ESPN Expects Brazil World Cup to 'Significantly' Outpace South Africa

Network Pedicts 2014 Event Will Be 'Most Social' Ever

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ESPN is seeing significantly higher ad sales for June's 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil vs. four years ago, according to Ed Erhardt, ESPN's president of global customer marketing and sales.

Mr. Erhardt expects ESPN to post "significantly greater" ad sales for the Brazil World Cup from June 12-July 13 than it did for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.

Despite the protests and violence in Brazil that have made some advertisers jittery about the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, he said ESPN is writing strong business.

"Demand is strong. We've got very little inventory left," said Mr. Ehrhardt, who declined to quote dollar figures.

The more favorable TV time zone of Rio de Janeiro (only one hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone vs. six hours ahead for Johannesburg) is certainly helping to attract advertisers, said Mr. Erhardt. But there are other trends at work, he said.

More U.S. TV networks are showing Major League Soccer matches, as well as international action from the Premier League and Champions League in Europe, than ever before. He expects U.S. fans to shift their rooting interest to World Cup to see how their favorite stars perform on one of sport's biggest global stages.

"It's clearly resonating as a sport that's mainstream in this country now," he said. "For a long time, a large swath of the advertising industry thought of the World Cup as something that had a highly involved Hispanic viewership -- and a somewhat secondary non-Hispanic viewership in this country. But it now has a very, very strong following for sports fans, regardless of whether they're Hispanic."

So which brands will TV viewers see a lot of come June? FIFA sponsor Adidas is coming in heavy, Mr. Erhardt said. Adidas has provided the official match ball for all FIFA World Cup Matches since 1970.

Adidas introduced this year's ball back in December. The company declined to say what it was spending on World Cup marketing this year, but a spokesman said it would be the marketer's biggest World Cup campaign to date and would roll out this summer through "a multiplatform partnership with ESPN."

Other FIFA sponsors expected to advertise include: Coca-Cola, Visa, Budweiser, McDonald's and Hyundai.

Coca-Cola has already started rolling out parts of its effort. The beverage giant says the worldwide campaign is its biggest ever.

Mr. Erhardt said movie studios, telecoms, men's grooming products, beer brands and technology companies are all buying ad time across ESPN properties.

ESPN's also seeing a strong digital marketplace building around the World Cup.

"When you think about it, if you're going to spend some money digitally, what will be the biggest event in all of the world that is digital? It will be the World Cup," Mr. Erhardt said. "While there was digital advertising [in 2010], it wasn't to the degree of the quality of the video that we now have -- or, frankly, the reach and scale that we now have."

From a social-media standpoint, he predicts 2014 World Cup will be the "most social event ever," surpassing the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, 2012 London Summer Olympics and 2010 World Cup.

The Disney-owned network will carry all 64 World Cup matches live across ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. ESPN will be on location across all 12 cities where the matches will take place across Brazil. All 64 matches will be on ESPN Radio and on mobile platforms; 54 matches will be streamed live on ESPN3.

This will be ESPN's last World Cup coverage for at least 12 years. In late 2011, rival Fox Sports outbid ESPN for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

ESPN has been marking the 100-day countdown to the 2014 World Cup with a series of on-air ads and promos created by agency Wieden & Kennedy as well as in-house.

The latest spot (top of story) shows American soccer fans cheering on the U.S. men's team by chanting, "I believe that we will win." The spot tells viewers: "Every 4 years, the banner yet waves."

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A previous spot showed ESPN's World Cup announcer Ian Darke humorously narrating an awkward first date.

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