We have been, according to Blake Chandlee, the commercial director of Yahoo!, witnessing the first "internet" World Cup. This is a confusing pronouncement for those able to cast their minds back four years, when Yahoo!, having tied up a partnership deal for the tournament jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea, announced that the 2002 event would be the first internet World Cup.
Mere detail - and you can't help feeling that if Yahoo! sticks to its guns, one day it will, come what may, eventually be right. Unless you hold to the view that this is actually the third internet World Cup; because, after all, France 98 stimulated the launch of a whole host of football sites, some of which are still with us.
So let's split the difference - this is the first World Cup where even the national newspapers recognise that we have entered the digital age.
Look at The Times, for instance, and the fuss it made over its podcasts by David Baddiel and Frank Skinner.
And you have to reckon that some sort of point has been tipped when a perma-tanned old dinosaur such as Ron Atkinson launches a video podcast on Selfcast TV.
The effect of a World Cup on traditional media is, by and large, turbulence.
ITV, for instance, has been pulling down some decent ratings for its televised games (18.7 million viewers for Sweden v England, 13.9 million for the England v Trinidad and Tobago game). Notoriously and perversely, however, this has coincided with a revenue slump.
There should be no such problems, however, for the top football websites, perfectly poised as they are to slake an almost insatiable thirst for information. Not that information is quite the right word for the mix of gossip and chatter some serve up along with David Beckham's stomach contents.
But it is infuriatingly inevitable, from the point of view both of advertisers and commercial media owners alike, that the site with the biggest audience is the BBC. And it is bad news, from ITV's point of view, that its heavily cross-promoted site, worldcup.itv.com, does not make it into the table of the ten most heavily used World Cup sites.
1. The pecking order, as measured by Nielsen//NetRatings, is as follows: BBC Sport, SkySports, Premium TV, Fifa World Cup, Sporting Life, Yahoo!Sports, MSN/SkySports, William Hill, The Times, TeamTalk.
2. Predictably, most of these sites have experienced significant growth in traffic since the tournament started. BBC Sport's average weekly reach between 15 May and 4 June was 849,000 individuals. Between 5 June and 25 June, that had risen to 1,522,000 - a leap of 79 per cent. The top performer in relative terms was the Fifa World Cup site - over the same two comparative periods, it reported an audience growth of 169 per cent, albeit from the low base of 113,000.
3. The BBC's site is the one most clearly angled at a broad church - as always with the BBC, it presents football as a slightly bonkers phenomenon and tends to view the tournament first and foremost as an international cultural festival. Thus, it's no surprise to find the tone of the site a little patronising in its benign approval of the game as an international language of friendship. Tellingly, though, from an audience point of view, it's the most child-friendly site in the top ten.
4. SkySports has done well to keep its traffic high because, of course, Sky's TV channels do not carry live World Cup action. However, its dominant position as a broadcaster of live Premiership games gives its website an edge in terms of content throughout the domestic season and it has clearly remained a default choice for many long-term fans.
5. Premium TV's family of sites (it runs sites for most lower-league clubs) do not carry World Cup content, so it is in the table through force of habit - but, understandably, traffic is down.
6. Sporting Life (owned by the TeamTalk Media Group, which is in turn a division of ukbetting plc) is the top site for hardcore football fans, largely because over the years it has proved itself to be the most reliable and the least prone to idle gossip and fanciful speculation. That's probably reflected in the fact that visitors to the TeamTalk site spend an average of 36 minutes there - that's three times longer than the next best, Fifa World Cup.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Only The Times can take any succour from these World Cup web traffic figures. During previous tournaments, most newspapers experienced something of a sales uplift but the anecdotal evidence (such as it is: publishers tend not to release reliable daily figures) is that this time around circulation gains have been minimal or non-existent.
- Consumers have been turning to digital media for regular fixes of World Cup news but not, by and large, to the websites run by newspapers. That might be because some of the best-known brands do not try very hard when it comes to the web. The Sun, for instance, posts an online version of its newspaper content in the morning, but rarely updates it through the day.
- Many will see this as further evidence that in the digital media age, newspapers in general will inevitably lose share of mind.
- This has been a difficult World Cup for ITV. It has failed to excite advertisers about its television coverage of the World Cup and, as a result, may not be able to bid for big tournaments in the future.
- Increasingly, it has been looking for opportunities on the internet to hedge against broadcast advertising revenue decline - witness its recent purchase, for instance, of the Friends Reunited sites.
- So its inability to draw traffic to its heavily cross-promoted World Cup site is ominous.
- More advertisers than ever before have been using the World Cup as an excuse to road-test new through-the-line mobile and online strategies, embracing things such as competitions and special promotions. Some agencies estimate almost all the money lost from TV budgets this summer has gone online.