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Coke Soccer Game Kicks Off in 9 Languages, 24 Countries

Coca-Cola Co. debuts an online fantasy sports game tied to the 2002 FIFA World Cup in a bid to capture names of soccer enthusiasts worldwide.

The game will run in English, Spanish, French, German, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Italian and Portuguese to support Coca-Cola operations in 24 countries. It will run concurrent with the World Cup in Japan and South Korea May 31 to June 30.

Yahoo's sports division is handling the game's design, back-end engineering and data management. Yahoo offices worldwide helped translate the game into the nine languages. Yahoo also created the FIFAworldcup.com site.

“Coke will retain the right to market to users that register,” said Brian Grey, director of Yahoo Sports, Sunnyvale, CA. “So it's a way for them to create a direct relationship with fans of soccer.”

Participation is simple. Consumers pick the required selections before each stage of the World Cup tournament and accumulate fantasy points for the right answers. Users can play for a group and country, and compete against nations or groups.

Entrants provide their name, address, e-mail address and date of birth. They also can choose to receive promotions, coupons and other special offers from Coke.

The soft-drink maker will promote its sponsorship of the World Cup through various media but will not directly promote the fantasy game.

Each region will decide whether it wants to offer prizes to players that guess the right final scores at the end of the tournament.

“The primary challenge is for them to take the large relationship they have with FIFA [Federation Internationale de Football Association] that's very much a promotional and brand-based relationship, and bring it down to building a connection with users,” Grey said. “Fantasy sports are the ultimate serial interaction in the context of the Internet because it allows you to interact with friends and colleagues and groups.”

Dean Jutilla, senior public relations manager at Yahoo, said, “Based on past experience, we expect hundreds of thousands of people playing the game.”

Yahoo will get a business services fee for building the game. Each Coca-Cola FIFA World Cup game site will bear the slogan, “Powered by Yahoo Sports.”

The deal marks a departure for Yahoo Sports. Until now, the division's revenue came from for-pay fantasy games, sponsorships of its free fantasy games and add-on premium items like StatTracker. In all cases, Yahoo created the content and managed the relationship with the consumer.

But the Coca-Cola deal for the World Cup, of which the beverage marketer is a sponsor, is a business-to-business fantasy sports package for only back-end development.

“Typically it has been a mass consumer platform, and now we're taking that to the business-to-business level for a partner to take that to consumers,” Jutilla said.

On Yahoo's wish list for similar deals are marketers in categories like automotive, consumer packaged goods and financial services.

“It signals that there is yet another way for us to leverage the investment in our fantasy platform to the benefit of major sports sponsors,” Grey said.

According to in-house research, Yahoo in 2001 saw a 66 percent year-over-year increase in the number of unique registered users in fantasy sports. There was a 46 percent increase in the total unique registered users playing the four major sports — baseball, football, basketball and hockey. There was a 13 percent jump in 2001 in NCAA Pick'em signups.

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