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The 2014 World Cup Will Be The Biggest Media Event Ever

This post recognizes it is adding to the noise—but remains hopeful that it also says something valuable about the future of media coverage.
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Sepp Blatter, FIFA president. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Sepp Blatter, FIFA president. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

At 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off with host Brazil playing Croatia at Arena Corinthians in São Paulo. You may be aware of this fact. Actually, I'd be shocked and awed and impressed if you had somehow managed to avoid any knowledge of the impending tournament, because it's everywhere.

Let's make this simple: When you combine the world's fascination with the most-played sport on the planet with the growing awareness in the United States, the biggest media market on Earth, it's pretty easy to argue that the 2014 World Cup will be the biggest media event in the history of the planet.

Sports publications are going all in. Sports Illustrated dedicated nearly an entire issue to the tournament and put out four separate covers. ESPN's Grantland has a landing page for all its content. Sports blog Deadspin launched a standalone site, Screamer, in conjunction with the editors at Howler magazine that features all its soccer content, including group previews that are essentially links to other content. It will run for the duration of the tournament. Sports on Earth's Will Leitch is doing a week of podcasts.

The U.S. Soccer Federation itself is also producing an astonishing amount of content, including two-minute video profiles of each of the 23 players who made the World Cup roster. Here's a clip of the team visiting TPC Sawgrass for some reason:

And it's not just sports sites jumping into the mix. It's World Cup Week here at Pacific Standard. Complex has a very pretty, very confusing World Cup guide, led by a story on Kyle Beckerman. Rolling Stoneprofiled Chris Wondolowski, which is great because he's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet but also: WTF, he's the backup forward. The New Republic has a soccer blog, as does Fusion, the English-language television network aimed at the Latino population. The New York Times Magazineprofiled United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, as didThe Wall Street Journal. Rupert Murdoch's paper alone has 19 reporters on location, one of whom is Hannah Karp who normally covers the music industry, which sounds like a very fun job indeed.

The point here is that this World Cup is big. It also provides a look at the future of media.

In a world that's increasingly on-demand and time-shifted, massive live events such as the World Cup are one of the few things left that people want to watch at a specific time. Appointment television, if you will. That means editors can plan for them in a very real, tangible way. Additionally, the growth of websites and technology, combined with the importance of Google searches and social media streams, makes creating a dedicated World Cup space on your site both easier and more important than ever.

And consider how differently we consume media now. From the excellent Think With Google blog post on the matter:

During the 2010 World Cup, query volume dipped during games as fans were focused on the big screen. Most search activity happened at the end of games on desktop, as you can see in the Spain vs. Netherlands World Cup match. This has changed significantly. Looking at a UEFA game this year, you can not only see that more searches happen during the game (mostly when goals were scored), but their combined volume far surpasses the searches at the end of the 2010 World Cup match. Now, watching games is a much more active experience. “Second screening” has become so common that it’s striking to see that it barely existed a mere four years ago. This is creating more moments for marketers to reach fans online right when they’re most engaged.

It's an engaged consumer audience, a group sitting on their iPhones/iPads/Androids/other tablets searching around for information or nuggets or whatever article during the game. Smart editors planned for this, and they are creating content around it. There's nothing inherently wrong with doing so, but the scale at which it's happening is pretty shocking. Does what happens in the tournament matter or does it only matter that the tournament happens?

Earlier this week, Cord Jefferson published an excellent piece about being the writer editors turn to when they need a piece about racism. That was, he writes, his "beat," a space he created for himself, intentionally, to stand out among the crowd. That idea, being the person who can opine about a specific topic when something happens that causes the reading (read: Internet searching) public to take interest in that specific topic, might be the other future of media. But it and the dramatic increase of event-based packages we're seeing for the World Cup are two sides of the same coin. React to the news or react to something you know is coming.

ESPN, which, as the U.S. television rights holder for the 2014 World Cup, is one of the major forces behind soccer's push into America, is running a smart, very true advertisement. The tagline: "Every four years, the world has one time zone." And there’s an overflow of content drowning us all to prove it.