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Publishers Scrap for Their Share of World Cup Ad Windfall

TV as Usual Collects the Biggest Benefit, but Magazines and Websites Make Plays

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Men's Health put out a special digital edition about the World Cup.
Men's Health put out a special digital edition about the World Cup.

The World Cup is driving growth in global ad revenue, which will expand 6.4% to $516 billion this year partly thanks to ad spending around the soccer tournament, according to a forecast by Magna Global, part of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mediabrands.

Brands like Coke, Visa and Sony are spending tens of millions to be official partners of FIFA, soccer's international governing body and the recipient of more than $1.6 in sponsorships from 2011 through 2014, mostly around the World Cup, according to an IEG sponsorship report. And then there all the advertisers taking advantage of the world's focus without bothering with any official association.

Although TV will, in its usual way, reap most of the benefit, publishers both online and off are fighting for their share of the windfall, not only covering the matches but also introducing websites, digital magazines and branded-content campaigns dedicated to the World Cup.

Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated, for example, bumped up its soccer blog Planet Futbol to become a new section on the magazine's website. It's run by Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl, who started it last September. ComScore doesn't measure its traffic, but Sports Illustrated says it is growing and brands including Degree, Edge Shave Gel and Canon have signed on as sponsors.

Sports Illustrated's Planet Futbol site rolled out in time for the World Cup.
Sports Illustrated's Planet Futbol site rolled out in time for the World Cup.

Rodale's Men's Health has simultaneously published its first single-topic digital edition, a guide to the World Cup. The issue, which is free on the iTunes store, includes player information and interactive elements like a geo-locater to find the nearest bars showing matches. Rogaine is the sole sponsor.

The digital edition has been downloaded 30,000 times, according to a spokeswoman for Men's Health, which is owned by Rodale.

"Soccer in general -- and the World Cup specifically -- resonates with our readers, because soccer players are among the fittest athletes in the world," Men's Health Editor-in-Chief Bill Phillips said in an email. "The special edition is a timely way to connect our large digital audience and World Cup fever."

The stakes might be highest for publishers that already focus on soccer. Goal.com, part of the U.K.'s Perform Group, attracted 1.4 million unique U.S. visitors from desktop and mobile devices in May, up 42% from May 2013, according to ComScore, and has a significantly larger audience globally.

Goal.com has inked ad deals with Puma, Sony, Samsung, Hyundai and Gatorade around the World Cup. For Gatorade, it filmed, produced and distributed soccer videos to support Gatorade's "Unreal Around the World" campaign, said Rich Routman, chief revenue officer at Perform's Sporting News Media division, which includes Goal.com. The campaign invited consumers to enter a contest where five people will be selected in July to train with soccer teams first in Europe and then in South America. Goal.com's editorial team will follow the competition winners during their visits to these teams.

Gatorade parent PepsiCo. is not an official FIFA or World Cup sponsor, but it's among the aforementioned ambush marketers trying to be seen near the World Cup stage. Others include Nike, MillerCoors and Beats by Dre, which on June 5 released a five-minute video that's already drawn more than 11.6 million views on YouTube.

The Beats by Dre video features a number of famous athletes, including Brazilian phenom Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, more commonly known as Neymar, a 22-year-old who has adorned international magazine covers for years, including Time's edition in Latin America.

This spring Neymar arrived on a number of magazine covers in the U.S., including WSJ, a monthly magazine inside Wall Street Journal weekend editions.

He also appeared on The New York Times Magazine, which put out three separate soccer-themed covers the week of June 6. The other two featured Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina's Lionel Messi.

Bloomberg Businessweek put out two of its own World Cup covers in May, going just with Mr. Messi and Mr. Ronaldo. The cover story pointed out that Adidas has sponsored Mr. Messi since has 18; Nike, meanwhile, has sponsored Mr. Ronaldo since the age of 16. Publishers hope the soccer stars, and advertisers, treat them a fraction as well.

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