-tournament periods - and so many of them did this that the World Cup itself, in UK ad market terms, was flat.

It looks like happening again this time around. But who knows - perhaps the cannier media owners have learned to expect the worst. That way, they can't really be disappointed. So, is the World Cup meeting expectations where advertising activity is concerned?

Gary Digby, the managing director of ITV Sales, is putting a brave face on things. He prefers to focus on the network's status relative to its closest rivals. He states: "In a weak advertising market, ITV is certainly performing much better than other commercial TV channels in June, thanks to the World Cup coverage. Many advertisers are taking advantage of this fantastic opportunity to reach a highly sought-after and lucrative male audience."

ITV's total ad revenues are expected to rise by 2 per cent in the second quarter, despite a drop in ITV1 revenue. However, other TV bosses are prepared to be more scathing - in private at least. And the TV market as a whole is expected to be down significantly in July and August, early evidence of a post-World Cup hangover.

Disappointing for TV, undoubtedly, but are other media taking advantage?

Well, perhaps. The radio market as a whole might be fragile - and suffering from the same planning blight as TV. But the station most closely associated with the tournament, talkSPORT, is doing rather nicely.

Adam Bullock, the station's sales director, says this is because it signed a deal to become an official World Cup broadcaster in December 2004 - and it used this early mover advantage wisely. "By the end of last year, we had tied up platform sponsorship deals with six partners - Carlsberg, Ford, Mars, Nationwide, Sure Sport for Men and Budget. That took us out of reliance on the short-term market," he explains.

Some magazine publishers say they too have suffered from planning blight - with agencies believing that rates soar when the tournament is on. Many, however, predicted this would happen and factored it into their planning.

Tim Brooks, the managing director of IPC's ignite! division, which includes Nuts and Loaded, says it's business as usual in June. "We never expected it to be like Christmas," he reveals.

But it's a different picture in newspapers. According to Ian Clark, the director of advertising at Times Newspapers, this will be the paper's most successful major football tournament, surpassing all previous World Cups and European Championships.

That, he says, is down to the imaginative way the paper has gone about its business, both on the editorial and commercial sides. He concludes: "Our sporting heritage is built on match analysis and interpretation in the paper. Now this is supplemented by breaking news via text alerts, real-time updates from the live match centre at Times Online, blogs and podcasts. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner will be hosting a series of podcasts and live forums as they travel to the matches with the fans.

This is the first World Cup where we have a truly integrated multi-platform offering. Fans get a highly interactive experience and that's more rewarding for our advertisers."

- Insider's view, page 17.

NO - Gary Digby, managing director, ITV Sales

"The poor state of the ad market is not limited to TV - print and outdoor are suffering more while adspend on the internet and search engines is increasing. We are also continuing to build parts of the business outside ITV1 advertising."

YES - Adam Bullock, sales director, talkSPORT

"The sponsorship we attracted on the back of being an official World Cup broadcaster made us bomb-proof in the short-term market. And although radio may be suffering in the same sort of way as the TV market is, we are not down."

NO - Tim Brooks, managing director, IPC ignite!

"We didn't plan for any uplift and we haven't been disappointed. It's business as usual in June. It's true that a lot of major advertisers have World Cup activity but often that displaces rather than augments other advertising activity."

YES - Ian Clark, director of advertising, Times Newspapers

"This year will be our 1966. Partnerships with Betfair, Dodge Cars and Northern Rock have resulted in a commercial delivery that has surpassed all previous World Cups and European Championships."

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