July 29, 2009

Waiting Eagerly for the World's Biggest Sporting Event

I vividly remember the World Cup 1994 finals at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena – Brazil versus Italy. Penalty kicks. 3-2. Brazil wins! A group of us rushes onto Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena to join several hundred soccer fanatics to celebrate Brazil’s fourth World Cup title. People cheering and dancing. Drums banging. We’re all Brazilians for the moment. What a feeling. All this comes back to me as we are now just one year from the start of World Cup 2010 in South Africa. I can’t wait.

I’m a fervent fan of the world’s game. But now I have a slightly different perspective than I had in 1994 – that of a sports PR guy. Clearly, my career choice was no mistake.

I’m always interested to see what brands do to capitalize on an event that captures an audience unsurpassed by anything else on this planet, and how they strategically use the World Cup to connect with Latino consumers. Sure, official FIFA partners will play their part with ads, promotions, etc. Coca-Cola is busy polishing the streets worldwide for the “FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola” (starts on September 24 in Cairo). But are other beverage brands standing on the sidewalks and letting this captive audience march by them?

I hope not. After all, this is an event that every four years brings countries to a stand-still and drives grown men to tears. In my view? Those brands that don’t have the millions of dollars needed to utilize that iconic logo still have a powerful opportunity to engage consumers (not just sports fans) in really authentic ways. In ways that truly connect with the fans and somehow enhance their experience.

One example I can offer up occurred in 2006. Our client, a mobile communications provider, partnered with the Univision Network to provide its subscribers with video highlights of World Cup matches minutes after the conclusion of the match. This was the first time this had been offered, and we seized the opportunity to tell the story to both sports and technology media. In addition to distributing the standard press materials needed, we provided phones to key Hispanic media across the country so that they too could experience this technology while keeping up-to-date on all of the video highlights. The media coverage that we secured was great, with many sportscasters showing the new phone and technology during their nightly sportscast.

Importantly, it was memorable to those who experienced it. It was the kind of thing that had media, rabid fans – and even casual fans – huddled around phones to re-watch clips – to re-live the experience because it was too sweet to let it pass quickly.

It’s really a no-brainer that Latinos love soccer, and the opportunities to reach them utilizing World Cup are endless, especially if a brand has the internal cheerleaders to kick this through the proper channels and seize this moment.

We have been fortunate enough to represent forward-thinking brands that appreciate the passion of the World Cup which is especially prevalent among U.S. Latinos. Yet not one of these clients has ever been an official partner or sponsor. Some have budgets for multi-layered campaigns, but most have modest budgets that require PR creativity (and a little bit of persuading to the legal department). What they’ve all had in common? They all understood that the passion for the game is what matters the most.

I’m not yet sure if I’ll be in the streets of South Africa in 2010 (though I will be if I have my way). But I know I’ll be watching it somewhere with friends. And as the final seconds of the clock run out in the final match in Johannesburg, for that moment we will all be Brazilians or Italians or Argentineans or Spaniards. All of us? We’ll be fans of fútbol.

What memorable moments have you had around fútbol or any other sport?

Mario Flores is partner and managing director of Sportivo. He can be reached at Mario.flores@sportivo.us.

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